CMS community engagement goes COVID-smart

A proactive program of stakeholder and community engagement has seen the Constraints Measures Program (CMS) team reach a significant milestone recently despite the impacts of COVID-19 restrictions.

CMS Program Leader Michael Colagrossi presents the Constraints program to the Loxton Waikerie Council’s elected members in October

WARNING: Aboriginal readers should be aware that this article may contain images or names of people who have since passed away.

The CMS project aims to remove constraints and increase flow rates so that environmental water can be used to ‘top up’ natural high flows and allow more wetlands and vegetation to be watered.

These higher flows may impact on landholders, so a project focus is on co-designing practical, on-ground solutions with communities through a mix of regulatory changes and infrastructure upgrades.

With restrictions threatening to stall engagement programs, the CMS team turned a negative into a positive with a series of online and phone meetings, workshops and one-on-one sessions with stakeholders and community members.

CMS Program Leader Michael Colagrossi said engagement was always going to be a challenge for a project spanning the area from the Victorian border to the Coorong, but, even during the darkest weeks of the COVID-19 restrictions, the team maintained healthy connections through innovative thinking.

‘While one-on-one contact is always the best option, the team was able to create and maintain stakeholder engagement by programming a series of online events and simply working the phones,’ Michael said.

‘With a program that stretches from Renmark to the Coorong, we actually saved a lot of time, travel and costs by incorporating a new online focus.

‘Now restrictions have eased, we are able to have more meaningful meetings out in the regions to build on that online contact.’

In the last two months, the CMS team has followed strict COVID-19 protocol to meet on country with four councils, two First Nation groups, several irrigation organisations, landholders and community members while also inspecting several sites.

The team was able to reach an important third milestone with an engagement activities report, a state policy and legislation position paper, revised risk register and financial statements to meet the requirements of the funding agreement.

Progress has also been made on preparing preliminary concept designs, which is the team’s next milestone due by the end of June next year. This will include summarising the statutory approvals process to jointly developing preliminary concept designs with stakeholders.

‘If there can be a silver-lining to the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s that we’ve been able to tailor an engagement strategy that combines the benefits of online platforms with face-to-face meetings,’ Michael said.

‘I think it’s created a more efficient engagement model moving forward.’

The project is funded by the Australian Government and is part of implementing the Murray Darling Basin Plan, helping to improve river management and efficiently deliver water for the environment.

To find out more about the project contact Michael Colagrossi on 0412 092 236.

Elder Owen Love, second from left, addresses CMS team members and other DEW staff near Wellington during on-country meetings with Ngarrindjeri Aboriginal Corporation members in October

Recent mitigation works at Katarapko National Park with CMS Senior Project Officer Ben Shepherd and DEW Asset Manager Dennis Francis in the distance