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Recent actions and Council resolutions associated with the management of Lake Cathie and the Lake Innes estuarine system. For information on the development of Council's Coastal Management Program refer to our 'Have your Say' community engagement page on Council's website.


Council resolved on 20 May 2020 to place the Scoping Study for the development of our Coastal Management Program (CMP) on public exhibition until 26 June 2020. Public submissions were received and the Draft Scoping Study has been reviewed to reflect issues raised.  The reviewed Scoping Study is to be presented to Council on 17 February 2021.  Following its adoption, work will progress on Stage 1 of the Coastal Management Program, being the Lake Cathie/Lake Innes and Bonny Hills Estuary & Coastline.

The CMP will set the long-term strategy for the coordinated management of the coastal zone. It will achieve the purpose and objectives of the Coastal Management Act. After the scoping study is finalised, the remainder of the CMP will be divided into four ‘chapters’ based on geographic areas, to better manage localised issues. Each of the stages 2, 3, 4 and 5 will be done repetitiously for the four chapters:

  1. Lake Cathie/Lake Innes and Bonny Hills Estuary & Coastline - incorporating the open coastline from the 4 x 4 access track adjacent to Dirah Street, Lake Cathie to the southern side of Grants Head at Bonny Hills
  2. Hastings River Estuary
  3. Camden Haven River
  4. Port Macquarie-Hastings Open Coastline (excluding the open coastline that is covered in the Lake Cathie/Bonny Hills area.

What does the scoping study include?

In accordance with the NSW Coastal Management Framework, Stage 1 of preparing a CMP is to undertake a Scoping Study. The Scoping Study aims to consolidate information gathered both during Stage 1 and from previous management plans and outline the proposed pathway for the following stages of the CMP.

Key components of the scoping study include:

  • Strategic context for coastal management
  • Purpose, vision and objectives of the CMP
  • CMP scope - issues and areas, including maps of relevant CMAs
  • Review of current management practices and arrangements
  • Identification of roles and responsibilities including other councils and relevant public authorities
  • First-pass risk assessment to identify where action is required, including studies to be completed in Stage 2
  • Stakeholder and community engagement strategy
  • Preliminary business case
  • Plan for future stages and timetable for CMP preparation. Include a timeframe for steps in the preparation of a planning proposal if changes to the LEP are proposed.



Council applied for 50:50 funding from the State Government under the Coastal and Estuary Management Program for an Acid Sulphate Study for the Lake Cathie-Lake Innes estuarine system. On 27 March 2020 Council was advised the application was unsuccessful for the 20/21 funding round.

Following the 20 May 2020 Council resolution, Council wrote to the NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment (DPIE) and State Member for Port Macquarie Leslie Williams MP on 2 June 2020 seeking a review of this decision and urgent funding assistance for the acid sulphate study as it is a recommended element of Council’s Coastal Management Program (CMP). Without funding for this study the CMP development will be delayed.

Council resolved on 20 May 2020 to write to the Minister for Water, Property and Housing the Honourable Melinda Pavey MP to confirm that Council’s ongoing physical responsibilities for management of the Crown owned Lake Cathie waterbody are strictly limited to the responsibilities of flood mitigation, stormwater drainage and community protection only.

Any actions outside of this scope (including public health issues and complaints about water quality, odour, colour, mosquitoes, fish kills, fish health, ecology of the waterway, salinity, acid sulphate soils, pollution, water safety and the like) will be directed to the NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment - Crown Lands as the owner of the waterbody.

The following map provides a visual overview of the land tenure responsibilities for Lake Cathie, Lake Innes and surrounding lands.


The following map provides a detailed view of land tenure within the Lake Cathie Lagoon and respective responsibilities.


Following the receipt of a short term licence from Crown Lands and advice from relevant government departments, Council resolved on 20 May 2020 to open the lake by scraping the berm to a height of 1.2m AHD and a width of 6m. On Friday 22 May 2020 flood mitigation works were undertaken by Council in accordance with the Council resolution resulting in the lake opening and emptying to the ocean. Effective flood mitigation was achieved with footpaths surrounding the lake now accessible and vital sewer infrastructure no longer at risk of flooding from the rising water level. Council will not need to carry out any further works until flood mitigation is again required in accordance with the 1.6m level outlined in the Opening Strategy.

Following on from Council resolution on 6 May 2020, Council received a short term licence from Crown Lands (RN: 618957) on 11 May 2020, which is conditional on further consultation with the National Parks and Wildlife Service (now known as the Biodiversity and Conservation Division) and Fisheries before works can be undertaken. Council has now received advice from both stakeholders and are currently working through the details. The licence and stakeholder feedback is available in Council-Report-20-05-2020-Lake-Cathie-Emergency-Opening.pdf

The licence will permit Council to enter the land for the purpose of emergency opening works, in the event of flooding only, during the next 12 months. The works will need to conform to the requirements as set out by NPWS and Fisheries.   Should the Lake open naturally, or by community action, which results in flooding being alleviated, Council cannot undertake any further works until flooding conditions (level >1.6m) are once again established.

With the right conditions an opening may result in a perfect flush and fill of the lake however the community should be made aware that there may be negative impacts on the lake due to natural processes outside of Council’s control.  These may include:

  • the opening channel closing quickly,
  • return of a low water level for an extended period,
  • exposure of acid sulphate soils resulting in changes to water quality and odours,
  • additional sediments washed in from upstream,
  • changes to the ecology within the lake and possible fish kills,
  • boggy areas surrounding the lake that were previously flooded,
  • disturbance of decaying vegetation which emits a sewer like smell and surface scum/sheen, and
  • a change of mosquito species and possible increase in numbers.

The water level at Lake Cathie reached a maximum of 1.608 metres at 1.45pm on Saturday May 2 2020, and since this time the water level has continued to recede. As the 1.6 metre trigger point was reached, in accordance with the Lake Cathie Opening Strategy, consideration has been given as to whether an opening of the lake is a viable option. In the current circumstances Council has a management responsibility in terms of flood mitigation particularly in respect of private property and major infrastructure, and an opening will only occur as an emergency response to the likelihood of flooding of vital infrastructure, such as sewer which is essentially the first level of flood impact trigger before flood levels impact private properties. Non-vital infrastructure including footpaths and stormwater drains may already be flooded, and we wish to reassure residents that homes are not deemed to be at risk until after vital infrastructure is impacted.

As the weather forecast shows little chance of significant rainfall within the next week, emergency conditions are not likely to present, and at this time an opening is not recommended.

We will continue to monitor the water level, weather forecast and tides on a daily basis, including weekends, to determine if an opening needs to be reconsidered. Lake Cathie is an Intermittently Closed and Open Lake and Lagoon (ICOLL) that opens and closes to the ocean naturally in a constant but irregular cycle. ICOLLs are very complex environments, and the impact of artificially opening entrances on fish species and fish habitats is not well understood. It is important that management of an ICOLL mimics nature where possible.

The community should also be aware that undertaking a manual opening themselves is an offence, and previous community attempts to open the lake have been mostly unsuccessful and carry significant risks as safety, environmental and approval protocols are not in place.

Council monitors water levels at Lake Cathie twice daily and we’re aware of the current rising water levels. We have mechanisms in place to open the Lake in the case of an emergency or where water levels reach 1.6m and meet optimum opening conditions.

These conditions include:

  • Apparent substantial rainfall on the long-term forecast and the water level is continuing to rise, and
  • Tidal conditions are accounted for.

Our Council team undertook a site inspection around Lake Cathie on Thursday 16 April 2020. We are aware that the Aqua Crescent reserve footpath is currently inaccessible due to inundation of water over the path. As such, we ask that community members avoid the area while the path is underwater.

On 7 February 2020 Council sought advice from various NSW State stakeholders regarding the scope of the REF for the opening of Lake Cathie. On 10 February 2020 additional information on the opening of Lake Cathie was provided to the stakeholders with maps of the dredging area and opening area specifically.

On 14 and 17 February 2020 Council received formal advice from NSW State stakeholders regarding the Review of Environmental Factors (REF) for Lake Cathie. The preference from the Department of Primary Industries and Environment Biodiversity and Conservation Division (DPIE) is that the management of the Lake Cathie entrance is for minimal interference, but where such management is necessary, the careful preparation of an appropriate entrance management strategy would be desirable. The proposal by Council for the lake opening in the absence of a strategy, is our least preferred approach due to the uncertainty about the potential unforeseen environmental impacts.

DPIE - Biodiversity and Conservation Division considerations

If Council wish to proceed with a proposal for an imminent once-off opening for ecological purposes, the proponent should ensure that the REF will be sufficiently comprehensive to enable unambiguous assessment of all direct and indirect impacts of the proposed activity. In particular the REF should address the following matters:

  • Aboriginal Cultural heritage

  • Biodiversity

    1. Threatened shore birds
    2. Threatened / endangered ecological communities
    3. Impacts on koala habitat
  • National Parks Estate

    1. Impacts on specific values including but not limited to: - Breeding birds - Coastal Saltmarsh EEC - Swamp Oak EEC - Swamp Sclerophyll ECC - Threatened species (focussed on wetland species) - Migratory species (under the EPBC Act).
    2. Accurate prediction of habit and biodiversity loss or change within the nature reserve.
    3. Cumulative impacts of sand accretion.
    4. Possible impacts of acid sulphate.
    5. Coastal processes: - Consequences of mechanically opening the lake (at least 3 scenarios considered – wetter than average year, normal conditions, drier than average conditions). - Full description of ICOLL catchment including land use, social factors, houses etc. - Document the social, economic and cultural values (acknowledging that much of the community debate over the lake system is strongly linked to social perceptions of what constitutes a healthy lake) - Hydrology of the lake system (when closed and when open) - Ecology of the foreshore (including a range of climate regimes on saltmarsh). - Extent of Acid sulphate. - Tidal processes and influences. - Objectives of each opening taking into consideration BOM long range forecasts & consideration of an ecological calendar (i.e. breeding, feeding, migration patterns). - Likely impacts of climate change factors (i.e. sea level rise & changed weather patterns).

DPIE - Fisheries considerations

DPI Fisheries' long standing policy position on ICOLL management, as stated within the DPI Fisheries policy and guidelines for fish habitat conservation and management (Update 2013) (DPI Fisheries P&G), is for minimal interference with ICOLL barriers and for the allowance of natural processes to operate to the greatest extent possible. This remains the case for ICOLLs exhibiting low water levels due to drought conditions.

A once-off ad-hoc approach to entrance opening is the least preferred approach for various environmental, social and economic reasons. However, should Council proceed with a proposal for an imminent once-off opening for ecological purposes, the specific information required within a REF would include:

  1. Clear objective and justification for the project.
  2. Ecological benefits (i.e. water quality improvements, water level, aquatic biota etc) including expected duration the channel would need to remain open to achieve these benefits.
  3. Environmental and social risks and how any benefits of a once-off opening would outweigh these risks.
  4. Specific details of opening works and expected longevity of the excavated channel.
  5. Details of a monitoring program that would collect, analyse and report on quantitative data collected pre- and post-opening to determine if the opening is meeting/deviating from the objective (e.g. water levels, extent of tidal connectivity, water quality - DO, pH, nutrient and bacteria levels, etc; aquatic health, berm and channel profile etc).
  6. Contingency plan if the objectives of the once-off opening is not met.

Coast, Estuary & Floodplain Advisory Sub-Committee (CE&F) meeting

  • Committee members were updated on the current status of the lake system.
  • It was resolved that the separate stakeholder and community meetings held in 2019 will no longer take place and the CE&F committee will now be the main forum for discussions regarding the management of the lake system.
  • Next meeting to be held on 28 May 2020.

This meeting was attended by staff, Mayor Peta Pinson, State MP Leslie Williams as well as representatives from Revive Lake Cathie, Lake Cathie Progress Association, Camden Haven Chamber of Commerce, Soil Conservation Society, National Parks and Wildlife Service, Department of Primary Industries and Environment and Crown Lands. The following key options were discussed at the meeting:

  • Investigate a temporary closure of the lagoon to Lake Innes on the east side of the bridge (Soil Conservation Socieity suggestion) which would include the dredging and opening of the lagoon to the ocean for the purpose of recreation. This investigation would include confirmation of the environmental pathway and the engineering options.
  • In parallel, we began preparation of paperwork for a DA and a REF in anticipation of the confirmation of the appropriate environmental pathway.
  • At that time Council was wating on a funding request response regarding our grant application to pay for 50% of the acid sulphate studies. Upon confirmation of funding, award the tender to begin works.
  • Continue development of the Coastal Management Program (CMP) long-term solution with the inclusion of seasonal environmental impact studies.
  • Create a webpage and communications plan to keep the community updated on the CMP progress.
  • Develop a community engagement strategy for the CMP.

The application was made for the purpose of opening Lake Cathie to the ocean. A STL was not granted with Crown Lands citing shortfalls in the environmental approval documents which date from 1995 and additional information was requested.

As a result of the advice from Crown Lands the following documents are now considered to no longer be valid:

  • 1994 Estuary Management Plan (EMP)
  • 1994 Opening Strategy
  • 1995 Environmental Review.

Council Mayor, Peta Pinson provided a ‘Mayoral Minute’ proposing an opening of Lake Cathie. Council resolved to initiate an opening of Lake Cathie, noting that the Opening Strategy trigger conditions had been met.

Council Meeting Agendas and Minutes

In September 2019, Government agencies agreed on a pathway to progress the situation and on 16 October 2019, Council approved 50% funding for:

  • A digestion model of the Acid Sulfate Soil (ASS) within Lake Innes as a result of the ASS study undertaken by Soil Conservation Society.
  • A review of the Lake Innes Environmental Assessment (2013) (Lake Innes reversion study).
  • An ecological condition assessment of the saltmarsh community within Lake Innes.
  • A review of possible emergency ASS containment works within Lake Innes and a concept feasibility assessment into a possible reversion barrier/sill.

Acid sulfate soil risk assessment

In early 2019 Council and and National Parks and Wildlife Service engaged NSW Soil Conservation Services to undertake an assessment of the current and potential Acid Sulfate Soil risk of the Lake Cathie / Lake Innes estuarine system. This was initiated by Council to determine the risks posed by prolonged drought conditions in the lake system. The Lake Cathie and Lake Innes Acid Sulfate Soil Risk Assessment (2019) identified a significant risk in Lake Innes.

This page was last updated on: 19 June 2020