Thousands of South Coast residents and visitors have backed a petition to open Lake Conjola’s entrance.
More than 5,000 signatures have been added to a petition ‘Save our Lake Conjola’, since it was started by Janine French on November 2.
Various residents reported the lake’s entrance closed in April. It was last dredged in August, 2016.
Ms French, whose a member of the group Save Our Lake Conjola, said the lake’s closure would have a devastating impact on tourism operators this summer. It is a popular resource for people who boat, fish and swim.
“This town and surrounding suburbs and their businesses rely on tourism to keep them financially viable,” she said.
“When the lake dries up, so will tourism. Holidaymakers spend hundreds and thousands to enjoy what the lake has to offer.”
Ms French has called on Shoalhaven City Council to dredge the lake “correctly” and either remove the sand or look at a permanent sea wall, like Lake Tabourie, south of Ulladulla.
Conjola Community Association president Robyn Kerves said the community consultative body supported the petition.
“We’ve got several concerns with the summer season approaching,” Ms Kerves said.
“[The lake] looks dreadful, it smells dreadful.”
Ms Kerves predicted visitors will instead swim at the unpatrolled Conjola Beach.
“It will push people to our beach to cool off where there are several dangerous rips along there,” she said.
Ms Kerves said if there was a boating accident there was no facility to launch a rescue vessel from the beach.
Mayor Amanda Findley said dredging would be “out of the question” at this point in time.
“Dredging’s not on the agenda because it is extraordinarily expensive and council has not budgeted for that in its long-term financial plan,” Cr Findley said.
“So, unless there was some sort of rescue package that was put out from the state government in respect to dredging, a dredge would not be entering Lake Conjola in the near future.”
Faecal coliform – bacteria which generally generate in the intestines of warm-blooded animals – has risen at various data points since July.
Cr Findley said water quality statistics, which can be viewed on council’s Aqua Data website, have “consistently shown Lake Conjola is satisfactory to good”.
“There has been spikes in Facael coliforms, but the spikes in faecal coliforms are normal and happen after rain events,” she said.
“Every water body across Australia has similar results after rain because when the catchment is washed clean of all its contaminants, which end up in the lowest point which is generally lakes, faecal coliforms always increase.
“That is a natural process, although it is unpleasant for humans to witness and be part of, it’s what happens when vegetation rot, people would be quite familiar with this even with their own compost bins at home.”
Bendalong, north of Lake Conjola, recorded 112m of rain October and 38.4mm in September.
Council’s entrance management policy said the lake will be opened when water levels exceed one-metre Australian Height Datum, measured by a gauge at the Lake Conjola Caravan Park.
The policy outlines the circumstances under which Shoalhaven City Council is to artificially open the lake, the aims of the policy are as follows.
Minimise risk to public safety associated with excessive inundation of foreshores and associated infrastructure as a result of low level flooding;
• Minimise interference with natural entrance opening processes and minimise associated impacts on ecological processes;
• Minimise risks to public health associated with excessive bacterial contamination of water;
• Minimise interference to the local ecological community;
• Satisfy local community values;
• Articulate the procedures to be initiated for entrance operations including entrance breakouts;
• Articulate key responsibilities for management of the entrance; and
• Detail the procedures for monitoring the Lake Entrance