This is part three of a series exploring Lake Cathie's history, the issues surrounding the lake's management and thoughts on its future. The Port Macquarie News talked to Lake Cathie residents including Lisa Willows, Lynne Leayr, Sue East, John Drewitt and Helen Tarrant.
Read part two: Cathie collection: lake's ebb and flow explored
Lake Cathie residents say unfortunately the lake will never return to its former glory days.
The mud which was once situated around the lake has been replaced by sand, and grass beds have grown prominently on the desert-like terrain.
Signage was erected at the lake's foreshore prior to the start of the 2019/20 summer holiday season, warning people not to swim.
Throughout history, residents and community groups have attributed the lake's environmental issues to ongoing development, major rain events, modification of the bridges and now drought.
Sue East has been holidaying in the area since 1955 and has owned property since the 1970s. She said the lake's condition is the worst she's seen.
Sue and other residents believe the time for any significant action has unfortunately passed and now they dread the day when a significant rain event occurs.
Due to the sand's build up where water once was, Sue said the next major rain event will result in the area experiencing its worst flood.
Sue said it's important council enact remedial works as soon as possible to address the issue.
She said if the council were to put a call out for people with machinery to help undertake the work, there would be at least 100 people willing to do so.
Residents of Lake Cathie, who have lived in the area since the 1950s and 60s, say development impacted the flow of the lake and caused a lot of problems for its environment.
Robyn Moody, believes the problems with the lake's health started when the current bridge crossing the lake and the Kenwood Drive bridge were reconstructed, narrowing the water flow under the bridges. As a result, she said the water's natural flow changed.
The deteriorating situation at the lake sparked the formation of the Revive Lake Cathie group in 2019, which is aiming to find and action a long term solution for the area.
In August 2019 members of the Revive Lake Cathie group and councillors visited Lake Cathie. Members of the Revive Lake Cathie group lobbied council to widen Kenwood Drive bridge to improve tidal flows in the lake.
In 2011 council prepared a hydrodynamic model of the Lake Cathie and Lake Innes systems to test the scenario.
In 2019 Port Macquarie-Hastings Council director Melissa Watkins told Port News the results suggest widening the Kenwood Drive bridge would have had some beneficial impact on water quality between Cathie Creek and Lake Cathie.
"However the report also found that isolating Lake Innes would provide the greatest impact to tidal flows and water quality," she said.
"The report also found these options would additionally pose the greatest threat to local ecology or other social or economic values through a loss of habitat, increased acidification, fish passage obstruction and destruction of marine vegetation."
Ms Watkins said it's unlikely the Lake Cathie and Lake Innes systems can be returned to their natural state, given the urban development that now exists around the lake.
Another solution to address the ailing lake came from long-standing resident Bill Bagnall, who called for the installation of a one-way tidal pipeline to allow fresh sea water to enter the lake on high tide.
In 2019 a spokesperson from NSW Department of Primary Industries (NSW DPI) said the current conditions at Lake Cathie are likely to continue without significant rainfall.
In November, 2019 council voted in favour of obtaining a one-off licence from Crown Lands to open the lake.
However, before that licence is granted, council must conduct a review of environmental factors (REF). The last time this was done for the waterway at Lake Cathie was 1995.
Council's general manager Craig Swift-McNair said it could take months for a new REF to be prepared.
While the opening has been approved to happen in the short term, in the long term all stakeholders involved in the management of the lake have held meetings to discuss the lake's future.
According to the draft Lake Cathie Community Plan (October 2019), the future will focus on the preservation of waterways and natural environment, completion of the Lake Cathie Foreshore Masterplan, retention of village character by monitoring future development and improved connectivity.
Until a long-term solution for the lake is found, residents will continue to focus on their sharing memories to bolster the community's morale.
Lisa Willows, who grew up at Lake Cathie in the 1980s, remembers the time when her brother caught a fish with his bare hands, during one opening of the lake to the ocean.
Resident Helen Tarrant, who has lived at Lake Cathie since the 1950s, said she remembers an opening to the ocean used to be as loud as a freight train.
If you would like to share your fond memories of Lake Cathie, please visit the You're From Lake Cathie if you Remember .... Facebook group.
For more information on the management of Lake Cathie, please visit the Port Macquarie-Hastings Council website.
What else is making news?
While you're with us, you can now receive updates straight to your inbox from the Port Macquarie News. To make sure you're up to date with all the news, SIGN UP HERE.