VICTORIA'S Health Department wanted cattle barred from the state's rivers in the interests of human health, according to a series of letters sent to the Department of Sustainability and Environment this year.
The letters, sent by the Health Department's drinking water regulation unit, show officials wanted the 9200 cattle grazing licences discontinued when up for renewal in October.
Despite that advice, grazing licences for the 17,000 kilometres of riverfront - including on rivers such as the Murray, Goulburn and Thomson - were renewed for five years.
Research has linked cattle waste in waterways to human disease, and the letters suggest health officials shared similar concerns. "From a human health perspective, DHS would prefer that cattle were not allowed to access rivers anywhere in Victoria, especially upstream of off-takes for drinking water supplies," wrote one official in May.
Cattle create numerous water quality problems in rivers, including algal blooms, because they erode riverbanks, and can defecate and die in waterways.
In most Victorian towns, water supply is filtered to high levels. But in some small towns it isn't, and residents are advised not to drink their tap water.
Officials wrote of their particular dislike for riverside grazing in protected water catchments.
Victorian National Parks Association spokesman Nick Roberts said the Government had ignored its department, scientists and environmentalists.
"This is starting to look embarrassing," Mr Roberts said.
Phasing out riverside grazing was recommended by Ian McPhail in last year's 'State of the Environment' report. The Government last week responded to that report and, despite renewing the 9200 licences in October, claimed to have ''fully supported'' Dr McPhail's advice.
The VNPA said that was a "blatantly misleading" claim.
Michael Sinclair, a spokesman for Environment Minister Gavin Jennings, said the Government was gradually moving away from riverbank grazing.
"This practice can't be stopped overnight … In some cases, [landholders] would lose access to their only source of water for their stock," he said.
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