Report cards for NSW river systems

Published 30 September 2014
Darren Ryder

A/Prof Darren Ryder

A researcher from the University of New England is leading an Ecohealth program that aims to measure river and catchment health throughout northern NSW.

As part of the program, led by Associate Professor Darren Ryder from UNE’s School of Environmental and Rural Science, a report card on the health of the Clarence River system has been released.

Water quality, waterbugs, fish and riverbank vegetation were assessed over a 12 month period from 88 sites in 37 individual river systems in the Clarence catchment.

“Overall the Clarence catchment received a score of C+ or a fair rating,” said A/Professor Ryder.

“This score was consistent in rivers throughout the 22,600km2 Clarence catchment although there were differences in scores for each indicator with some river having good water quality, some better vegetation, and most having excellent fish scores.”

The record floods in 2013 provided an opportunity to measure the resilience of the Clarence River to the large and frequent flooding that occurs in the catchment. The health of the freshwater sites all improved following the flood showing that thes

e rivers bounce back quickly with improved water quality and waterbug communities.

The study also highlighted the revegetation of riverbanks throughout the region to minimise erosion as the most important restoration strategy for improving river health.

“The Ecohealth program provides the scientific basis for targeted management actions to restore the riverbank vegetation that will prevent erosion, provide habitat for fish and improve water quality. These actions are important for river health, but also for the region that has commercial fisheries and floodplain agriculture that rely on a healthy river,” said A/ Professor Ryder

The Ecohealth program is a partnership between the University of New England, Office of Environment and Heritage, Local Land Services, Department of Primary Industries and local councils and is being rolled out throughout the north coast of NSW.

The team at UNE has completed the Ecohealth program in the Bellingen, Clarence, Coffs and Port Macquarie regions, currently underway the Richmond catchment, and the report card for the Macleay catchment to commence later this year. By applying a standardised approach to monitoring the health of coastal catchments and returning to catchments every four years the program can assess the effectiveness of restoration actions and develop new priorities.