Counting Australia's protected rivers

Jon Nevill (OnlyOnePlanet Australia) 
Working draft (comment invited)                                                 Revised  20 June 2007.
Incorporating unpublished analysis of national river protection data by Janet Stein (Australian National University), an appendix by Simon Ransome, and several other contributions.

Australia has nearly 1400 named rivers, but only a handful are well protected (around 2%). Rivers are intimately connected to their catchments, and river protection cannot be achieved without substantial catchment protection as well as the protection of semi-natural flow regimes through the exclusion of dams and major extraction from feed aquifers. Given the intractable nature of threats from alien species, it cannot be said that any Australian river is fully and permanently protected from all threats to its values. Using a more relaxed approach to defining protection, a brief examination of three national databases, and use of a fourth database developed by the Australian National University,  indicates that Australia has a small number of substantial protected rivers. Most of these are located in eight large protected areas. These are: 

*  the Southwest World Heritage Area (Tasmania) which protects several rivers including
   four of reasonable size, 
Kakadu National Park (Northern Territory, two rivers), 
Prince Regent River Biosphere Reserve, the Rudall River National Park, and the
   Shannon River National Park (in Western Australia), 
*  the Jardine River National Park (Queensland), 
*  the Nadgee Nature Reserve Wilderness Area (New South Wales, two rivers), and
*  the Ravine des Casoars Wilderness Protection Area, Kangaroo Island (South
   Australia, two rivers). 

While the 14 rivers protected by these eight areas are all relatively small by world standards, and not all are perennial, they are the largest of Australia's well-protected rivers. While the relative importance of various protected rivers will remain open to debate, there is little doubt that these areas and their rivers are significant at the international level.  

A further 7 protected areas provide protection for substantial and important river reaches, while another 7 protected areas provide almost full protection for a number of important but relatively small rivers or creeks (see 'summary' below).

Given the scarcity of protected rivers in Australia, a conservation status assessment of Australia's riverine ecosystems should be undertaken as a matter of urgency. Such a study is likely to highlight major deficiencies relating to the protection of these ecosystems. River protection needs to be addressed as part of the current government initiative to expand protection of freshwater ecosystems within the national protected area framework.

How many Australian rivers have adequate protection from threats to their biodiversity? 'River' and 'protection' may be defined in different ways. This paper uses a loose definition of protection related to disturbance of catchment and flow, and in particular discusses rivers where a large proportion of the river's catchment lies within a formal protected area. A more rigorous definition of protection would examine the particular values of each river, and the degree to which current management arrangements protect such values - however such an investigation is well beyond the scope of this paper, as the necessary data is not available at the national scale. Definitions of 'river' relate to the size of the catchment and/or the river's hydrology. 

Protection from alien species is sometimes impossible. However in some cases rivers can be protected from flow modification and catchment disturbance. Location within a formal protected area, however, does not necessarily confer a high level of protection on aquatic ecosystems: active protective management is necessary both within and beyond the protected area itself (Pringle 2001). Several techniques are available for managing highly connected linear protected areas (Saunders et al. 2002).

Apart from protected area controls, several major legislative mechanisms provide limited protection for rivers and their catchments in Australian States. All States have:

  • fishery statutes which can control fishing activities;
  • statutory mechanisms to protect threatened species and ecological communities;
  • statutory mechanisms aimed at the control of both point- and area-source water pollution;
  • statutory land use planning controls, including project assessment mechanisms; and
  • mechanisms of varying effectiveness aimed at the provision of river environmental flows.

These mechanisms are discussed in some detail in Nevill & Phillips 2004: chapter 7.

Australia has around 1400 named rivers, relatively few of which are well protected. The Australian 1:250,000 scale map series shows just under 3 million km of rivers and streams. Of these rivers and streams, only about 111,000 km (or roughly 4%) are dam-free, with 100% of their upstream catchments protected by reserves. Most of these are very small headwater streams, many of which are intermittent or ephemeral. Of Australia’s 166,018 km of named rivers, only 14,517 km lie within reserves, and of these just under 3000 km ( ~ 2%) are dam-free from headwaters to outlet (Stein, unpublished data). Here 'reserve' is defined as areas classed under the IUCN protected area definition as categories I-IV. Note that this figure is smaller than the comparative figure of total protected landscapes due to the existence of bias caused by several very large protected areas in arid regions, and the ubiquity of dams on major rivers. 

A detailed examination of the conservation status of river ecosystem types is likely to show that many riverine ecosystems have little or no effective protection under current arrangements.

Substantial highly protected rivers:
Perhaps not surprisingly, Australia's protected rivers tend to be clustered within a few large terrestrial protected areas.  

Tasmania's Southwest World Heritage Area protects most of the catchments of the Spring, Davey, New, and Louisa Rivers, as well as several smaller rivers including the well-known Franklin. Well-known river systems in this region, such as the Gordon River and Lake Pedder, have been flooded by hydro-electric dams.

The Northern Territory's Kakadu National Park protects most of the catchments of the West Alligator and South Alligator Rivers, as well as Obiworbby Brook. The South Alligator is Australia's largest protected river. The Garig Gunak Barlu National Park (Coburg Peninsula) protects significant streams such as Ilamaryi River and Mawuwu and Alaru Creeks; these are however small compared with the South and West Alligator Rivers. Most of the catchment of the East Alligator River lies in land under the custodianship of Aboriginals. The high biodiversity values of these areas are currently being eroded by the introduced cane toad, which is continuing its spread from east to west across the northern part of the Australian continent (in the tropics and sub-tropics).

In Queensland, the Jardine River National Park protects a large part of the Jardine River's catchment, and the upper Coen River receives substantial protection from Mungkau Kandju National Park. The lower Coen is not protected. 

The Rudall River, in Western Australia's Rudall River National Park, is an important protected ephemeral river within Australia's arid interior. Western Australia has two other large protected rivers: the Prince Regent River is substantially protected by the Prince Regent River Biosphere Reserve, and the Shannon River by the Shannon River National Park. 

In New South Wales, the Nadgee Wilderness Area protects the Nadgee and Merrica Rivers. 

Rocky River and Breakneck River (although not perennial) are protected within South Australia's Ravine des Casoars Wilderness Protection Area, Kangaroo Island. 

Small but highly protected rivers and creeks:
Many smaller rivers and creeks across the nation receive some level of protection from Australia's existing protected area network. Some of these have extremely important biodiversity values.

Victoria was until recently the only Australian State with a statute aimed specifically at river protection. While this legislation appears to be poorly implemented, the "B1" catchment listed under the Heritage Rivers Act 1992 does protect the entire catchments of two small coastal rivers, the Benedore and Red Rivers in East Gippsland. These lie within the Croajingalong National Park.  Wilson's Promontory National Park protects the small but important Darby River.

Queensland's Fraser Island (Great Sandy National Park and Great Sandy Conservation Park) protects several important streams, including Yidney Creek. Cape Melville National Park protects Saltwater Creek.

The Northern Territory's Garig Gunak Barlu National Park (formerly Coburg Peninsula National Park) protects Mawuwu Creek and Alaru Creek, and the small Ilamaryi River.

Copper Mine Creek (protected by the Fitzgerald River National Park) and Weanerjungup Creek (protected by the Cape Arid National Park) are also worthy of specific mention amongst WA's protected rivers.

Large protected river reaches:
Australia has a number of large protected areas which provide a high level of protection to significant river reaches; however, either upstream or downstream, these rivers receive little or no formal protection.

These areas are: 
*  Drysdale River National Park (WA); 
*  Gregory National Park (protecting parts of the Victoria River, NT);
*  Keep River National Park (NT);
*  Limmen National Park (protecting lower reaches of the Limmen Bight River, and
   upper reaches of the Towns River, NT);
*  Straaten River National Park (Qld);
*  Mungkan Kandju National Park (protecting parts of the Coen River Qld):
*  Lakefield National Park (protecting parts of the lower North Kennedy River and 
   some of the upper Normanby River, in Queensland.

Not listed above, but nevertheless of importance, are a group of adjacent reserves, including the Wollemi National Park north west of Sydney, which protect some of the smaller headwaters of the Colo and Hunter Rivers. The large national parks to the immediate west and south of Sydney, covering deeply dissected sandstone plateaus, also protect important headwater biodiversity.

Many of the rivers and streams of the Great Dividing Range in the far south east (Victoria and New South Wales) have been damaged by hydro-electric developments and unsympathetic forestry, although some important headwater streams are nevertheless protected to some extent by the adjacent Kosciusko (NSW), Alpine and Snowy River (Vic) National Parks.

The importance of identifying which rivers are protected:
The identification of protected rivers is an important precursor to more advanced river protection policy development. A particularly important issue is the extent to which representative river ecosystems are protected. This paper presents a preliminary overview, but does not attempt to address this latter issue. A more detailed systematic analysis should be undertaken using existing information. A careful comparison of national river and catchment spatial data with protected area databases should provide considerable additional information on which undisturbed Australian rivers (and river segments) are already protected: this study has been commenced within the Centre for Resource and Environmental Studies, Australian National University. 

Further investigation of the values and condition of protected rivers is urgently needed, along with studies of aquatic and riparian biodiversity hotspots, as well as headwater biodiversity. A national conservation status assessment of Australia's inland aquatic ecosystems is another important priority; such a study is likely to highlight serious deficiencies in the protection of riverine ecosystems.

Keywords: protected rivers, freshwater, protected areas, aquatic ecosystems, governance, biodiversity.

Copies of this document are available in electronic form from

The United States passed their Wild and Scenic Rivers Act in 1968 after a vigorous public campaign to stop the damming of several major rivers (172 rivers or river reaches are now listed).  In Canada, the Canadian Heritage Rivers System (1984) is now so popular that nominations for further protected rivers come entirely from community pressure (40 rivers or river reaches are listed) ( In both cases these numbers include substantial river reaches as well as some entire rivers. 

In New Zealand 13 river catchments and 2 standalone coastal lakes are largely protected by statutory water conservation orders. New Zealand embarked on a Waters of National Importance project in 2003,  with a stated objective: "water bodies with nationally significant natural, social and cultural heritage values will be protected". A major study (Chadderton et al. 2004) has identified nationally significant rivers for biodiversity protection. This study has no Australian equivalent.

Australia currently lacks effective river protection mechanisms such as the USA's 'wild and scenic rivers' legislation or the non-statutory Canadian Heritage Rivers System - in spite of calls for action over several decades (eg: Pollard & Scott 1966, Lake 1978, Barmuta 2003, Kingsford et al. 2005). 

Under the Australian constitution, most natural resource management responsibilities rest with the six States and two Territories (referred to below as 'States'). These are Western Australia, South Australia, Victoria, Tasmania, New South Wales and Queensland, together with the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory.

State government water agencies are now attempting to improve the management of rivers together with their catchments and groundwaters; however the legacies of past mistakes, most importantly widespread over-allocation of extracted water (combined with the deliberate destruction of wetlands) and catchment clearance have in many cases caused irretrievable damage to freshwater ecosystems. Ineffective controls over the cumulative impacts of incremental water infrastructure development continues as a major problem which needs urgent attention (Nevill 2003).  

Options for the protection of rivers in Australia are discussed by Nevill & Phillips (2004:chapter 7), Kingsford et al. (2005) and Blanch (2006) who also discuss a variety of existing State and Commonwealth programs related to the protection of freshwater ecosystems more generally.

Australia is the driest inhabited continent, and has only two river systems of continental scale: the Murray-Darling, and the rivers of Lake Eyre (these being largely ephemeral). Although the Murray-Darling contains several protected areas, these form a comparatively small part of the system catchment, which generally speaking is highly degraded from an ecological viewpoint. 

Amongst the many threats faced by Australian rivers, three stand out: extraction and regulation of flows, catchment modification, and alien species (Nevill & Phillips 2004:s4.2). 

There is no universal definition of 'river'; however size is the main distinguishing factor in relation to 'streams' or 'creeks'. Size can apply to catchment, waterway length and complexity, or flow.

A 'protected river' could be defined (with apologies to the IUCN) as 'a river managed to provide secure and effective protection from threats to its major values'. This definition however makes identification of protected rivers rather complicated, as it implies a knowledge of the way the river's values are changing over time. In the case of most Australian rivers this information is either not available or is only partially available. For the purposes of this paper a protected river is defined as one having most of its catchment within a reserve, no significant water extraction or regulation, and no major artificial barriers to the movement of aquatic fauna.  This definition ignores the important issue of alien species, which is not discussed in this paper due to its complexity and intractability.

Generally speaking, freshwater ecosystems are not well protected over most of the Australian continent. Within areas designed to protect terrestrial biodiversity (such as national parks) aquatic ecosystems may receive little protection from flow regulation and beyond-boundary water diversion (Lake 1978, Pringle 2001). It should be noted that most of the rivers within the large Kosciusko National Park in New South Wales, for example, have been dammed by the Snowy Mountains Hydroelectric Scheme. Recreational fishing [v] may even be promoted in Australian National Parks and other protected areas, together with the introduction of alien predators such as trout which can profoundly affect pristine freshwater ecosystems (Tilzey 1976)

Some national parks have been named after rivers: the Rudall River National Park, for example. Australian national parks named after rivers are the: Mitchell, Snowy, Lower Glenelg (Victoria), Mary, Flora, Keep (Northern Territory), Fitzgerald, Rudall, Drysdale, Moore, Shannon (Western Australia), Guy Fawkes, Mongarlowe, Clyde, Goulburn, Murray,  Bellinger, Abercrombie, Georges, Bargo, Tarlo (New South Wales), Franklin-Gordon, Savage (Tasmania), Jardine, Russell, Straaten, Endeavour (Queensland), and Onkaparinga (South Australia) River National Parks. Note that in several cases the contiguous national park offers little or no protection to riverine ecosystems. 

National data:
There are three relevant public-access national databases: the 'wild rivers' (river disturbance), protected areas, and wetlands databases. The wild rivers data identifies those rivers with minimal disturbance to flow and catchment (Stein et al. 1998, 2002,  The Collaborative Australian Protected Area Database (CAPAD) is, like the wild rivers and wetlands data, held by the Australian Department for the Environment and Heritage in Canberra. For the purposes of this analysis, the original wild river data has been replaced by data from a more accurate national stream and catchment database developed at the Australian National University (Stein 2004). This latter data is not, at this stage, available to the public.

The Australian Wetlands Database contains data relating to Australian Ramsar sites, as well as sites listed the Directory of Important Wetlands in Australia (DIWA). Australia has (or had at the close of 2005) 64 sites listed under the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands 1971. Most of these areas (which can include both public and private land) are managed by State governments under formal management plans - in collaboration with landowners where applicable. The Commonwealth's Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 provides these areas with limited additional protection under the Commonwealth's powers to intervene if national or international environmental values are threatened (Nevill & Phillips 2004: ss6.1.2 & A3.5).

Defining and identifying protected rivers:
In comparing these protected area and river disturbance data, quantitative thresholds must be chosen which, for the purposes of the comparison, define a protected river. Should, for example, a protected river be defined as one with 90% of its catchment within reserves (where a 'reserve' is defined to include categories I to IV of the IUCN's six-part protected area classification)? Such a definition would exclude the significant Shannon River, which has 89% of its catchment protected. These dilemmas in practice prove less of a problem than might be imagined, as protected rivers tend to be clustered. Any reasonable definition will serve to identify the location of the major clusters.  At this point judgement and local knowledge can be used.

Table 1 below examines the issue of protected catchment area using a 95% criteria, while Table 2 reports the issue of protection of the natural flow regime by examining the protection of headwaters and the existence of dams. Data on groundwater extraction from river feed aquifers was not available, so this issue (while it may be of great importance in some areas) is not included in the analysis. Table 3 re-examines the issue of large catchments with less than 95% under protection, while Table 4 examines the inclusion of rivers in the Ramsar and DIWA data in the national wetlands database.

Protected river tables
Table 1. Protected river basins. Source: Stein unpublished data.
This table identifies topographically defined drainage basins (i.e. entire catchment from source to outlet) with more than 95% of their area within an IUCN protected area class I to IV (CAPAD 2002) and draining a stream named on the 1:250,000 scale topographic map series of Australia. There are many more protected drainage basins in arid regions but these are either associated with a minor unnamed stream or a lake, claypan etc.  

Tasmania's Southwest World Heritage Area contains four large contiguous protected areas: the Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers National Park, the Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park, the Southwest Conservation Area, and the Savage River National Park. The Southwest World Heritage Area is of outstanding importance for the protection of Tasmanian rivers.

Names are as per the digital 1:250,000 topographic maps (Geoscience Australia, 1992).

Table 1.  The largest 20 drainage basins of named streams with more than 95% of their catchment area protected within a reserve (reserve defined as IUCN protected area levels I to IV), and no listed (major) upstream or downstream dams, sorted by basin area. Source: Stein unpublished data.

Basin stream name


Basin area

Protected area name

Rudall River



Rudall River National Park

West Alligator River



Kakadu National Park

Spring River



Southwest World Heritage Area

Davey River



Southwest World Heritage Area

Copper Mine Creek



Fitzgerald River National Park

New River



Southwest World Heritage Area

Rocky River



Ravine des Casoars Wilderness Protection Area, Kangaroo Island

Weanerjungup Creek



Cape Arid National Park

Saltwater Creek



Cape Melville National Park

Mawuwu Creek



Garig Gunak Barlu National Park

Alaru Creek



Garig Gunak Barlu National Park

Breakneck River



Ravine des Casoars Wilderness Protection Area, Kangaroo Island

Yidney Creek



Great Sandy Conservation Park, Fraser Island

Louisa River



Southwest World Heritage Area

Ilamaryi River



Garig Gunak Barlu National Park

Manukalungku Creek



Limmen National Park

Merrica River



Nadgee Nature Reserve

Nadgee River



Nadgee Nature Reserve

Obiworbby Brook



Kakadu National Park

Darby River



Wilsons Promontory National Park

Area above in km2.

Table 2.  Protected upper catchments: the largest (by estimated average flow) 20 streams (or sections of streams) with 100% of their upstream area within a reserve (reserve defined as IUCN protected area class I to IV) and no listed (major) upstream or downstream dams. Source: Stein unpublished data.

Stream name


Protected area name

South Alligator River


Kakadu National Park and Ramsar area

Franklin River


Southwest World Heritage Area

Coen River


Mungkau Kandju National Park

Davey River


Southwest World Heritage Area

Ray River


Southwest World Heritage Area

Jane River


Southwest World Heritage Area

West Alligator River


Kakadu National Park

Collingwood River


Southwest World Heritage Area

Old River


Southwest World Heritage Area

Giblin River


Southwest World Heritage Area

Jardine River


Jardine River National Park

Crossing River


Southwest World Heritage Area

Picton River


Southwest World Heritage Area

Weld River


Southwest World Heritage Area

New River


Southwest World Heritage Area

Maxwell River


Southwest World Heritage Area

Barramundie Creek


Kakadu National Park

Olga River


Southwest World Heritage Area

Hardwood River


Southwest World Heritage Area

Solly River Tas Southwest World Heritage Area

Tasmania's Southwest World Heritage Area (SWHA) protects most of the catchments of the Spring, Davey, New and Louisa Rivers. Other smaller or less fully protected rivers include the well-known Franklin as well as the Ray, Jane, Collingwood, Old, Giblin, Gordon, Crossing, Picton, Weld, Maxwell, Olga and Hardwood Rivers. In spite of the large hydroelectric dams fed by the rivers of the southwest, many of the smaller riverine ecosystems in this area (which encompasses most of the western-most two of Tasmania's nine bioregions) retain high values and are highly protected from further developments. Many streams and creeks within the SWHA, as well as four streams in Mount William National Park in Tasmania's northeast (PWST 1999) remain relatively undisturbed. The Cracroft, a tributary of the Huon, is a good example of a small but near-pristine river in Tasmania's southern wilderness.

The Northern Territory's Kakadu National Park and associated Ramsar site (1,980,400 ha), protect most of the catchments of the West Alligator and South Alligator Rivers, as well as other significant streams such as Obiworbby Brook and Barramundie Creek. A small portion of the eastern headwaters of the South Alligator lie outside the eastern boundary of the Park, and there is a small excision for the Koongarra Mineral Lease. The South Alligator is Australia's largest protected river. The Garig Gunak Barlu National Park (Coburg Peninsula) protects Ilamaryi River, and Mawuwu and Alaru Creeks. Alien species such as the Cane Toad and various introduced grasses present major problems to these ecosystems.

Queensland's Jardine River National Park (400,000 ha in Cape York Peninsula) protects a large part of the Jardine River's catchment, and the upper reaches (18%) of the Coen River (draining into the Gulf of Carpentaria) receive substantial protection from Mungkau Kandju National Park. Again, some of the Jardine's headwaters lie outside protected area boundaries. The lower Coen is not protected.

Some smaller rivers within island protected areas are important: Rocky River and Breakneck River (although ephemeral) are protected within South Australia's Ravine des Casoars Wilderness Protection Area, Kangaroo Island. Yidney Creek is the largest of several important waterways protected by Queensland's Fraser Island National Park. The entire catchment of Hosnie’s Springs on Christmas Island is protected within either national park or Ramsar site boundaries.

The Rudall River, in Western Australia's Rudall River National Park is an important protected ephemeral river within Australia's arid interior. In contrast, Coopers Creek, one of the best-known of such arid rivers, has a relatively small part (around 2% or 413 km2) of its huge catchment protected through reserves. It should however be noted that the Lake Eyre Basin Intergovernmental Agreement has protection of rivers within the Agreement Area (which includes the Cooper's catchment) as a key objective

Western Australia has two significant protected rivers which do not feature in the Tables 1 and 2 above: the Prince Regent River is substantially protected by the Prince Regent River Biosphere Reserve, and the Shannon River by the Shannon River National Park (details on protected area size below) [vii]. Western Australia's Copper Mine Creek is substantially protected by the Fitzgerald River National Park on the Albany Coast. Along the Esperance coast, Weanerjungup Creek is protected by the Cape Arid National Park. 

Table 3.  Significant drainage basins of named streams with less than 95% of their catchment area protected within a reserve, and no listed (major) upstream or downstream dams. Source: Stein, unpublished data.

Basin stream name

Basin area

Protected basin

Protected area name

South Alligator River



Kakadu National Park

Prince Regent River



Prince Regent River Nature Reserve

Jardine River



Jardine River National Park

Shannon River



Shannon River National Park, WA

Areas above in km2.  

Amongst smaller streams with protected catchments, a few are worthy of specific note.  In New South Wales, the Nadgee Wilderness Area protects the Nadgee and Merrica Rivers. According to Andrew Cox (pers. comm. 24/6/05) "The Merrica River catchment was logged when it was State Forest up until 1996/7, and a big wildfire went through it a little before then, but it should be restoring nicely. The National Parks and Wildlife Service claimed that the Merrica River is the largest coastal wilderness catchment in NSW. Public vehicle access to the Merrica River was closed as part of the Nadgee wilderness declaration in 1996/7".

Victoria's "Essentially Natural Catchment B1" (LCC 1991) in Croajingalong National Park protects the small but undisturbed contiguous coastal catchments (14,470 ha) of the Red and Benedore Rivers together with Shipwreck, Seal and Easby Creeks. In South Gippsland, Darby River is protected by Wilson's Promontory National Park. All are small streams, even by national standards.

The Australian Wetlands Database:
The Directory of Important Wetlands of Australia (DEH 2001) lists nationally and internationally important wetlands, which under the Ramsar Secretariat's definition, includes rivers. While listing in the DIWA in itself confers no statutory protection in any jurisdiction except Queensland, the directory is consulted by both State and local governments, and regional resource management agencies, in making important land use decisions. DIWA listing constitutes a referral trigger in Queensland's Integrated Planning Act 1997 (see Schedule 8 of the Integrated Planning Regulations 1998). 

Amongst the Directory's 850-odd entries, 28 rivers are listed, of which three have substantial protection. The directory's list contains 143 sites which include at least part of a river ecosystem.

A further 27 Ramsar sites protect parts of rivers, usually specific reaches, deltas or floodplains, or small complete catchments.

From a catchment protection viewpoint, the three highly protected DIWA rivers are the South Alligator , Western Australia's Prince Regent River, (both mentioned above) and the Cotter River in the Australian Capital Territory. Unfortunately the Cotter does not qualify as a protected river, as it has been dammed in three places to supply Canberra's water. Most of the catchment of the Cotter, including the bulk of the riparian zone of the river, obtains protection through the ACT's statutory reserves, mainly the Namadgi National Park.

As already noted, the Prince Regent River obtains substantial protection from the Prince Regent River Biosphere Reserve, of which the Prince Regent Nature Reserve (634,952 ha) forms the major part. Western Australia's Shannon River obtains substantial protection through the Shannon River National Park; a major part (89%) of the catchment (~83,000 ha) lies within protected areas. Unfortunately there are some areas in its headwaters that are outside the protected area. The Shannon River (like the Jardine) is not included in the DIWA, or protected by Ramsar status.

Although many rivers in northern Australia are not currently affected by water regulation or catchment development, a lack of protected status means that the future of these rivers is uncertain. At present many northern waterways lie within Indigenous reserves, and have had little flow or catchment modification - although alien species do present major problems.

An important issue is to what extent the biodiversity of small streams contributes to, or duplicates, the biodiversity of larger rivers. The minor spring-fed tributaries of many coastal rivers contain significant invertebrate endemism – quite different and often arguably more significant than the larger rivers themselves (W. Ponder, pers. comm. 19/4/05, Lowe & Likens 2005, Meyer et al. 2003). Similar comments may apply to springs in the arid interior (see discussion of South Australia below). It may be that some of the most important parts of rivers, from a biodiversity viewpoint, lie in the upper headwaters; here it is worth noting that some of Australia's most significant protected rivers, the Prince Regent and the South Alligator for example, have their headwaters outside protected area boundaries. This, along with the identification of freshwater biodiversity hotspots, warrants urgent further attention.

Table 4: Australian Rivers in the 'Directory of Important Wetlands in Australia' (DIWA) and Ramsar lists:


Total listed sites

River catchment included

River segment included

River reach included



1 major [ii]
4 minor








Source: The Australian Wetlands Database (accessed 25/5/05): 

Note that the distinction between ‘reach’ and ‘segment’ is not supported by data accessible through the database, and has been drawn here based on my rather limited knowledge of the sites. The ‘river catchment’ figures are more accurate, largely because I had expert assistance in identifying them.

If Australia has 14 highly protected rivers of reasonable size, it has many more with partial protection, including at least 11 having substantial areas within the Ramsar framework (see Table 4 above). Smaller protected streams may have exceptional biodiversity values; further investigation is necessary.

The Australian wild rivers project:

'Wild Rivers’ was a national program initiated by the Commonwealth Government in 1993, with the primary objectives of identifying and encouraging the protection of rivers that remained largely unaltered by European settlement (Stein et al., 2001). It did not specifically identify high-conservation-value ecosystems or include wetland ecosystems..

The Wild Rivers Project systematically identified Australia’s wild rivers,  and developed guidelines for the management of wild rivers. 

A wild river, as defined by the project, is:

      a channel, channel network, or connected network of waterbodies, of natural origin and exhibiting overland flow (which can be perennial, intermittent or episodic) in which:

·          the biological, hydrological and geomorphological processes associated with river flow; and

·          the biological, hydrological and geomorphological processes in the river catchment with which the river is intimately linked,

have not been significantly altered since European settlement.

Wild rivers that may flow underground for all or part of their length (eg: through karst) are included. 

Although lists of wild rivers were produced for each jurisdiction, strategic protection of identified rivers and river reaches never eventuated

The database was later revised on a low-key basis at the Department of Environment and Heritage, and is now entitled the Australian River Catchment and Condition database. This reflects that fact that the principal ongoing interest in the data-base is in its use as a strategic level indicator of condition across all watercourses on the continent, rather than the project's other brief of identifying significant rivers which were in particularly good condition[i].   The data was built on by the National Land and Water Resources Audit Assessment of River Condition project.

The original consultants (ANU CRES now incorporated within the Fenner School of Environment and Society) prefer to refer to it as the river disturbance database, as the link between the indices of anthropogenic disturbance and river condition is not fully understood, and in fact the full effect of these disturbances may not be evident in terms of river condition for many years (Stein et al. (1998); Stein et al. (2002) ). 

An upgrade to the wild rivers database sits within the continental landscape framework developed by the Fenner School  to support the systematic identification of priority streams for conservation across Australia. The framework incorporates a hierarchical environmental classification with the disturbance indices as indicators of naturalness built upon a spatially nested, hierarchical catchment reference system. The classification groups streams on the basis of the shared similarities of key abiotic attributes that drive hydrological, geomorphological and ecological processes and hence are responsible for observed patterns in stream characteristics at landscape scales. The consistent and comprehensive characterisation of streams that this framework provides enabled a review of the comprehensiveness and adequacy of the National Reserve System (Stein, 2006) and will assist other conservation assessment tasks including evaluation of ecological value criteria (eg: representativeness, uniqueness, naturalness) and the design of biological surveys. (Stein, 2006). The framework is currently being revised to reflect recent improvements in the drainage analysis on which it is based. Calculation of the wild rivers disturbance indices will incorporate more current disturbance information where it is readily available nationally. However, a more comprehensive revision of the wild rivers database will require additional resources.

Most rivers meeting the full "Wild Rivers" criteria in New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania are those already protected by large terrestrial reserves. Due to the low level of development of Australia’s northern rivers, this is not true nationally – with only 13% of the length of the least disturbed streams falling in existing conservation reserves, 27%  on Aboriginal managed land, 16% on vacant crown land and 36% on private land.  Nearly 50% of streams flowing through nature conservation reserves were disturbed to some extent, for example, by upstream landuse.

The two most useful maps / datasets deal with (a) a catchment disturbance index, and (b) flow disturbance.  Flow disturbance includes consideration of both weirs and dams, levee banks and water abstraction.


 From the point of view of river management in general, perhaps the most important features of the wild river data are that the disturbance information can assist in identifying rivers of high ecological value, and assist in the reserve selection process once representative rivers and wetlands have been identified.  Conversely, rivers with highly disturbed catchments and flows need priority attention in programs designed to manage cumulative impacts, or to rehabilitate ecosystems.

The Wild Rivers project published a guideline document) Conservation Guidelines for the Management of Wild River Values. Environment Australia, Canberra, 1998. The document addresses the conservation management of wild rivers (and in fact any river or stream with high natural values) by:

·         discussing the impacts of a range of activities on wild river values

·         outlining some principles for wild river management, and

·         providing a Code for wild river management.

The guidelines have been developed with the objective of assisting management authorities to maintain the integrity of Australia's remaining wild rivers, where a decision has been made to manage the rivers for their wild river values.

[i] Jonathan Miller, pers. comm. 5/12/00.

 [P1]though very crudely as indicated by the presence of drainage canals -this index especially needs more work

State government policy initiatives:
The Victorian Government created 18 Heritage Rivers, 15 Representative Rivers, and 26 Natural Catchments in 1992, following a systematic investigation of river and stream values (LCC 1991).  While the Heritage Rivers were listed under the Government's Heritage Rivers Act 1992, delays have occurred in finalising management arrangements - thirteen years after the passage of the Act, all 18 management plans remain in draft form, without the (required) ministerial endorsement (NRE 1997). Draft management plans have been prepared for 11 of the 15 Representative Rivers, with the Tarra River, Avoca River, Cornella Creek and McCallum Creek still awaiting plans (Nevill & Phillips 2004). Environmental flow allocation to the Thomson River (a Heritage River) appeared to ignore its heritage status [vi]. The State government has not reported on the management of Heritage or Representative Rivers, or provided a timetable for implementation of protective measures.

Under section 7 of the Heritage Rivers Act 1992, Victorian managing authorities must 'take all reasonable steps' to protect heritage river values. The Department of Sustainability and Environment advised that "in accordance with normal practice, the draft management plans are in operation as a guide to land managers" (pers. comm. 30/5/2005). 

The Victorian Government's management of its special rivers fails to meet accepted principles of transparency and accountability (Nevill 2004). Why have the draft management plans for the Representative Rivers never been completed or finalised?  Why are all the Heritage River management plans still in draft form, eight years after the publication of these drafts for stakeholder consultation purposes? The Victorian Government's decision on the Thomson River's environmental flows raises important questions regarding implementation of the provisions of the Heritage Rivers Act itself.  It may well be that neither the Act nor the draft plans are being implemented in practice. Even if the Act and the plans are being partially implemented, is this protecting the important values of the rivers? These are questions of considerable importance and concern - and questions which at this stage remain unanswered [iix].

Heritage Rivers (whole rivers are underlined, otherwise river segments) are: Mitta Mitta, Ovens, Howqua, Big, Goulburn, Wimmera, Genoa, Bemm, Snowy, Suggan Buggan, Buchan, Mitchell (incl Wonnangatta headwater), Thomson, Yarra, Lerderderg, Aire and Glenelg. 

Essentially Natural Catchments are: Red and Benedore Rivers with Shipwreck, Seal and Easby Creeks, Roger River and Mountain Creek, Avon, Turton and Dolodrook Rivers with Ben Cruachan Creek, O'Shannassy River, Log Bridge Creek east branch, Mount Tabor Creek, Banimboola Creek, Devil's Creek middle branch, Yarrarabula Creek, Long Jack Creek, Williams Creek, Double Creek, Unnamed tributary to the Genoa River, Winnot Creek, Errinunda River east branch, Gattamurh Creek, Wallaby Creek, Mount Gelantipy Creek, Must Creek,  Brodribb River headwaters, Stony Creek, Wongungarra River headwaters, Blue Rag Creek, Pinnacle Creek east branch, Punchen Creek, and Mount Vereker Creek. 

Representative Rivers are: Upper Big River (above Glen Valley), Snowy River, Dargo River, Macalister River (Glencairn), Buchan River (above Mellick Munjie Creek), Thurra River, Nicholson River, Cornella Creek, Avoca River (Avoca), Lerderderg River (O'Brien's Crossing), McCallum Creek, Gellibrand River (Carlisle River), Tarra River (Yarram), Kennedy Creek, and Moorabool River (Morrisons). 

In relation to the Thurra, Dr David Outhet comments: "It is an intact (substantially pre-European state) example of a meandering sand river with its alluvial floodplain and catchment still mostly pre-European. As far as I know, it is the only intact one of its kind in Australia - so well worth protecting" (pers. comm. 1/6/2005).

New South Wales:
The New South Wales National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974 (s.61) enables the listing of 'wild rivers' where rivers flow through land reserved under the Act. Section 61(5) states: 

         "A wild river is to be managed in accordance with the following principles:

(a) the restoration (wherever possible) and maintenance of the natural biological, hydrological and geomorphological processes associated with wild rivers and their catchments, including natural flow variability, and
(b) the identification, conservation and appropriate management of Aboriginal objects and Aboriginal places."

Section 61A(2) states: "A statutory authority shall not carry out development in relation to a wild river unless it has consulted with, and considered any advice given by, the Minister in relation to the development."

After a delay of many years, in December 2005 the NSW Government announced the listing of five river segments: the Brogo River on the south coast (Bega Catchment), Kowmung River (Hawkesbury-Nepean catchment) in the Sydney drinking water supply area, and three rivers on the north coast: Upper Hastings River (Hastings Catchment), Forbes River (Hastings Catchment) and Washpool Creek  (Clarence Catchment). 

According to earlier advice from Joanna Muldoon and Eren Turak (Department of Environment and Conservation (DEC) NSW, pers. comm. 01/06/2005): 

"The NSW government recently made a commitment to review nine rivers  and declare them, or parts of them, as wild rivers if appropriate. The review process is underway and it is likely that at least some of these rivers will be declared during 2005. Four of these river segments (Upper Hastings, Forbes and Brogo Rivers and Washpool Creek) have catchments within National parks (the sections under consideration are not whole rivers but are major segments).  Three of the river segments (McDonald, Colo Grose and Kowmung) are mostly in National Parks but have their headwaters outside parks, and in some cases the lower catchments of these rivers lie outside parks or other protected areas. The other two (Paroo and Maria) have very small segments in parks or reserves. Only sections of rivers within National Parks will be declared as wild. 

The declaration of wild rivers will place certain management restrictions on the rivers within national park: wild rivers must be managed in a way which will preserve their wild river values. While wild river declarations are unlikely to make much difference in wilderness areas, which are already managed for the highest level of environmental protection,  it may well make a difference in other parts of reserves by restricting actions such as roading and facility upgrades. Wild river declarations may offer additional protection to rivers outside parks in some circumstances.  The National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974 requires that statutory authorities proposing actions which may impact on a wild river must seek advice from the Department of Environment and Conservation (DEC). Actions captured by the Act might include the construction of a dam, weir or power-station or major development by Local Council upstream of the declared wild river. Note that the DEC has an advisory role not a concurrence role, but it does ensure the potential impacts on wild rivers would be considered in some circumstances." 

According to the NSW Minister for Environment, Bob Debus (press release 8 December 2005):

The Washpool Creek sub-catchment falls within Washpool National Park. Washpool National Park and the adjacent Gibraltar Range National Park form part of the World Heritage listed Central Eastern Rainforest Reserves of Australia (CERRA). The remote and rugged landscape has limited European disturbance to cedar cutting, localised patches of logging and bush grazing and the entire sub-catchment is wilderness.

Forbes and Upper Hastings sub-catchments occur within Werrikimbe National Park and form part of the Central Eastern Rainforest Reserves of Australia (CERRA) World Heritage area.

The Kowmung River and catchment have attracted passionate interest from bushwalkers and nature lovers for over 100 years but have also been the site of natural resource use and of major mining and forestry proposals. Most of the catchment was protected by establishing Kanangra-Boyd National Park.

The Brogo sub-catchment is located in the Bega catchment in south east NSW. The highly fertile Bega Valley has undergone substantial land clearing and the rugged and mountainous upper reaches of the catchment provide important examples of the catchment's original features and freshwater fauna and flora. The Brogo sub-catchment is immediately upstream of the Brogo Dam and provides water for the Bega district's town and irrigators.

The Brogo Dam prevents any fish movement, especially the movement of bass - for which the river was once renowned (S. Lake, pers. comm. 10/1/06).

The Intergovernmental agreement on the Paroo River, between New South Wales and Queensland (BCMF 2003) is a formal bilateral agreement which establishes a ‘vision’ of a healthy free-flowing river, then requires the two jurisdictions to work together to develop plans to give effect to this vision. While it has no legal standing, and thus no penalty provisions (and no dedicated budget funding from either jurisdiction) it nevertheless carries considerable weight as a premier-to-premier agreement. It seeks to work by good will, emphasising the need for integrated management of the river, its catchment and floodplains, and dependent groundwaters. Within this catchment there is a  Ramsar site in Queensland, Currawinya near Hungerford, and the NSW government is examining the issue of Ramsar-listing wetlands on the NSW side of the border in a complementary fashion.

Amongst other notable DIWA wetlands are these in NSW: Paroo River Distributary channels, Talywalka Anabranch and Teryawinya Creek, Kondrook and Perricoota forests, Lower Mirool Creek floodplain, Merrowie creek, Millewa forest, Clyde river estuary, Shoalhaven/Crookhaven estuary, and Cullendulla creek and embayment. (Alison Curtin pers. comm. 29/5/2005).

The Esk River near Grafton receives substantial protection from the Bundjalung National Park on the north side of the Clarence estuary (Stuart Blanch pers. comm. 30/6/05).

'Special areas' can be declared under the NSW Sydney Water Catchment Management Act 1998 for the purposes of protecting catchments, their hydrology and water quality, and their ecosystems. While none have been declared specifically to protect ecosystems, eight such areas have been declared which do provide incidental ecosystem protection in the Blue Mountains, Shoalhaven and Sydney metropolitan regions.

The Australian Capital Territory:
The Australian Capital Territory has an unusually large 'protected' estate, with 52% of its land area under some form of protective management. Most aquatic ecosystems of the ACT are either protected or extinct. The 'chain of ponds' ecosystem, for example, is thought to be extinct in the ACT, and rare in adjacent NSW (Mark Lintermans, pers. comm. 20/5/2005). Dams on the Cotter have restricted the movement of some aquatic fauna: extinction of certain ecosystem components is a possibility.

Tasmania, like the ACT, has an unusually large 'protected' estate, with 40% of its land area under some form of protective management. The largest of Tasmania's protected areas is the Southwest World Heritage Area. The Tasmanian Government made a commitment in 2002 to the 'comprehensive, adequate and representative' (CAR) protection of the State's freshwater ecosystems; however it is noteworthy that the 2005/6 State Budget contained no specific allocation to support the implementation of this commitment, in spite of the fact that the almost complete Conservation of Freshwater Ecosystem Value (CFEV) Project (which undertook the design phase of the CAR protection program) is expected to identify priority sites for protection. 

The Queensland Wild Rivers Act 2005 (proclaimed 14 October 2005) provides for the declaration of a river as a 'wild river'. Once declared, development applications in the surrounding catchments must consider, and seek to protect, the identified values of the river. The rivers under initial discussion during the drafting of the legislation in 2004 were the: Archer River system, Coleman River system, Ducie River system, Fraser Island streams, Gregory River (Nicholson basin), Hinchinbrook Island streams, Holroyd River system, Jacky Jacky Creek, Jardine River, Jeannie River, Lockhart River, Morning Inlet streams, Olive & Pascoe Rivers, Settlement Creek system, Staaten River, Stewart River, Watson River, and the Wenlock River.  Six rivers were subsequently nominated , and after a considerable delay, declared (  It is to be hoped that many other rivers will be declared, and that the protective measures provided for under the Act will be fully implemented and effective. 

The Northern Territory:
The draft NT Parks and Conservation Master Plan (2005) proposes increasing protected areas in the large Daly River catchment, and Ramsar listing for the lower wetlands. The Daly and its tributaries are afforded limited protection by some existing protected areas. Key ones include: Kakadu National Park, Nitmiluk National Park (DIWA listed), Flora River Nature Park (a linear reserve that essentially protects 78 km2 of riparian zone on the Flora River (a tributary  to the Daly), the Daly River (Mt Nancar) Conservation Area, Litchfield NP (recently established, and only a small part of the catchment included), and various Nature Parks protecting small areas (<15 km2), eg. gorges, hot springs (pers. comm. Stuart Blanch 29/5/2005). List of NT undisturbed rivers 1996.

South Australia:
According to Gabriel Anderson (pers. comm. 28/6/05): "None of South Australia's five Ramsar sites have been declared primarily (or substantially) to protect a river and/or its catchment. However, three of South Australia's Ramsar sites are on the Murray River i.e.. the 'Riverland' South Australia, Banrock Wetland Complex and the Coorong and Lower Lakes. The Coongie lakes site includes a section of the Cooper Creek and its anabranches.  No South Australian Ramsar site protects an entire catchment. 

Twenty-two out of South Australia's 69 DIWA sites include parts of rivers, their floodplains and/or estuaries. This includes 15 along the Murray River (the above Ramsar sites are also DIWA sites)."

According to Chris Madden (pers. comm. 1/6/2005): 
The only streams with catchments completely in National Parks are on Kangaroo Island in Flinders Chase National Park and the Ravine des Casoars Wilderness Protection Area.  The Rocky River is the largest but is still intermittent and the other biggest streams are Breakneck River and the North West River. Platypus continue to survive in Rocky River, after being introduced from the mainland many decades ago. Some other streams on the tip of the Fleuriu Peninsula have much of their catchment in parks but sections are on farmland. 

Several streams in the Flinders Ranges have much of their catchment in parks e.g. Brachina/Bunyeroo Creeks, Wilpena Creek, several creeks in the Gammon Ranges National Park and in Arkaroola Sanctuary.  These are of course episodic but many permanent springs are protected. 

All of the streams mentioned above are unregulated.

Sections of the Lake Eyre Basin waterways are also protected in Regional Reserves. South Australia's largest ephemeral river, Coopers Creek, has an extensive catchment with the upper reaches stretching into NSW and Queensland, and is largely unprotected, with only a small proportion of the catchment in reserves.

I would suggest that the reference to Winston Ponder's point that smaller spring-fed streams are often different and possibly more significant than larger rivers is equally applicable in SA (note Ponder 2004).  The difference here is that the important spring-fed systems are usually in the arid areas of the state and much of the catchment can be degraded which only increases the significance of the sites.  Examples of macroinvertebrate taxa that I know of in isolated areas that are not protected are a freshwater polychaete (undescribed) in the Broughton River, a couple of caddis flies that occur in several permanent but well-separated springs across the state and not in between, and another that only occurs in salty groundwater areas on Eyre Peninsula.  Another stream with a unique fauna (in SA at least) is Tookayerta Creek, a sandy bed stream that flows into Lake Alexandrina and is highly modified in places but nonetheless retains a diverse fauna due to strong flows of groundwater.

The protection of groundwater reserves is a major issue in SA and the local Catchment Water Management Boards (soon to be subsumed by Natural Resource Management Boards) have been working away at it with technical expertise from DWLBC.  The Marne River is a recent example and there are many other regions which have become Proscribed Groundwater Areas under the SA Water Resources Act.

Western Australia:
No review is available: can you help with a brief summary of smaller protected rivers and streams, as well as recent government initiatives?  Please contact jonathan.nevill@gmail.comList of WA undisturbed rivers 1996.


Concluding comments and recommendations:
There has been considerable interest over the last five years in the identification and protection of Australia's most important rivers.  New Zealand (see above) is already well advanced with a similar project - their "Waters of National Importance" strategy.  Key questions for Australia are: which Australian rivers are already well protected, and which river types are unprotected? 

The National Reserve System (NRS) Directions Statement (NRMMC 2005) signalled a new emphasis on freshwater ecosystems (Direction 7): "Review the current understanding of freshwater biodiversity in relation to the NRS CAR [comprehensive, adequate and representative] reserve system, and finalise an agreed approach, which may include future amendments of the NRS Guidelines, to ensure freshwater ecosystems are appropriately incorporated within the NRS."  This initiative needs strong support.

The identification of protected rivers is an important precursor to more advanced river protection policy development. A particularly important issue is the extent to which representative river ecosystems are protected. This paper presents a preliminary overview, but does not attempt to address this issue. A more detailed systematic analysis should be undertaken using existing information. A preliminary analysis of the representativeness of the existing protected area system and identification of priorities for protection has commenced within the Centre for Resource and Environmental Studies, Australian National University. Further investigation of the values and condition of protected rivers is needed urgently, along with studies of aquatic biodiversity hotspots, as well as headwater biodiversity.

A brief examination of three national databases indicates that Australia has few substantial protected rivers: most of these are located in eight large protected areas. These are: the Southwest World Heritage Area (Tasmania) which protects several rivers including four of relatively large size, Kakadu National Park (Northern Territory, two large rivers), Prince Regent River Biosphere Reserve, the Rudall River National Park, and the Shannon River National Park (Western Australia), the Nadgee Nature Reserve Wilderness Area (New South Wales, two rivers), the Ravine des Casoars Wilderness Protection Area, Kangaroo Island (South Australia, two rivers), and the Jardine River National Park (Queensland). While all are relatively small rivers by world standards, and some are ephemeral, the 14 rivers protected within these reserves are the largest of Australia's protected rivers - although not necessarily the most significant from a biodiversity viewpoint. 

This investigation could be extended through the use of existing National Audit data, including AusRivAS invertebrate data, which could be used to examine condition and value information over at least part of the Australian continent. This would go some way towards answering two other key questions: which rivers retain exceptionally high natural values, and where are these under most immediate threat? 

It appears likely that broader investigations would reveal that a very large number of inland aquatic ecosystem types remain without adequate protection - and this finding may especially apply to riverine ecosystems. DEH (2001b) recommended the protection of 30% of the pre-1750 extent of terrestrial ecological communities. This target, or the variable targets suggested by Pressey (2004) should also be adopted for inland aquatic ecosystems. While desirable, it may be impossible to achieve such targets without major rehabilitation efforts - for example where lowland rivers have been extensively degraded.

More broadly, these recommended investigations should form a part of a wider national conservation status assessment of inland aquatic ecosystems, with a view to developing a nationally compatible system of comprehensive, adequate and representative inland aquatic protected areas.

Special thanks are due to Janet Stein (CRES, ANU) for provision of unpublished analysis of national river protection data, and to Simon Ransome (VEAC) for a detailed appendix on Victorian protected rivers. Other important contributions were made by Richard Kingsford, Geoff Lamour, Jamie Pittock, Arthur Georges, Stuart Halse, Alison Curtin, Gabriel Anderson, Sam Lake, Stuart Blanch, Winston Ponder, Eren Turak, Mark Lintermans, Joanna Muldoon, Andrew Cox, Chris Madden, Gay Deacon and David Outhet.

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Chadderton, WL, Brown, DJ, and Stephens, RT (2004) Identifying freshwater ecosystems of national importance for biodiversity – discussion document.  Department of Conservation New Zealand, Wellington.

DEH Department of the Environment and Heritage (2001a) Directory of Important Wetlands of Australia (third edition). DEH, Canberra.

DEH Department of the Environment and Heritage, Australia (2001b) National objectives and targets for biodiversity conservation 2001-2005.  DEH website accessed 22/11/04

Department of the Environment and Heritage, Australia (1998) Conservation guidelines for the management of wild river values. Environment Australia; Canberra.

Kingsford RT, Dunn H, Love D, Nevill J, Stein J, and Tait J (2005) Protecting Australia’s rivers, wetlands and estuaries of high conservation value: a blueprint; Department of the Environment and Heritage (Australia); Canberra.

Kingston, RT et al. (40 scientists) (2005) Urgent need for a systematic expansion of freshwater protected areas in Australia. Scientist’s consensus statement published at Accessed 30/5/2005. o

IUCN (1994). Guidelines for protected area management categories. Commission on National Parks and Protected Areas with the assistance of the World Conservation Monitoring Centre. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland.

Lake P.S. (1978) On the conservation of rivers in Australia.  Australian Society for Limnology Newsletter  16:24-28.

LCC Land Conservation Council Victoria (1991) Rivers and streams special investigation: final recommendations. Land Conservation Council, Melbourne.

Lowe W.H. and G.E.Likens (2005) Moving headwater streams to the head of the class. BioScience 55: 196-197.

Meyer JL, Kaplan LA, Beilfuss R, Carpenter Q, Newbold D, Semlitsch R,  Strayer DL, Watzin M,  Woltemade CJ, Zedler JB, Zedler PH (2003) Where streams are born: the scientific imperative for defending small streams and wetlands. 23pp. Sierra Club; Washington.  

National Land and Water Resources Audit (2001) Australian water resources assessment 2000. Commonwealth of Australia: Canberra.

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Appendix One
Notes on Victorian Rivers:                                                     31 May 2005

Simon Ransome,  Project Manager, Victorian Environmental Assessment Council

I can comment on a few on the DIWA list - those identified in the [former] Land Conservation Council's Rivers & Streams Investigation, plus some local knowledge.

1. You refer to absence of catchment disturbance. No Victorian river catchment has no disturbance, except the small natural catchment areas protected under the Heritage Rivers Act. Of those, only the Red & Benedore Rivers and Shipwreck, Easby & Seal Creeks catchments in East Gippsland qualify as streams whose entire catchment to the sea is undisturbed. The total catchment of these abutting streams is 14,470 ha. [Identification of these catchments reviewed all Victorian 3rd order streams and larger. Numerous smaller watercourses in protected areas would also be undisturbed.]

2. You refer to the absence of dams. The Wonnangatta - Mitchell Rivers system is very important in this regard - the only large river system in Victoria [and in NSW to well north of Sydney] with coastal outfall and no dam, although there is a low barrier on an existing rock bar near Bairnsdale marking the limit of tidal influence.

Comments below give general descriptions of the river corridors, land use setting, recent wildfires, and comments on protection. For more recent views, the Victorian Department of Sustainability and Environment would be best placed to comment.

For several rivers, under the Heritage Rivers Act 1992, no impoundments, artificial barriers or in-stream structures are to be built, and any new [post 16/6/1992] water diversions are not to significantly impair the specific environmental & recreational values of the river corridors, unless specifically approved by the Governor in Council. Where mentioned below, no timber harvesting is permitted in the river corridor.

Note that the formal corridor descriptions of the Mitta Mitta, Big, Lerderderg and Aire Rivers were amended by the Heritage Rivers (Amendment) Act 1998.

Wongungarra River - 1681 ha in the headwaters is a 'Natural Catchment Area' [LCC 1991 B22] under the Heritage Rivers Act; an area of 7420 ha including the headwaters was added to the Alpine National Park in March 2000; the remainder of the Wongungarra River catchment is almost all state forest. About half of the whole catchment, including the headwaters area, was burnt in the 2003 alpine fire. This is a Wonnangatta tributary; it has no dams.

Mitta Mitta River - has a 400m Heritage River corridor [in public land] from the Dartmouth Reservoir tailwaters, upstream to the Big River bridge. There is a wider corridor in the gorge section below the Bundarra River junction. Most of the headwaters above Livingstone Creek junction is forested public land [including some high plains], part Alpine National Park, part state forest. Timber harvesting is not permitted in the state forest corridor. Downstream from Livingstone Creek junction the Mitta Mitta flows through mostly cleared farmland, with only a narrow public land stream frontage. The whole corridor was burnt in the 2003 alpine fire. There is a major dam immediately downstream of the heritage river corridor.

Ovens River - has a Heritage River corridor in state forest from Boorhaman [near Wangaratta] downstream to Lake Mulwala tailwaters. It takes in all the state forest, [and a flora reserve] in this reach. The Heritage Rivers Act specifically permits controlled timber harvesting in state forest in this corridor. The Ovens & King Rivers have large catchments consisting of freehold farmland, state forest, and small national park areas. The Ovens flows into the Murray, into the tailwaters of Lake Mulwala [Yarrawonga Weir]. Upstream there are dams on Ovens tributaries King and Buffalo Rivers.

River red gum forests in the Ovens River valley further upstream to the Buckland River junction, and along the King River to Whitfield and Buffalo River to Lake Buffalo have been included in Victorian Environment Assessment Council’s (VEAC – superseded the ECC which superseded the LCC) recently commenced River Red Gum Investigation.

Howqua River - has a 400m Heritage River corridor, in the Alpine National Park, historic area and state forest from the headwaters to near Lake Eildon. The Heritage Rivers Act specifically permits timber harvesting in the state forest. The whole catchment is public land except for small areas adjoining Lake Eildon and at Frys. There is a major dam immediately downstream of the heritage river corridor.

Big River [this is the Big River which flows into Lake Eildon] - has a 400m Heritage River corridor through state forest and a short section through Lake Eildon National Park [on one side only]. Timber harvesting is not permitted in the state forest corridor. The whole catchment is public land [except for a few hectares of freehold land at Enoch Point and on the Thomson R. divide]. There is a major dam immediately downstream of the heritage river corridor.

Wimmera River - has a Heritage River corridor from Polkemmet Bridge downstream from Natimuk, to the terminal Lake Agnes. Some 45% of its length consists of a narrow public land water frontage abutting freehold farmland; 31% of the corridor is national park; the rest is in several other reserves or state forest. Most of the catchment is cleared freehold farmland, much of which is cropped. There are several dams in the headwaters [Lake Bellfield, Lake Wartook], as well as some low weirs on the Wimmera River itself.

Genoa River - has a 400m Heritage River corridor from the NSW border to near Wangarabell. It is all in the Coopracambra National Park. The Victorian part of the catchment is all public land, and most of the (relatively small) NSW catchment is forested. It has no dam in Victoria.

Snowy River – has a Heritage River corridor from the NSW border to the sea. The corridor is wide, taking in the whole catchments to most short tributaries upstream of the Orbost floodplain. Almost 88% of the corridor area is national park; 9% of corridor area is state forest. Low intensity selection harvesting is permitted in state forest. Near Orbost, 34 km [19% of corridor length] consists of public land water frontage. Most of the public land in the catchment north of the Rodger River - Mountain Creek divide and west to near Gelantipy was burnt in 2003, although the fires did not reach the river in this whole section. The Snowy Mountains Hydroelectric Scheme has created several dams and diversions on the river and its headwater streams in NSW, with major extraction of streamflow. The river has no dams in Victoria.

Suggan Buggan/Berrima River – has a Heritage River corridor from the NSW border to the Snowy River. There is a 400m corridor through national park for 86% of corridor length; the rest is public land water frontage through part-cleared farmland. The entire catchment was burnt in the 2003 fires, except for the NSW section of the Ingeegoodbee River, a tributary. The Suggan Buggan flows into the Snowy River; no dams in Victoria. The NSW catchment is relatively small.

Wonnangatta and Mitchell Rivers – has a Heritage River corridor from Terrible Hollow down to the Mitchell River silt jetties in Lake King. Corridor width varies - at least 400m in the Alpine National Park, wider to encompass the Mitchell River gorge [national park], narrow through farmland. The corridor area consists of 68% national park, 13% state forest [no harvesting], and 16% public land water frontage. While the main Wonnangatta and Mitchell River valleys were not burnt in 2003, the catchments to tributaries including the Dargo, Wongungarra and Hummffray Rivers were probably at least 50% burnt in 2003. No dams as such, however there is a minor barrier near Bairnsdale.

Benedore River - see comments above on catchment non-disturbance.

Thurra River - almost entirely public land catchment, mostly state forest, some national park. The river did not have sufficient state-significant values to be recommended as a heritage river, however it is designated as a Representative River (the only such designation to cover an entire river). Logging in the catchment meant it was not given 'natural catchment area' status. It has no dams.

Yarra River – has a Heritage River corridor from Warburton to near Warrandyte. Fifty four percent of the corridor length has a narrow public land water frontage, and for 35% of the river length within the corridor freehold land abuts the river - that is, there is no public land. There are several dams operated by Melbourne Water in the headwaters.

Lerderderg River – has a Heritage River corridor from the junction of Crowley and Cooper Creeks upstream of Blackwood, to the mouth of Lerderderg Gorge upstream of Darley. The corridor is wide in the gorge, with 93% of corridor area in state park. The wider catchment contains farmland in the headwaters. Some 6% of corridor area is state forest [harvesting not permitted]. There are no dams on the Lerderderg, although a weir in the gorge diverts water to Lake Merrimu. The river flows into the Werribee River at Bacchus Marsh, upstream of Melton Reservoir.

Aire River – has a Heritage River corridor from Hopetoun Falls [in the Aire valley softwood plantations] to the sea. Main tenures in the corridor area are: 70% state forest [harvesting not permitted]; 13% national park; 11% public land water frontage. The corridor width in state forest is generally 200m [not 400m]. VEAC's recently completed Angahook - Otway Investigation proposed that the corridor width in state forest be increased to 400m. It has no dam.

Glenelg River - Heritage River corridor from Dartmoor to the sea [except for a short reach in South Australia]. 78% of the corridor area is national park. Upstream of the heritage river, much of the Glenelg River flows through farmland with a public land water frontage. Rocklands Reservoir diverts flow from the headwaters [in the Grampians] into the Wimmera-Mallee channel system.


[i] Ramsar sites containing major river segments: Port Phillip Bay, Coorong and Lake Alexandrina, Coongie Lakes, Riverland SA, Moulting Lagoon, Ord River floodplain, Lakes Argyle and Kununurra, Lavinia Tasmania, Pittwater-Orielton, Ringarooma River lower floodplain, Apsley Marshes.

[ii] Major: South Alligator River. Minor: The Dales, and Hosnie’s Springs Christmas Island; Catchments of The Dales and Hosnies Springs Ramsar sites are within the Ramsar site and/or the Christmas Island National Park. Similarly, the catchments of Ginini Flats and Blue Lake Ramsar sites are also within their site boundaries, and also contained within larger national parks (pers. comm Geoff Lamour 2/7/5/2005).

[iii] DIWA  listed rivers: Daly, Archer, Olive, Gregory, Russell, Douglas, Wongungarra, Mitta Mitta, Ovens, Howqua, Big, Wimmera, Genoa, Snowy, Suggan Buggan, Wonnangatta, Benedore, Thurra, Yarra, Lerderderg, Aire, Glenelg, Drysdale, Mitchell, and De Grey rivers. Note that many of these rivers are highly modified, and some slightly modified. A few, such as the Benedore and the Thurra are close to pristine condition.

[iv] The five sites listed in endnote [ii] above, plus the Prince Regent River (WA) and the Cotter River (ACT).

[v] Recreational fishing may have important indirect effects. The Wingan River in East Gippsland (Victoria) flows almost entirely though State forest and national park.  Its shallow small (~6km x 0.5km) estuary contains seagrass beds easily damaged by boat propellers. In managing this estuary, the Victorian National Parks Service continues to ignore scientific advice (from geomorphologist NJ Rosengren) recommending the exclusion of powered vessels, while at the same time failing to monitor seagrass heath in the park. Provision for powered vessels caters almost exclusively for the needs of fishermen.

[vi] According to A/Prof Brian Finlayson (pers. comm. 13/5/05): “The Thomson River is a Heritage River yet the Victorian government apparently had no qualms about reducing the scientifically determined environmental flow allocation. The Thomson Expert Panel process recommended an environmental flow regime of 47 GL annually. The Task Force (made up of water managers and water users) eventually agreed to an environmental flow of 12 GL/yr initially rising to 25 GL/yr in 5-6 years. The fact that it was a Heritage River appeared to carry no weight in this decision and was not mentioned in the Task Force report.” 

[vii] According to Stuart Halse (pers. comm. 4/6/2005): "Most of the upstream parts of the Shannon's catchment are picked up in Shannon River National Park (52,588 ha) but possibly a few tributaries are partly in Shannon State Forest (20,055 ha) which is peripheral to the National Park and mostly in other catchments.  The downstream section of the Shannon is within D’Éntrecasteux National Park, which is contiguous with the Shannon NP and comprises 116,927 ha, most of which is outside the Shannon catchment (D’Éntrecasteux runs along the coast).  

[iix] My most recent letter to the Victorian premier on this issue (7 April 2005) although answered (reply 22 August 2005) avoided addressing these issues directly. 



Merrica River, New South Wales