Counting Australia's protected rivers
Jon Nevill firstname.lastname@example.org
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).
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.
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:
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:
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:
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.
protected river reaches:
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:
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 www.onlyoneplanet.com.au.
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.
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).
and identifying protected rivers:
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.
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.
Area above in km2.
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.
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.
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:
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.
The Australian Wetlands Database (accessed 25/5/05): http://www.deh.gov.au/water/wetlands/database/index.html
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:
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
Wild Rivers Project systematically identified Australia’s wild rivers, and developed guidelines for the management of wild rivers.
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:
hydrological and geomorphological processes associated with river flow;
hydrological and geomorphological processes in the river catchment with
which the river is intimately linked,
not been significantly altered since European settlement.
rivers that may flow underground for all or part of their length (eg:
through karst) are included.
lists of wild rivers were produced for each jurisdiction, strategic
protection of identified rivers and river reaches never eventuated
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
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)
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.
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.
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
outlining some principles for wild river management, and
providing a Code for wild river management.
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:
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:
"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
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 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:
Queensland: . Six rivers were subsequently nominated ,
and after a considerable delay, declared (www.nrm.qld.gov.au/wildrivers/). It is to be hoped that
other rivers will be declared, and that the protective measures provided
for under the Act will be fully implemented and effective.
. Six rivers were subsequently nominated , and after a considerable delay, declared (www.nrm.qld.gov.au/wildrivers/). 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.
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)."
to Chris Madden (pers. comm.
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.
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.
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Simon Ransome, Project Manager, Victorian Environmental Assessment Council
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.
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.]
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
River - see comments above on
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.
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.
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.
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.
[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.”
According to Stuart Halse (pers. comm. 4/6/2005): "Most
of the upstream parts of the Shannon's catchment are picked up in
[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