Monday, December 17, 2007


Sandra Postel is a global water activist. She has developed the Global Water Policy Project aimed at promoting the care, protection and management of fresh waters. In particular, her program implores us to change the way we think about and use fresh water. Postel comments:

'Water is the basis of life and the blue arteries of the earth! Everything in the non-marine environment depends on freshwater to survive. Because we haven't managed water wisely in the past, many freshwater species are at risk of extinction. And because we've used water too profligately, a lot of rivers now run dry before they reach the sea, and a lot of groundwater sources are being depleted.'

Aquatic ecosystems are experiencing stress. Rivers run dry. Fresh water creatures are threatened. Water sources are at risk. So urgent action, research and promotion and communication's work are essential for changing the way we think about fresh water systems What can we do?

In an article entitled 'Ecologically Sustainable Water Management: Managing River Flows for Ecological Integrity', Richter et al (2003) suggest that ecological degradation is an unintentional by-product of water management practices. The reason? A lack of awareness about the impact these practices have on environmental flows and natural variabilty.

Environmental flows can be defined as water that is retained or released into a river system to manage its health and quality. Sustainable flows help sustain the productivity and diversity of aqua-systems. The question then needs to be asked - how to measure the sustainability of river-productivity and aqua-versity?

The federal government's Australia-Wide Assessment of River Health: Queensland AusRivAS Sampling and Processing Manual puts it this way:

'Water quality and, subsequently, river health has traditionally been assessed solely on the chemical analysis of water samples. In recent years there has been a realisation that the structure of plant and animal communities of the rivers can give us a far more accurate picture of the condition or health of our waterways. Of these biological communities, macroinvertebrates (i.e. animals without backbones, large enough to be seen with the naked eye, e.g. prawns, shrimps, crayfish, snails, mussels and insects such as dragonflies, damselflies and mayflies) are most widely used because they are abundant and diverse, and are sensitive to changes in water quality, flow regime and habitat conditions. Impacts on these animals are relatively long lasting and can be detected for some time after the impact occurs.'

What is missing from this assessment? Human interactions - both positive and negative. Perhaps, as well as considering the ecological, social and economic implications within integrated river management strategies, other relevant factors such as psycho-spiritual attitudes and values need be incorporated. How does the community think about and value the Brisbane River? What are people's modes of beneficial interactivities - for both person and river?

Community values' orientations, stories of interactions with 'aquacology' as well as attitudes towards the river, river health and rivercare can extend integrated water management beyond the physical into the psychological. emotional and spiritual so perspectives around gratitude, respect for nature/river systems as well as reciprocity - giving back to nature/river - are infused in the way river systems are stewarded.

In this process the heart of ecology becomes a sacred precious wisdom and insight which honours the spirit of the river and traditional ecological knowledges (TEKs). The heart of ecology then and as well, becomes an artistic endeavour as local poets, writers, storytellers, weavers, and others interconnect with environmental flows and scientific practices. The heart of ecology shares stories with science, poetry with water management, art with rivercare. These aspects are not mutually exclusive.

An holistic approach to the care of the Brisbane River could help raise community awareness about the joys of riverwalking and river-connecting, the plight of river creatures, the effect of the drought and the enflowering abundance embedded within aquacology.

Hoover R, 2002, 'Watching the Rivers' Flows: Talking with an Expert on Rivers’ Needs for Water', World Rivers Review, 6-7.
Richter BD, Mathews R, Harrison DL, Wigington R, 2003, Ecologically Sustainable Water Management: Managing River Flows for Ecological Integrity', Ecological Application, 13, 1, 206-224.