Friday, June 20, 2008

River Health Auditing

Just this week the federal government released its River Health Audit. Out of the 23 river valleys listed, only one is gets a positive tick. The quality of other major rivers in Australia is deemed 'poor' and 'very poor' - 13 river systems are described as 'very poor'.

The government's first solution is to blame the previous government while allocating $3.1 billion to buy back water towards restoring the health of the waterways. Buy back water?

The bigger issue of combatting climate change is also part of the restoration program - but there was no discussion of how this is to be achieved. With less rain, reduced water flow, lowered water quality, and a demand for irrigation, what is the future for these wild rivers?

River water is valuable - so valuable in fact that it is sold off. This means that for the river itself, and the ecosystem services that depend on a health water flow, are under threat from severe degradation.

River revival projects are underway all over the country. What is crucial about these projects is support from local residents and water users. Ecological and scientific experts are working with the community, first gauging knowledges the community holds about the riverine ecosystem, their attitudes towards the stakeholder engagement process, and the values held about the river and river environment quality.

Important in this process is an understanding of community values on issues such as aesthetics, water quality, recreational amenity, pollution, riverbank health, native vegetation and wildlife. For example, a study of river attitudes about restoration on the Cooks River in NSW by Andrews and Smith (2006) found that the community was generally aware of the link between the presence of vegetation and river health and most understood the connection between dense vegetation and river quality when compared to more open space river surroundings.

The study also showed that residents thought that native vegetation along the river added to the river's beauty in comparison to their attitudes about 'enhancing the ecology of the place'. And of interest to Brisbane River environs, the study found that while most residents held a positive attitude towards the recolonisation of mangroves along the river, others were 'displeased' about loss of view and river access due to the dense growth.

Andrews V and L Smith, 2006, A community-based survey: the knowledge and attitudes towards urban biodiversity
of the residents and users of the Cooks River Corridor, Final report for an Urban Ecology Project at the University of Technology Sydney, October 2006