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Part 1: Protect and enhance the shared water resources and environmental assets of the Basin

Strategy 1.4
Monitor and report on the health of the Basin’s water and natural resources to inform better decision making

Implementation of this strategy involves combined activity associated with the Sustainable Rivers Audit design, the Water Quality Monitoring Program, Floodplain Development approval and the Northern Basin Program.

Sustainable Rivers Audit implementation

The Sustainable Rivers Audit (SRA) provides assessments of the condition of the Basin’s rivers to inform policy development for land and water management. It applies robust monitoring methods consistently across the Basin in six-year cycles.

The SRA’s condition assessments are based on ecological themes that currently include fish, macroinvertebrates and hydrology. The annual sampling for these themes during each of the cycles provides two assessments for fish, three for macroinvertebrates, and one for hydrology from sites throughout the Basin.

Table 7 shows the valleys sampled in SRA’s third year (2006–07) of data collection.

Table 7 Proposed fish and macroinvertebrate sampling schedule for the Sustainable Rivers Audit, 2006–07
State Valley No. of sampling sites
for fish
No. of sampling sites
for macroinvertebrates
New South Wales Border Rivers 35
Castlereagh 21
Darling 35
Gwydir 28
Lachlan 35
Murrumbidgee 28 35
Namoi 35
Queensland Condamine 18 35
Victoria Avoca 35
Broken 35
Campaspe 21 35
Kiewa 35
Ovens 28
Wimmera 18 35

In 2006–07, ongoing SRA work included:

  • refinements to protocols and quality assurance procedures including a review of data management processes and design of an enhanced quality assurance plan to cover all SRA activity
  • assistance in evaluating the MDBC’s Native Fish Strategy through the provision of baseline data and the application of innovative sampling methods now also used outside the Basin to improve the quality and usefulness of data collected by state agencies
  • identification of new fish pests in the Basin such as the Crucian carp and further spread of Climbing galaxias (a native fish species originally from outside the Basin) and new populations of Barred galaxias (a threatened fish species)
  • support for The Living Murray (TLM) monitoring via surveillance of the overall condition of the Murray, and matching valley condition benchmarks with TLM icon sites, and
  • input to Integrated Basin Reporting via high-quality river ecosystem condition data.

The Independent Sustainable Rivers Audit Group guided work on two new ecological themes for SRA’s condition assessments: vegetation, and physical form. During the year, work carried out by staff at MDBC and related agencies included the following:

  • Scoping studies were completed for the physical form theme. Development commenced on methods for assessing reference conditions at valley and reach scales.
  • Scoping studies were also completed for the vegetation theme. Work commenced on developing a reference condition and a valley-scale method for typing and assessing vegetation, and reach-scale sampling was trialled in the Condamine and Ovens valleys.

The methods being investigated for the vegetation and physical form themes include assessments of floodplain health.

Progress made in the development of these themes will inform the business case for implementation. Ministerial Council consideration of these additional themes is scheduled for 2008 along with the first full audit report.

The first full SRA report due in March 2008, will complement the CSIRO MDB Sustainable Yields project. It brings the river health/condition dimension to the assessment of water resources.

Water quality monitoring

Since the statutory MDBC Water Quality Monitoring Program began in 1978, data for up to 23 parameters from 35 sites give a comprehensive picture of Murray River water quality (see Figure 5).

Figure 5 MDBC River Murray Water Quality Monitoring Program

Figure 5

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A blue-green algae bloom enters Lake Victoria. IOJ Photography

A blue-green algae bloom enters Lake Victoria from Frenchman’s Regulator in June 2007.

(IOJ Photography)

As well as completing the routine physical and chemical monitoring program (including macroinvertebrate sampling), achievements in 2006–07 included the ongoing Heavy Metals in the River Murray Study and initiation of two drought-related projects: the Lake Hume Integrated Water Quality Study and algal monitoring using aerial imagery.

The objectives of the Lake Hume Integrated Water Quality Study are to:

  • identify drivers of water quality during drought-related low storage, downstream impacts of low-quality releases, and rehabilitation options and their potential benefits
  • assess the effect of releases from Dartmouth on Lake Hume water quality during low storage, and
  • evaluate options for improving water quality in Lake Hume during low storage.

An algal monitoring program initiated by SA Water secured funding via the MDBC Water Quality Working Group (which provides technical oversight to the Water Quality Monitoring Program (WQMP) and now uses high-resolution digital aerial imagery for early detection of algal blooms in the Murray River and for other related floodplain management issues. Other activity in 2006–07 included benchmarking of the cost effectiveness of the MDBC Murray River WQMP, which indicated that sampling carried out by partner agencies represents good value for money.

Floodplain development approval

Clause 46 of the Agreement requires the contracting governments to inform the Commission of proposals that may significantly affect the flow, use, control or quality of the Murray. More than 150 development applications were referred to the Commission for advice by councils in 2006–07.

MDBC staff participated in a land use planning review of the Murray Valley region with the NSW Department of Planning and the Victorian Department of Sustainability and Environment. The review of the region included both sides of the Murray River from the Snowy Mountains to the South Australian border.

Figure 6 Councils involved with the land use planning review

Figure 6 Murray_Valley_lga.eps

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The review aimed to guide and inform land use plans within the valley. The review will lead to an integrated planning strategy for the region. This will involve a reassessment of the current NSW Murray Regional Environmental Plan No. 2 – Riverine Land (REP2) and will flow on to refine the recommendations of the 2002 Floodplain Management Strategy.

Northern Basin activities

The Northern Murray-Darling Basin Program supports a whole-of-basin approach to understanding the Darling Basin.

In March 2007, the Commission published the State of the Darling Interim Hydrology Report. The report considers the impacts of water resource development across the Darling Basin, drawing on data from relevant jurisdictions.

In June 2007, the Commission conducted a workshop on the ecology of northern wetlands with agencies responsible for the management of floodplain wetland ecosystems. The workshop provided agencies and research institutions with the opportunity to understand the different management approaches and future research and information needs relevant to northern wetlands. The Commission is developing a strategic work plan for the northern Murray-Darling Basin, to include ecological studies of northern floodplains and wetlands, socioeconomic profiles of river valleys, and additional hydrological information.