It will take decades, but the Murray Darling Basin Plan is delivering environmental improvements


File 20180427 137525 7pn9i5.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
The Murrumbidgee River is one of several sites in the Murray-Darling Basin where improvements are being detected.
CSIRO/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA

Angus Webb, University of Melbourne; Darren Ryder, University of New England; Fiona Dyer, University of Canberra; Michael Stewardson, University of Melbourne; Mike Grace, Monash University; Nick Bond, La Trobe University; Paul Frazier, University of New England; Qifeng Ye; Rick Stoffels, CSIRO; Robyn J Watts, Charles Sturt University; Samantha Capon, Griffith University, and Skye Wassens, Charles Sturt University

Amid the politics, it’s sometimes easy to forget that the Murray-Darling Basin Plan was originally designed primarily to restore the rivers’ environment. While questions have been raised over the plan’s governance, economics, and political commitment by the states, it is important to note that, more than five years after the plan’s adoption, the environmental benefits are slowly but surely being seen.

The Long-Term Intervention Monitoring Project began in 2014 to monitor and evaluate environmental outcomes from Commonwealth environmental water – the water being delivered into the Murray-Darling Basin by the plan.




Read more:
The science behind the Murray-Darling Basin plan


We are leading independent teams of researchers and consultants in monitoring seven selected areas across the Murray-Darling Basin, and then scaling up those results to deduce the health of the basin as a whole.

The seven monitoring sites.
Author provided

Three and a half years into an initial five-year program, we are generally seeing environmental changes of the types and magnitudes expected at this stage of the plan.

Plans, predictions and possibilities

It’s not widely known what environmental water can and cannot do, and how different environmental indicators will respond at different rates. The Basin Plan’s objectives focus on fish, bird and vegetation communities – and in all of these areas, the changes will take time.

Under the plan, we expect that it will take more than a decade from the start of flow delivery before large-scale changes become evident. Detecting these changes will require both time and high-quality data.

What’s more, Commonwealth environmental water is a relatively small proportion of what once flowed through these systems. The government currently holds entitlements to 1,836 billion litres, which is less than 6% of average system inflows (the rainfall that makes it into the river system).

This is not enough water to restore natural flow patterns. Along with other constraints, such as the pressure to keep water off floodplains, this means that managers need to be extremely selective about where, when and how water is delivered for environmental benefits.

What are we monitoring?

While we are monitoring fish, birds and vegetation to allow us to measure progress towards the Basin Plan’s objectives, we are also monitoring shorter-term responses. These responses provide data on environmental processes that will allow us to predict whether we can expect the Basin Plan ultimately to deliver on the promised long-term improvements.

A good example of this is golden perch, a threatened and iconic native fish species in the Murray-Darling Basin. Long-term changes in the adult population will only be seen if shorter-term processes, such as migration and spawning, occur. Environmental water should help these processes, and we are monitoring those outcomes.

Adult fish respond to high flows in spring, moving downstream to spawn. Eggs and larvae are washed further downstream, so to bring new fish into the local population, high flow events in autumn can be used to attract juvenile fish back into a river. Golden perch move over very large distances, and as adults they may end up living in a different river from where they were spawned.

If environmental water is used to achieve all these processes, then over years to decades, we will see an increase in adult golden perch numbers.

Adult golden perch fitted with a tag to track its movements.
Wayne Koster/Arthur Rylah Institute, Author provided

Quicker results

Not everything takes decades, however. We have already been able to detect some shorter-term benefits from the plan. Here are some examples from around the Basin:

  • Lower Murray: environmental water has reduced salinity in the Coorong and increased salt export through the Murray mouth

  • Edward-Wakool: environmental water has provided refuges for aquatic fauna during low-oxygen “black water” events caused by floods in 2010 and 2016, reducing impacts on fish populations

  • Murrumbidgee: environmental water has been crucial in helping endangered populations of the vulnerable southern bell frog to recover

  • Gwydir: environmental water allowed the production of 1,000 tonnes of zooplankton over 90 days, in turn providing food for fish and higher predators

  • Warrego-Darling: environmental water has maintained flows in a system that would have otherwise dried to a series of isolated pools, maintaining food webs and stimulating fish breeding.

Alternative outcomes

Besides reporting progress, our monitoring program also allows us to make predictions of what the system might have looked like with different environmental flows, or with no environmental flows at all.

In the Lachlan River in New South Wales, environmental water has been used to support a major bird breeding event by extending the period of flooding. Without this water, nests would have been abandoned, leaving thousands of fledglings to die.

Straw necked Ibis chicks from the Lachlan River.
Mal Carnegie/Lake Cowal Association, Author provided

We also share our results with environmental water managers to help improve the effectiveness and efficiency of environmental water delivery – a process called adaptive management. In the Goulburn River in Victoria, we have learned that the release of environmental water to help riverbank vegetation is more effective if delivered earlier in spring. Riverbank vegetation has now improved so much that metal pins being used to monitor erosion and sediment deposition can’t be found without a metal detector.

In it for the long haul

One criticism of the Basin Plan is that there is no evidence yet of basin-wide improvements. For some indicators this is to be expected because of the long time frames of response of the Basin Plan objectives. However, we have already reported on basin scale changes of other indicators, such as vegetation.

Also, the assessment of Commonwealth environmental water delivery shows that across the basin, we are creating the types of flow events expected to lead to beneficial environmental outcomes at broad scales.

Environmental water release to improve water quality in the Edward-Wakool system.
Photo: Commonwealth Environmental Water Office, Author provided



Read more:
Is the Murray-Darling Basin Plan broken?


The politics of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan will probably always be fraught. But as the group charged with assessing environmental progress, we want the debate on its effectiveness to be underpinned by sound evidence from independent experts.

The Long-Term Intervention Monitoring Project, along with other research and monitoring, is providing that evidence.

So, while the Basin Plan’s objectives will take a long time to be realised, there are positive signs that it is slowly achieving its major goal of improving environments in the Murray-Darling Basin, underpinning more sustainable social, environmental and economic outcomes into the future.


The ConversationThis article was coauthored by Mark Southwell, Geomorphologist, Eco Logical Australia; and Shane Brooks, Director, LitePC Technologies.

Angus Webb, Senior Lecturer and quantitative ecologist, University of Melbourne; Darren Ryder, Professor of Aquatic Ecology and Restoration, University of New England; Fiona Dyer, Associate professor, University of Canberra; Michael Stewardson, Professor, University of Melbourne; Mike Grace, Associate Professor, Monash University; Nick Bond, Professor, La Trobe University; Paul Frazier, Adjunct Senior Lecturer, University of New England; Qifeng Ye, Principal Scientist, Inland Waters and Catchment Ecology Program; Rick Stoffels, Senior Scientist, CSIRO; Robyn J Watts, Professor of Ecology, Charles Sturt University; Samantha Capon, Research Fellow in Ecology, Griffith University, and Skye Wassens, Associate Professor in Ecology, Charles Sturt University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Australia: Victoria – Park Upgrades on the Way


The link below is to an article reporting on money being allocated in Victoria for various improvements to national parks in that state.

For more visit:
http://news.ninemsn.com.au/national/2014/05/03/16/38/vic-govt-to-spend-13m-on-park-upgrades

Media Release: Border Ranges National Park – Safety improvements


The link below is to a media release concerning safety improvements to the Tweed Range Scenic Drive in Border Ranges National Park.

For more visit:
http://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/media/OEHmedia13040500.htm

Blackbutt Reserve


Kevin's Daily Photo, Video, Quote or Link

Since I was unable to visit Gap Creek Falls the other day, I decided I might pop in to have a look at the new animal enclosures at Blackbutt Reserve near Newcastle. I will say straight off the bat that I do have something of a prejudice against Blackbutt Reserve, as I see the place as nothing like a natural bush setting, it being far too ‘corrupted’ by human activity, weeds and the like. Having said that it is a good place for a family or group outing/event. It certainly has its place, but it is not a true nature reserve (in my opinion).

Visitor Centre

ABOVE: Visitor Centre

I do think that some well designed animal and bird enclosures at Blackbutt could lift the value of the reserve dramatically and make it a really great place for families, especially young families. There are opportunities for educational visits for kids, possible environmental…

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Article: Improvements in Wauchope State Forests


The link below is to a press release from the NSW Department of Primary Industries concerning improvements to state forests in the Wauchope area.

For more visit:
http://www.dpi.nsw.gov.au/aboutus/news/recent-news/forests/new-bridges-for-forest-walkways

Australia: Queensland – Pollution a Major Threat to our Reefs


Progress has been made in helping to preserve Queensland’s reefs from pollution, but more still needs to be done. The Reef Protection Package Impact Statement 2012, shows that improvements have been achieved.

For more visit:
http://www.wwf.org.au/?3760/Pollution-still-threatens-700-reefs-despite-progress

Australia: New South Wales – Great North Walk Improvements


One of the great multi-day walks in New South Wales has been improved with the addition of additional interpretative signage. The Great North Walk is a 250km walking trail between Newcastle and Sydney. The new signs are located in Palm Grove Nature Reserve on the Central Coast.

For more info visit:
 http://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/media/DecMedia12012402.htm

Our New Look


The New Year has begun and what a great way for the Blog to celebrate the New Year – with a brand new look!

Some of the changes you may have noticed on the Blog include the following:

– The overall theme and appearance of the Blog has been given a major overhaul, with a fresh, new header image. It has taken a little bit of work to get the image right and hopefully you like it. The banner image also includes a bit of self promotion, with the website address appearing on it.

– The sharing options on for each post now include buttons for Tumbler, LinkedIn and Google+

– There is also an option for rating each Blog article.

I am always looking at ways to improve the Blog and 2012 will be no different. Hopefully there will be more regular and better quality articles on the way, with other improvements to the Blog pages and features as well. All this to come in 2012 and beyond.

Latest News on the Web Site


Latest News on the Web Site

My website is currently down – for the most part anyway. I hope to have it back up in the near future. Why is it down? My previous hosting service put their prices up dramatically from the previous renewal of the site. It was nearly doubled and I found that sort of hike unacceptable. I have therefore sought out a new hosting service and believe I now have great value for money, as well as a far better service. The site will now have the same address as it has had for several years:

http://kevinswilderness.com

The site I was intending to move to at WordPress.com, will now become the Blog for site updates, news, etc. It can be found at:

http://kevinswilderness.wordpress.com/

For the time being the site will continue to be down, with improvements being made as the site is transferred across to the new hosting company. Please keep returning to the site as I hope to bring pages back online on a regular basis.

 

New Site Development Going Well


My new website is coming along well – feel free to have a look at the progress at:

http://kevinswilderness.wordpress.com/

There is now a chat page available – with many more improvements to come.