Marine and Freshwater Research Marine and Freshwater Research Society
Advances in the aquatic sciences
RESEARCH ARTICLE

The Sustainable Rivers Audit: assessing river ecosystem health in the Murray–Darling Basin, Australia

P. E. Davies A , J. H. Harris B E , T. J. Hillman C and K. F. Walker D
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

A Freshwater Systems, 82 Waimea Avenue, Sandy Bay, Tas. 7005, Australia.

B Harris Research, 568 Bootawa Road, Tinonee, NSW 2430, Australia.

C 567 Brown Place, Lavington, NSW 2640, Australia.

D School of Earth & Environmental Sciences, The University of Adelaide, SA 5005, Australia. Present address: PO Box 331, Yankalilla, SA 5203, Australia.

E Corresponding author. Email: rifflerun@gmail.com

Marine and Freshwater Research 61(7) 764-777 https://doi.org/10.1071/MF09043
Submitted: 2 March 2009  Accepted: 26 January 2010   Published: 23 July 2010

Abstract

The Sustainable Rivers Audit (SRA) is a systematic assessment of the health of river ecosystems in the Murray–Darling Basin (MDB), Australia. It has similarities to the United States’ Environmental Monitoring and Assessment Program, the European Water Framework Directive and the South African River Health Program, but is designed expressly to represent functional and structural links between ecosystem components, biophysical condition and human interventions in the MDB. Environmental metrics derived from field samples and/or modelling are combined as indicators of condition in five themes (Hydrology, Fish, Macroinvertebrates, Vegetation and Physical Form). Condition indicator ratings are combined using expert-system rules to indicate ecosystem health, underpinned by conceptual models. Reference condition, an estimate of condition had there been no significant human intervention in the landscape, provides a benchmark for comparisons. To illustrate, a synopsis is included of health assessments in 2004–2007. This first audit completed assessments of condition and ecosystem health at the valley scale and in altitudinal zones, and future reports will include trend assessments. SRA river-health assessments are expected to play a key role in future water and catchment management through integration in a Basin Plan being developed by the Murray–Darling Basin Authority for implementation after 2011. For example, there could be links to facilitate monitoring against environmental targets.

Additional keywords: environmental monitoring, fish, floodplain, fluvial geomorphology, hydrology, macroinvertebrate, physical form, vegetation.


Acknowledgements

We dedicate this paper to Peter Wray Cullen AO, a visionary scientist who conceived and established the SRA, with support from Don Blackmore, then Chief Executive of the MDBC. The SRA Team at the MDBC provided executive support and administration and contributed to discussions. Jody Swirepik and Scott Keyworth guided the program’s key formative stages, a role later assumed by Dianne Flett and Michael Wilson. We thank Wayne Robinson for contributions in design and analysis, Steve Carter in expert rules analyses and Mark Lintermans in fish biology. Other contributions came from Chris Gippel, Chris Walsh, Rory Nathan and Mike Reid. State jurisdictional members of the SRA Implementation Working Group, especially Bruce Chessman and Jean Chesson, played vital roles in developing and implementing the program. The MDBC Community Advisory Committee strongly supported the SRA, and members of the Hydrology, Fish, Macroinvertebrates and Quality Assurance Task Forces provided expert advice. Wendy Craik, Chief Executive of the MDBC, and Les Roberts, General Manager Natural Resources, provided continual support.


References

Australian Government (2008). Agreement on Murray-Darling Basin Reform. 3 July 2008. Canberra. Available from: http://www.coag.gov.au/intergov_agreements/index.cfm [verified February 2010].

Chessman B. C. (2003). SIGNAL 2 – A scoring system for macro-invertebrates (‘Water Bugs’) in Australian rivers. Monitoring River Heath Initiative Technical Report 31. Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra.

Chessman, B. C. , and Royal, M. J. (2004). Bioassessment without reference sites: use of environmental filters to predict natural assemblages of river macroinvertebrates. Journal of the North American Benthological Society 23, 599–615.
CrossRef |

Chessman, B. C. , Thurtell, L. A. , and Royal, M. J. (2006). Bioassessment in a harsh environment: A comparison of macroinvertebrate assemblages at reference and assessment sites in an Australian inland river system. Environmental Monitoring and Assessment 119, 303–330.
CrossRef | PubMed |

CIS (2004). Policy Summary. Monitoring under the Framework Directive. Common Implementation Strategy for the Water Framework Directive (2000/60/EC), European Commission. Available at http://circa.europa.eu/Public/irc [verified February 2010].

Crabb P. (1997). Impacts of anthropogenic activities, water use and consumption on water resources and flooding, Australia: State of the Environment Technical Paper Series (Inland Waters). Department of the Environment, Canberra.

CSIR (2007). The South African River Research Program. CSIR Natural Resources and the Environment (http://www.csir.co.za/rhp) [verified February 2010].

Davies P. E. (2000). Development of a national river bioassessment system (AUSRIVAS) in Australia. In ‘Assessing the Biological Quality of Fresh Waters’. (Eds J. D. Wright, M. Sutcliffe and M. Furse.) pp. 113–124. (Freshwater Biological Association: Cumbria, UK.)

Davies P. E., Harris J. H., Hillman T. J., and Walker K. F. (2008). SRA Report 1: A report on the ecological health of rivers in the Murray–Darling Basin, 2004–2007. Murray-Darling Basin Commission, Canberra.

DLWC (1995). Integrated Quantity-Quality Model (IQQM), Reference manual. Report TS 94.048. Department of Land and Water Conservation, Parramatta, NSW, Australia.

Gilligan D. (2005). Fish communities of the lower Murray-Darling catchment: status and trends. Final Report Series 83. Department of Primary Industries, Cronulla, NSW.

Gray B. J. (2004). Australian River Assessment System: national guidelines for AUSRIVAS metadata. Technical Report 40, Monitoring River Health Initiative. Department of the Environment and Heritage, Canberra.

Harris, J. H. , and Silveira, R. (1999). Large-scale assessments of river health using an Index of Biotic Integrity with low-diversity fish communities. Freshwater Biology 41, 235–252.
CrossRef |

Hatton-Ellis, T. (2008). The hitchhiker’s guide to the Water Framework Directive. Aquatic Conservation: Marine & Freshwater Ecosystems 18, 111–116.
CrossRef |

Hearnshaw E. J. S., Cullen R., and Hughey K. F. D. (2005). Ecosystem health demystified. An ecological concept determined by economic means. In ‘Economics and Environment Network’ Conference 4–6 May 2005. Australian National University, Canberra. Available at http://een.anu.edu.au/progpap.html [verified February 2010].

Heiskanen, A.-S. , van de Bund, W. , Cardoso, A. C. , and Noges, P. (2004). Toward good ecological quality of surface waters in Europe – interpretation and harmonisation of the concept. Water Science and Technology 49, 169–177.
CAS |

Karr J. R., and Chu E. W. (1997). Biological monitoring and assessment: using multimetric indexes effectively. EAPA 235–R97–001. Office of Policy, Planning, and Evaluation, US Environmental Protection Agency, Washington DC.

Lintermans M. (2007). ‘Fishes of the Murray-Darling Basin: An Introductory Guide.’ (Murray-Darling Basin Commission: Canberra.)

MDBC (2003). Native Fish Strategy for the Murray-Darling Basin 2003–2013. Murray-Darling Basin Commission, Canberra.

MDBC (2008). Sustainable Rivers Audit. Murray-Darling Basin rivers: ecosystem health check, 2004–2007. Murray-Darling Basin Commission, Canberra.

Meybeck, M. (2003). Global analysis of river systems: from Earth system controls to Anthropocene syndromes. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society (London) 358(Series B), 935–955.


Negnevitsky M. (2002). ‘Artificial Intelligence. A Guide to Intelligent Systems.’ (Pearson Education: Frenchs Forest, New South Wales, Australia.)

Noges, P. , Poikane, S. , Cardoso, A. C. , and van de Bund, W. (2006). Water Framework Directive. The way to water ecosystem sustainability in Europe. LakeLine 26, 36–43.


Parsons M., Thoms M., Capon T., Capon S., and Reid M. (2009). Resilience and thresholds in river ecosystems. Waterlines 21. National Water Commission, Canberra, Australia.

Perera, B. J. C. , James, B. , and Kularathna, M. D. U. (2005). Computer software tool REALM for sustainable water allocation and management. Journal of Environmental Management 77, 291–300.
CrossRef | CAS | PubMed |

SKM (2005). Development of a flow stressed ranking procedure. Final report to Department of Sustainability and Environment, Victoria. Sinclair Knight Merz, Armadale, Vic., Australia.

Stevens, D. L. (1994). Implementation of a national monitoring program. Journal of Environmental Management 42, 1–29.
CrossRef |

Stoddard, J. L. , Larsen, D. P. , Hawkins, C. P. , Johnson, R. K. , and Norris, R. H. (2006). Setting expectations for the ecological condition of streams: the concept of reference condition. Ecological Applications 16, 1267–1276.
CrossRef | PubMed |

Thomson, J. , Taylor, M. P. , Fryirs, K. A. , and Brierley, G. J. (2001). A geomorphological framework for river characterisation and habitat assessment. Aquatic Conservation: Marine & Freshwater Ecosystems 11, 373–389.
CrossRef |

Vugteveen, P. , Leuven, R. S. E. W. , Huijbregts, M. A. J. , and Lenders, H. J. R. (2006). Redefinition and elaboration of river ecosystem health: perspective for river management. Hydrobiologia 565, 289–308.
CrossRef |

Walker, K. F. , Sheldon, F. , and Puckridge, J. T. (1995). An ecological perspective on large dryland rivers. Regulated Rivers: Research and Management 11, 85–104.
CrossRef |

Walsh C., Stewardson M., Stein J., and Wealands S. (2007). Sustainable Rivers Audit Filters Project Stage 2. Report to MDBC, August 2007. Murray-Darling Basin Commission, Canberra.

Whittington J., Coysh J., Davies P., Dyer F., Gawne B., Lawrence I., Liston P., Norris R., Robinson W., and Thoms M. (2001). Development of a framework for the Sustainable Rivers Audit. Technical Report 8/2001. Cooperative Research Centre for Freshwater Ecology, Canberra.

Wilkinson S., Henderson A., Chen Y., and Sherman B. (2004). SedNet User Guide. Client Report. CSIRO Land and Water, Canberra.



Rent Article (via Deepdyve) Export Citation Cited By (92)

View Altmetrics