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Trial of the Framework for the Assessment of River and Wetland Health (FARWH) in the Wet/Dry Tropics for the Daly and Fitzroy Rivers

Dixon, Ian H., Dobbs, Rebecca, Townsend, Simon A., Close, Paul, Ligtermoet, Emma, Duncan, Ruth A., Kennard, Mark and Tunbridge, David (2011). Trial of the Framework for the Assessment of River and Wetland Health (FARWH) in the Wet/Dry Tropics for the Daly and Fitzroy Rivers<br />. Darwin, NT: Charles Darwin University.

Document type: Research Report
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Author Dixon, Ian H.
Dobbs, Rebecca
Townsend, Simon A.
Close, Paul
Ligtermoet, Emma
Duncan, Ruth A.
Kennard, Mark
Tunbridge, David
Title of Report Trial of the Framework for the Assessment of River and Wetland Health (FARWH) in the Wet/Dry Tropics for the Daly and Fitzroy Rivers
Publication Date 2011
ISBN 978-1-921576-53-9   (check CDU catalogue open catalogue search in new window)
Publisher Charles Darwin University
Place of Publication Darwin, NT
Total Pages 281
Field of Research 300800 Environmental Sciences
Abstract 1 Executive summary

Australian states and territories are signatories to the National Water Initiative (NWI), the progress of which is assessed by the National Water Commission (NWC). An important NWI outcome is the delivery of a nationally compatible market, with a regulatory and planning-based protocol for managing surface and groundwater resources for rural, social and environmental outcomes. A key component of this goal was to develop a nationally consistent approach to river health assessment and reporting. During 2006, the Australian water resources 2005 discovery phase (AWR 2005) found that, typically, information and knowledge on river health were patchy and the capacity for developing a national approach to river health assessment was limited. Consequently, a national framework for river heath assessment—The Framework for the Assessment of River and Wetland Health (FARWH)—was developed.

Over the past few years, the FARWH framework has been trialled and tested in focal catchments across Australia. The wet/dry tropics of Australia were chosen as one of the key areas to trial the framework. Tropical rivers of northern Australia are internationally recognised for their high ecological and cultural values. Not only does the climate of the wet/dry tropics fundamentally differ from temperate Australia, but the nature of environmental impacts on the aquatic environment also differs. Unlike many other tropical systems, and their temperate Australian counterparts, they have largely unmodified flow regimes and are comparatively free from the impacts typically associated with intensive land use (see Douglas et al. 2005). The region has experienced very little intensive development; cattle grazing of native pastures is the dominant land use. Other major threats to northern Australian rivers include altered fire regimes, and weed and feral animal invasions. These unique catchment conditions and the vastness of the region pose scientific and practical challenges for assessing river heath.

Assessment of the FARWH in the wet/dry tropics comprised two distinct phases: an initial desktop assessment in the Darwin Harbour and Ord River catchments using existing data, followed by a field-based assessment in the Daly and Fitzroy River catchments. Traditional owners recognise the Fitzroy River by the name Mardoowarra River. The project was managed by the Tropical Rivers and Coastal Knowledge research hub (TRaCK), which includes the University of Western Australia, as lead for Western Australia (WA), Charles Darwin University, for the Northern Territory (NT) and Griffith University, for Queensland (Qld), in association with:

• The NT Department of Natural Resources, Environment, the Arts and Sport
• WA Department of Water
• Qld Department of Environment and Resource Management
• eWater CRC.

In brief, the FARWH has established a general approach for assessing river health, based on reference conditions, to be reported at the surface water management area(SWMA) as defined  by the NWC (2007). The framework includes the following six themes of river and wetland health:  catchment disturbance, hydrological disturbance, fringing zone, physical form, aquatic biota and  water quality (Figure 1.1). The objectives of the FARWH trials were to establish suitable metrics under each theme that were sensitive to pressures associated with major land-use changes, and appropriate for the rapid assessment and reporting of river health.

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Created: Mon, 07 Mar 2016, 15:55:50 CST by Marion Farram