Sustainable Rivers Audit (SRA)
The Sustainable Rivers Audit at a glance
The Murray-Darling Basin is a network of streams and rivers stretching from the Condamine in south east Queensland to the mouth of the Murray River in South Australia . What happens in one part of the Basin will impact on other parts and it is essential that we understand large scale changes to effectively manage the Basin's river resources. The Sustainable Rivers Audit is a program designed to measure the health of the rivers at this large Basin scale.
The Sustainable Rivers Audit aims to:
The SRA is an initiative of the Murray-Darling Basin Commission involving partner agencies in each state and territory within the Basin.
The Audit uses scientific indicators of health to determine the current status of the Basin's rivers and any potential trends. Groups of indicators or “themes” for immediate implementation include fish, macroinvertebrates and hydrology. Indicator themes to be further developed over the next 3 years include floodplains; riparian vegetation and physical form of river channels.
These indicators were agreed at the end of a Pilot Audit which trialed indicators in four river valleys and developed methods that all jurisdictions were willing to sign onto for the SRA. More information can be gained on the Pilot audit by clicking on the links below to read the summaries of the work undertaken in the Pilot.
The information gained through the Audit will help determine areas in the Basin needing attention and protection. This will help the Commission and its partners to set targets and develop strategies to improve the management of rivers. It will also help monitor progress against such targets and strategies. The Audit will detect large scale change rather than changes happening at a particular site or a certain point in time. It provides a standard framework across the Basin for comparing information about rivers across catchments and over time.
The independant Sustainable Rivers Audit group has recently completed the second review on the progress of the Sustainable Rivers Audit.
The Sustainable Rivers Audit - Implementation Period 2 (2005-06) - Summary Report is now available as a PDF or in hard copy through our publication system.
The Audit will provide river managers and users with the first comprehensive understanding of the health of the many rivers and streams that run across the Basin. Many ongoing programs are investigating or monitoring parts of the Basin's rivers and will complement the Audit's activities. However, these studies cannot be aggregated to obtain a comparable picture of river health so the Audit will provide the bigger Basin picture. It is essential for knowing whether our collective actions, that are seeking to improve or protect river health, are working. This will lead to a better understanding of the magnitude of management investment that may be required in the future.
In the short term, the SRA will:
In the longer term, the SRA will:
The knowledge gained through the SRA will provide the most geographically comprehensive data available about the entire Basin's river health. It will provide information for State of the Environment reporting and the National Land and Water Resource Audit. It will assist in evaluating and reporting on National Action Plans and Natural Heritage Trust projects, and will also eventually impact on other programs, including decisions made by the Council of Australian Governments (COAG).
The SRA will help guide investments and actions needed to support the ongoing use of the Basin's river resources and the viability of its industries and communities, while still protecting the environmental values of the Basin's rivers.
Healthy rivers and why they're important
Healthy rivers sustain riverine habitats for our unique animals and plants; provide ongoing recreational, tourism and fishing opportunities; nurture cultural and spiritual values and reduce the costs of providing high quality water to communities and industries.
A healthy river supports and maintains a mix of aquatic plant and animal life, similar to what would have been there naturally. The processes that support animals and plants to live in a river, including the pattern of river flow, sedimentation rates and so on, are important for determining river health. The condition of the riverine and streambank habitats are important for maintaining a healthy river. The connections between the different habitats along a river and between a river and its floodplain are also important.
Human impacts that change a river's condition from its ‘natural' state can make a river unhealthy. These impacts include: clearing of streambank vegetation; erosion, sedimentation and channelisation; construction of barriers such as levees, weirs and dams; removal of fallen logs and branches (snags); runoff from surrounding land-uses and pollution discharges. River health can be measured by assessing a river's biological and physical make up, its habitat structure and functioning and the resilience of these factors to natural impacts or influences.
The Audit defines the natural condition for rivers in the Basin as those existing two centuries ago. However, this definition recognises that rivers naturally change over space and time. The ‘natural' state is not necessarily the desired condition for a river – it is just used in the Audit as a way of geographically standardising information. The state we want a river to be in will depend on the community's economic, social and ecological values and needs. A healthy working river has a balance between these values to sustain its overall condition.
The Living Murray initiative of the MDBC considers what constitutes a healthy working Murray River system and what is needed to achieve this. More information can be found at www.thelivingmurray.mdbc.gov.au .
How will the SRA work?
The initial SRA process will occur over six years (2004-2010). The initial indicators SRA will focus on assessing indicators of river health related to:
These three indicator “themes” were chosen after assessing their cost effectiveness during a Pilot Audit conducted in four test catchments: the Lachlan in NSW, the Condamine in Queensland , the Ovens in Victoria and Lower Murray in South Australia . Data collected about a river's fish and macroinvertebrate communities and its hydrology will provide useful initial information on its current health and any trends in health in a cost-effective manner. A suite of indicators are already agreed within each of the above themes. These indicators are selected to represent key patterns and processes in the river environment.
Indicators relating to floodplains, riparian (streambank) vegetation and the river's physical form will be further developed and trialled in the first three years of the Audit for possible inclusion in the Audit during its second three years.
Fish communities and populations will be sampled during normal flow conditions, across entire river valleys in the one season, and once every three years at all 23 valleys in the Basin.
Macroinvertebrate populations will also be sampled during normal flow conditions, across entire river valleys in the one season, but once every two years across the Basin
Hydrology information will be collected every six years and evaluated using long term river flow sequences, developed by the States. When there are major changes to river flows through new structures being built or environmental flow allocations, additional computer modelling will be needed.
The assessment and interpretation of SRA's results will be done by the Independent Sustainable Rivers Audit Group (ISRAG). They will review data from each valley in detail by looking at results related to each indicator theme (fish, macroinvertebrates, hydrology); across indicator themes; across valleys; and over time.
How is this any different to river monitoring already happening?
The SRA provides a means for ongoing surveillance of river health across the whole Basin. It will provide a more complete picture of river health for the Basin as well as a means for detecting long term changes to river health.
Current regional and state/territory based river health monitoring programs usually focus on a particular location area or issue for a limited amount of time. Such investigative monitoring is essential for directing specific management actions or finding out what is causing river health problems. However, information from these programs cannot usually be combined to give an overall picture of resource condition.
River health is complex reflecting the full range of current and past land and water management activities. The SRA aims to complement existing monitoring activities by providing an overall benchmark for river condition that will give greater meaning to such observations. Monitoring the overall resource condition of a river also helps check whether the objectives of healthy working rivers are being met.
The Index of Stream Condition in Victoria is the only program currently operating at the same level as the SRA - aiming to identify unbiased information on each rivers' condition, but it only assesses rivers within Victoria .
Where will the SRA operate?
The catchments described by the Australian Water Resources Council were used as a starting point to identify 23 valleys in the Basin, see Figure 1. The SRA promotes a ‘one river' approach so that state/territory boundaries are not used to identify valley boundaries.
The Murray-Darling Basin is a vast area with many different streams of varying size. The SRA will select sampling sites to represent an agreed ‘stream network'. This network will include:
The selection of sites to sample representatively within valleys and zones requires a different site selection approach than normally used – random site selection. This ensures that sites reflect the true condition of a region rather than focussing on sites of known interest or management effort.
Who will do it?
The Audit consists of:
The first task is undertaken by the states/territory, under guidance of a cross-jurisdiction Working Group. Each jurisdiction has responsibility for monitoring and modelling activities for the valleys in their state/territory. The MDBC will provide central coordination for the Audit and will assist with analysing and reporting results.
Who can I contact for more information
For further information on the Sustainable Rivers Audit contact Murray Darling Basin Commission on 02 6279 0100 or visit the Commission's website:
If you would like more information on the Sustainable Rivers Audit, please contact the project manager