An idyllic corner of New Zealand’s South Island is the backdrop to a story about a rural community and their drive to improve local water quality.
Like many similar waterways around the country, the Sherry River began to feel the effects of increasing levels of farming and forestry activity. Attention was first drawn to the river when researchers from the Motueka Integrated Catchment Management Programme analysed water quality in all the tributaries within the Motueka River catchment. Issues included high E. coli levels that exceeded standards for bathing and stock drinking. The results shocked farmers and landowners… something needed to be done!
Farmers began to look at the links between stock and water quality. In 2007 NZ Landcare Trust helped facilitate larger community meetings and encouraged landowners to get together and form the Sherry River Catchment Group. This gave them a collective voice and provided a platform to gain funding and achieve even more... a successful 3 year Sustainable Farming Fund (SFF) project.
Real progress was made keeping stock out of waterways using bridges and fencing off waterways. Other improvements included individual Landowner Environment Farm Plans that provide detailed information about stock management, limiting soil erosion and reducing run-off. Since monthly testing began in 2003, contamination has fallen from a median of 400 E. coli per 100 millilitres of water to 170, and is on track next year to hit 150.
The project has attracted international attention including a recent visit from Kevin Parris, OECD Trade & Agriculture Directorate, who commended the work of local communities and the contribution they are making to cleaning up waterways.
Melbourne Water is seeking applications from community groups across greater Melbourne for a $600,000 grants program that is helping boost the health and appearance of local rivers and creeks.
Not-for-profit groups can use the funds from Melbourne Water’s Community Grants Program to help cover administrative and promotional costs or for projects improving streamside habitat, such as revegetation and weed control.
General Manager of Waterways Chris Chesterfield said last year’s round funded projects across Melbourne that collectively boosted the health of waterways, achieving 30 kilometres of weed control and 15 kilometres of revegetation.
“The program has helped community groups improve and look after Melbourne’s rivers and creeks and their surroundings for more than a decade,” said Mr Chesterfield.
“With so many dedicated and passionate volunteers across the region, the grants program is helping us make river health improvements at a faster.”
For more information on these grants, visit www.melbournewater.com.au
Applications for the grants program should be submitted before Friday, 18 November 2011.
The 2011 Ecosystem Health Report Card was launched on Wednesday 19 October, providing insight into the health of South East Queensland's waterways and Moreton Bay following the January 2011 flood. The Report Card revealed the overall health grade for Moreton Bay has declined from a C to C-.
The Report Card, which presents 'A to F' waterway health grades, was released at four launch events across the region, following an intensive 12-month Ecosystem Health Monitoring Program (EHMP) coordinated by Healthy Waterways.
A representative of the Healthy Waterways Scientific Expert Panel, Professor Paul Greenfield, presented the 2011 Report Card results to Minister for Environment, Vicky Darling MP at today's launch event in Brisbane.
Prof Paul Greenfield said that Moreton Bay has been struggling to recover since the drought breaking rain in 2009 caused increased sediment and nutrients to enter the bay from already degraded catchments.
"This is the third consecutive year that Moreton Bay has fallen below its long-term average of a B grade. Most of the pollution transported by the flood was deposited on the western side of the bay, north of the Brisbane River, causing a decline in Bramble Bay from a D+ to D-," Professor Greenfield said.
Prof Paul Greenfield commented that considering the magnitude of the flood, the 2011 Report Card grades are more positive than expected, particularly in freshwater streams and estuaries.
"On a positive note, the 2011 Report Card shows some freshwater streams and estuaries improved in grade, reflecting the positive influence of high water flows. Maroochy and Pine are among 10 freshwater catchments that received the highest health score since monitoring began in 1999," Professor Greenfield said.
It involved 40 years of political wrangles, interstate rivalry and reams of reports, but in the end it took just a couple of hours to restore the Snowy River from a near-dead trickle to the magnificent wild torrent that Greta McGufficke Jones's great-grandfather would have known.
Yesterday, Ms Jones returned to the country over which James McGufficke won the first land grant in the 1850s, beside the upper reaches of the Snowy, to witness an extraordinary event.
She had come full circle: in 1953, when Ms Jones was 12, the Snowy Mountains Authority bought her father's spread around Jindabyne for pound stg. 12 an acre, to build a dam that was to reduce the flow in the river to 1 per cent of its natural state.
Yesterday, those waters were turned back south, down through Victoria's Gippsland to the sea near Orbost. Lake Jindabyne's massive sluice gates were opened for the first full-scale release of water aimed at restoring the river.
The flow started on the dot at 10am, building up over an hour to 140 cubic metres a second, and will continue full scale through Wednesday with the equivalent of 12,000 Olympic-size swimming pools gushing over the floodway each day, before being reduced.
For Snowy Hydro Kosciuszko area manager Kieran Cusack -- the engineer in charge of the operation who spent four months planning it -- there was relief the start had gone well, although he still has two weeks of release at diminishing levels to supervise.
After the release is completed, the Snowy will subside to only a fifth of its natural flow but, scientists hope, will remain a live, sustainable river.
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