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River and Estuarine health in the spotlight in the Richmond

Sampling in the Ecohealth ProgramNorth Coast Local Land Services, in partnership with a range of local and state government agencies, has been monitoring the health of North Coast rivers and estuarine regions through the Ecohealth Projectfor the last six years.  The Richmond Ecohealth Assessment of River and Estuarine Condition report was launched in Ballina last week, representing the next phase of this important project.

The Ecohealth Project coordinates existing monitoring activities of local and state government agencies resulting in better reporting on the health of our river catchments across the North Coast. Previous Ecohealth reports have been undertaken for Hastings and Camden Haven, Bellingen and Kalang Rivers, Coffs Harbour Region and the Clarence catchment. The Macleay Ecohealth project is underway and due to be reported on in 2016.

Claire Hewitt, Senior Land Services Officer with North Coast Local Land Services, said at last week's Richmond Ecohealth report launch, "Catchment health affects all community members, whether they are using the waterways for work or recreation and the Ecohealth project has given all the organisations involved important data on the health of our rivers and waterways that allows us all to better protect them."

She added, "Straight-forward measures can be taken by people with riparian areas on their property to improve catchment health."

"For example, landholders can conserve and enhance native riparian vegetation or undertake bush regeneration projects on cleared areas using suitable local plant species.

"The benefits are numerous - vegetation provides shade for riparian animal life, reduces evaporation and helps to stabilise eroding river banks.

"Landholders can also reduce sources of turbidity (muddy water) by redirecting dirt road drainage lines to settlement ponds so mud and sediment doesn't drain straight into the creeks and rivers."

She concluded, "Another simple measure is to improve the management of stock access to waterways through fencing which can help reduce riverbank erosion and the amount of manure that ends up in rivers."

The launch of the Richmond Ecohealth report marks the culmination of a year's worth of waterway monitoring in the Richmond catchment.

Garry Owers, Richmond River County Council, said at the launch, "The monitoring project covered 23 freshwater sites and 25 estuarine sites which were sampled monthly or twice monthly over a twelve month period in 2014 covering a geographical range from Wiangaree to Whiporie to Wilson's Creek.

"Measurements included geomorphic condition (river bank and bed condition), riparian condition (river bank vegetation), water quality and macroinvertebrates (water-bugs).

"These samples were used to assess the average aquatic ecological condition of the catchment during this period by determining grades A to E for each of the 48 sites.

"The overall score for the catchment was D+, ranging from an F in the Wilsons River and Richmond River estuary to a C in the headwater streams of the catchment, such as Iron Pot Creek. Twelve of the 17 river systems recorded a score of D or less." Garry concluded.

These results will be communicated to the community through the Ecohealth report card which provides an easy to read summary of the technical report and a map so you can see how your section of the river scores. The Ecohealth report card and technical report are available at the Richmond River County Council website: www.rrcc.nsw.gov.au

The information will also be used by government agencies, Landcare networks, non-government organisations, community groups and landholders as a basis for where to focus efforts to improve the health of the rivers and creeks.

The Richmond Ecohealth project was initiated by North Coast Local Land Services with funding from the Australian Government. Funding was also provided by NSW Office of Environment and Heritage, Ballina Shire Council, Kyogle Council, Lismore City Council, Richmond River County Council, Richmond Valley Council and Rous Water. With assistance from local councils and NSW Office of Environment and Heritage, the University of New England was contracted to undertake sampling and analysis and prepare the technical report and report cards.

Media contact:           Claire Hewitt, Senior Land Services Officer, North Coast Local Land Services
                                        Phone 6623 3924

Photo caption:             Richmond Ecohealth first sampling run
                                         Image credit:  Garry Owers Richmond River County Council