River Health Partnerships in Queensland, Australia

River Health Partnerships in Queensland Australia

Understanding how human activity, ecosystems and water interact at a catchment-wide level is vital to managing water quality. For more than a decade, Queensland Coal (BMA and BMC) has collaborated on initiatives to better identify and model catchment-level impacts on water quality from existing or proposed activities.

One such collaboration is the Fitzroy Partnership for River Health, which BHP has been involved with since 2012.

The Partnership brings together government, agriculture, resources, industry, research and community interests across the Fitzroy Basin in central Queensland – particularly the Fitzroy River, which flows through the city of Rockhampton.

Since 2013, the Partnership has released an annual report card that shows the status of aquatic ecosystem health indicators for the region’s fresh water, estuarine and marine environments. The report cards track whether current management strategies are proving successful in maintaining the health of aquatic ecosystems. The data underpinning the report card is freely available to anyone to download, enabling analysis of specific aspects and trends over time.

The Partnership worked with technical experts and the Queensland Government to develop a salinity model of the Fitzroy Basin. Salinity is a naturally occurring phenomenon in the Fitzroy Basin, but mining, other industry, agriculture, urban development and climate change all have the potential to impact on the amount of salt that is dissolved into the catchment. This can have a major impact on water quality.

In the past, impact assessments only drew on short-term, ‘near field’ impacts of specific proposed developments – not the cumulative effect of changes throughout the Basin. The salinity model shows the generation and movement of salinity along the Basin and models the effects that could result from changes within the catchment. The model enables anyone to see the potential impact on a much broader scale – from the furthermost reaches of the Basin all the way to the river mouth.

BHP has also joined a similar program, the Healthy Rivers to Reef Partnership, in Queensland’s Mackay-Whitsunday region.

The quality of water that flows from this catchment area into the Great Barrier Reef is under pressure from industry, population growth, urban development, agriculture, tourism and litter, and may be further affected by the potential impacts of climate change. This partnership is gathering technical data to better understand the health of the waterways in the region, and out to the marine area of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. Its work has highlighted gaps in the data, which new monitoring and collaborative research programs are addressing.