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Publications archive - Annual reports


Key departmental publications, e.g. annual reports, budget papers and program guidelines are available in our online archive.

Much of the material listed on these archived web pages has been superseded, or served a particular purpose at a particular time. It may contain references to activities or policies that have no current application. Many archived documents may link to web pages that have moved or no longer exist, or may refer to other documents that are no longer available.

Environment Australia Annual Report 2000-01

Environment Australia, 2001
ISSN 1441-9335

THEME: Inland waters

Manage land resources sustainably

Australia is the driest inhabited continent on earth. It has the least river water, the lowest run-off and the smallest area of permanent wetlands of any continent other than Antarctica. One-third of the continent produces almost no run-off at all and Australia's rainfall and stream flows are the most variable in the world.

Because of the scarcity and variability of fresh water in Australia, extensive investments have been made in water infrastructure to drought-proof the economy. These investments in regional Australia have underpinned the development of thriving cities and towns as well as the primary industry, mining and tourism sectors.

Australia now has the highest per capita water storage in the world. A major task facing Australian governments and communities is to balance the various requirements for water. These include the needs of the environment, flows needed to maintain and restore healthy rivers and water allocations for consumptive uses.

Promoting, supporting and implementing the ecologically sustainable use of inland waters occurs through these Environment Australia programmes:

  • National Wetlands;
  • Waterwatch Australia; and
  • National River Health.


National Wetlands Programme - Natural Heritage Trust


To promote the conservation, repair and sustainable use of wetlands; and to facilitate a coordinated and cooperative approach to wetland and migratory waterbird conservation and management involving all spheres of government, the community, local and indigenous groups and the private sector.


Ramsar Convention

An additional three wetland sites, Becher Point Wetlands, Lake Gore and Muir-Byenup, all in Western Australia, were nominated to the List of Wetlands of International Importance under the Ramsar Convention. There were also extensions to four sites: the Ord River Floodplain, Lake Toolibin, Vasse-Wonnerup and Peel-Yalgorup in Western Australia. Site nomination documents and community consultation processes are also well advanced for two sites in New South Wales, two in Commonwealth external territories, and one site each in Tasmania and Victoria.


The Asia-Pacific Wetland Managers Training Programme was continued under contract through the Northern Territory University. It included delivery of a course integrating wetlands into multiple land use planning frameworks for participants in Darwin, Fiji, Viet Nam and Irian Jaya. Training was also provided to indigenous wetland managers from the Kimberley and Cape York regions in environmental management of aquaculture in tropical wetlands and marine protected areas.

Migratory waterbirds

The Asia-Pacific Migratory Waterbird Conservation Strategy: 2001-05, coordinated by Wetlands International Asia-Pacific, was launched. The updated Action Plan for the Conservation of Migratory Shorebirds in the East Asian-Australasian Flyway: 2001-2005 was released. Two new Australian sites, Western Port and Port Phillip Bay Western Shoreline and Bellarine Peninsula, Victoria, were nominated to the East Asian-Australasian Shorebird Site Network. Nomination documentation was completed for five coastal sites in the Northern Territory and progress was made towards nomination of sites in New South Wales and Tasmania.

Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act

The Act was implemented through the completion and substantial progress to the final draft form of management plans for 77 per cent of Australia's Ramsar wetlands. A total of 12 draft management plans were assessed for consistency and adequacy against the Australian Ramsar management principles established by the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Regulations.

Important wetlands in Australia

The third edition of the Directory of Important Wetlands in Australia was launched on World Wetlands Day, 2 February 2001. It is a summary publication providing a broad overview of nationally important wetlands in each State and Territory. A total of 851 nationally important wetlands are listed along with analyses of the occurrence of nationally important wetlands in relation to biogeographic regions and drainage basins. There have been 160 new nationally important wetlands identified since publication of the second edition in 1996. They include 20 new Commonwealth sites. An online database (found at provides details of each directory site.

Waterwatch Australia - Natural Heritage Trust


To support community-based waterway monitoring that operates in every State and Territory in Australia. Those involved in Waterwatch build pictures of the health of their waterways and catchments through a variety of biological surveys, habitat assessments and chemical tests.


Through the programme's collaborative approach, partnerships between local and State government, regional management agencies, industry and community have been established. These partnerships reach common environmental goals at a regional level for waterway and catchment health.

Since Waterwatch began in 1993, the number of monitoring groups has grown from 200 operating in 16 catchments to over 3500 groups in 200 catchments. Estimates indicate that more than 50 000 Australians are participating in the programme with regular monitoring at over 5000 sites nationally.

State Waterwatch programmes have established an annual snapshot of the health of Australia's waterways as a regular part of National Water Week. More than 80 000 people participated in National Water Week 2000.

National River Health Programme - Natural Heritage Trust


To ensure sustainable management, rehabilitation and conservation of rivers outside the Murray-Darling Basin and improve the health of these river systems. This is achieved by identifying and trialing management options for establishing environmental flow requirements; undertaking a comprehensive assessment of river health; and developing and implementing water-related environment policy, including the Council of Australian Governments' Water Reform Framework.


River health

The National River Health Programme aims to build a foundation for the sustainable use and protection of Australia's water resources in partnership with State and Territory Governments, research organisations, industry and the community. The programme consists of two sub-components, the environmental flows initiative and the Australia-wide assessment of river health. These components assist implementation of the Council of Australian Governments' Water Reform Framework. The initial results of the Australia-wide assessment of river health have been reported in state of the environment reports and the recently released National Land and Water Resources Audit.

Sampling of biological and hydrological parameters, along with historic and satellite data, has been achieved over a range of sites and projects across Australia including the Western Australian Ord River system, the Lake Eyre Basin in South Australia, the Snowy River in New South Wales, the Northern Territory Daly River system and the Paroo-Warrego River system. This work will contribute to an understanding of environmental flow requirements for a range of Australian river systems. Interim results and information have been disseminated to the public and in management and scientific forums.

Environmental flows

A total of nine projects under the environmental flows initiative were established. Despite setbacks associated with prolonged flooding in northern Australia, progress was made on all projects, including four projects started in previous years. Two national projects were finalised.


As part of the first Australia-wide assessment of river health, biological monitoring conducted in partnership with State agencies, research organisations and the private sector was completed in March 2001. More than 4600 sites have been assessed across Australia using the national bioassessment protocol. Information generated during the Australia-wide assessment is providing valuable data for the national state of the environment report, the National Land and Water Resources Audit and for monitoring the outcomes of the Natural Heritage Trust. The detailed results of the bioassessment programmes conducted in New South Wales, the Australian Capital Territory, Tasmania and Victoria were provided, with data from the remaining States and Territories to be submitted early in 2001-02.


Fifteen other research projects have also provided outputs in 2000-01.These projects are designed to improve and enhance the Australian river assessment scheme and to ensure the outputs of the assessment are widely available and easily interpreted. They include projects focused on developing additional bioassessment techniques, improving data quality, enhancing user access, training and capacity building, and improving the reliability of the river health assessment results. The results of the assessment to date will be detailed in the national 2001 State of the Environment Report.

National Action Plan for Salinity and Water Quality

The National Action Plan for Salinity and Water Quality is a major Government initiative to improve land and water management in 21 priority regions across Australia. The plan relies heavily on partnerships between governments and communities to lay the foundations for effective natural resource management. Commonwealth, State and Territory Governments have committed $1.4 billion to the national action plan over the next seven years.

Reforms under the plan include the introduction of caps on extractive use of water from all surface and groundwater systems that are over-allocated or approaching full allocation and the removal of impediments to the effective operation of trading markets in, and the integrated management of, both surface and groundwater systems.


Output group 1.1 - Policy advice and accountability

Domestic | International | State of the environment | Corporate reform

Murray-Darling Basin

Environment Australia was actively involved in Murray-Darling Basin policy development. It provided input to a Murray-Darling Basin salinity management strategy; an integrated catchment management policy statement; environmental flow and water quality objectives for the River Murray; and the development of a framework for assessing the health of the basin's riverine ecosystems. All of these initiatives aimed to improve the balance of resources between ecosystem and consumptive uses.

Snowy River

As a member of the Snowy Reference Group, Environment Australia helped develop the Commonwealth's response to the Snowy Water Inquiry and the Commonwealth's position on the corporatisation of the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Authority. Environment Australia made recommendations on the remediation of former Snowy scheme sites and the development of the implementation arrangements for Snowy Hydro Ltd, which will commence operations once corporatisation of the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Authority is achieved. Environment Australia also provided input to options to provide environmental flows to the Snowy and upper montane rivers.

Water reform

There has been an increased focus on the sustainable use and allocation of water and the implementation of the Council of Australian Governments' Water Reform Framework through the Australian and New Zealand Environment and Conservation Council, Murray-Darling Basin Commission, Lake Eyre and Great Artesian Basin processes, and the development of the National Action Plan on Salinity and Water Quality.

Environment Australia has continued to influence the national policy agenda to increase emphasis on environmental water issues. In particular, Environment Australia provided leadership in the implementation of the Council of Australian Governments' Water Reform Framework through programme-based assistance to jurisdictions, academic institutions and community groups to assist them in the implementation of the framework's environmental objectives. Environment Australia also, where appropriate, assisted the National Competition Council in its assessment of the progress of jurisdictions in meeting the Council of Australian Governments' Water Reform Framework environmental commitments through the provision of expertise and the commissioning of independent advice.

Environment Australia played a key role within the Australian and New Zealand Environment and Conservation Council high level steering group on water and in the development of the water reform aspects of the National Action Plan on Salinity and Water Quality.

Supervising Scientist

The Environmental Research Institute of the Supervising Scientist completed a preliminary risk assessment of cane toads in Kakadu National Park and provided advice to the Kakadu Research Advisory Committee. A report on an inventory and risk assessment of water dependent ecosystems in the Daly River basin was completed. The institute also provided advice on wetland management to the Macquarie-Cudgegong River Management Committee to assist in the development of a river management plan for the Macquarie and Cudgegong Rivers in New South Wales. The institute also provided advice to the Mary River Landcare Group, in the Northern Territory, on the rehabilitation of wetlands and to local community groups, including Aboriginal associations, on the causes of natural fish kills in tropical wetlands.

Output group 1.2 - Programme administration

Grants | Schemes


Environment Australia contributed $2.6 million towards 67 Waterwatch Australia projects at a State and regional level. Of this funding, 75 per cent was delivered to regions that fund community-based regional Waterwatch coordinator projects. These projects were to implement education and awareness-raising activities on water and catchment issues and to coordinate, train and support community monitoring and action on water quality issues.

Through the Natural Heritage Trust, Waterwatch contributed nationally to the employment and operating costs of a Waterwatch facilitator in every State and Territory and more than 130 Waterwatch coordinators located in major regional centres.


The National Wetlands Programme funded 28 projects to a total of approximately $1 million. Of the 28 projects, 18 were continuing ($872 688) and 10 were new ($168 900).

The programme also funds national projects focusing on community action to conserve and repair wetland and waterbird habitat and deliver community education. Five national projects totalling approximately $700 000 were funded.

River health

The National River Health Programme funded 14 environmental flow-related projects totalling $320 284. Of these, two projects were completed and the remaining 12 are progressing to schedule. Data on physical and biological factors relating to environmental flows was collected and analysed.

The programme administered 25 river health assessment-related projects, with financial assistance totalling $153 324. A total of seven river health assessment projects were completed, two new projects started and the remaining 16 projects progressed.

Output group 1.3 - Strategies

Agreements | Codes | Coordination

Lake Eyre Basin Intergovernmental Agreement

The Commonwealth, Queensland and South Australian Governments signed the Lake Eyre Basin Intergovernmental Agreement in October 2000. The agreement establishes a ministerial forum and associated community and scientific advisory bodies and provides for the development of policies and strategies for the management of river flows, water quality and water resource development in major cross-border river systems in the basin. The agreement also provides for the assessment of the ecological health of the river systems.

Great Artesian Basin strategic management plan

Environment Australia has contributed to the sustainable management of the Great Artesian Basin through its membership of the Great Artesian Basin Consultative Council and implementation of the strategic management plan, which was launched in September 2000. The plan provides for the sustainable use of the water resources of the basin and the protection and conservation of associated environmental and heritage values.

Environment Australia hosted a biodiversity and cultural heritage workshop to identify environment and heritage values that depend on, or are affected by, the extraction and distribution of water from the basin. This coincided with the listing of the Great Artesian Basin natural discharge springs as an endangered community under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.

Output group 1.4 - International participation

Forums | Obligations | Representation

International environmental science forums

The Environmental Research Institute of the Supervising Scientist provided advice to international forums including the Mekong River Commission on the classification of wetlands in the Lower Mekong Basin; the Ramsar scientific and technical review panel on wetland inventory, invasive species and risk assessment, and climate change impacts on wetlands; the board of directors of Wetlands International on project directions and management structure; the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change on adaptation of wetlands to climate change; and, the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment on technical assessment of wetland ecosystems.

Output group 1.5 - Information

Databases | Websites | Education


The National Wetlands Communication, Education and Public Awareness National Action Plan 2001-2005 was launched and a national task force to guide implementation of the plan was established. Australia was the first Ramsar Convention contracting party to complete its wetland education and awareness plan under Ramsar's outreach programme. A national web page linking existing resources and organisations, a national wetlands conference and a newsletter have all been initiated under the plan.

Communication and awareness-raising presentations about Ramsar wetlands, listed migratory waterbirds, and matters of national environmental significance were delivered in all States and the Northern Territory.


A national database has been developed by Waterwatch Australia. Community data is pooled, analysed and interpreted at a regional level for application in water resource management and local planning processes.

River health

The results of the Australia-wide assessment of river health (under the National River Health Programme) will be provided in State and national state of the environment reports, and the Ausrivas website ( River health assessment outputs, including river assessments and techniques developed under the programme, are being delivered and utilised by State government agencies and industry via a website and through capacity building workshops and meetings held throughout the year.

Supervising Scientist information dissemination

Information on wetland ecology and conservation activities of the Environmental Research Institute of the Supervising Scientist was communicated through fact sheets to assist wetland managers make decisions for the sustainable use of wetlands, and newsletters to Aboriginal associations.

Further information on the Supervising Scientist is contained in the Annual Report of the Supervising Scientist later in this report.

Output group 1.6 - Legislation

Reforms | Standards | Regulations

Water quality guidelines

The National Water Quality Management Strategy's Australian and New Zealand Guidelines for Fresh and Marine Water Quality and the Australian Guidelines for Water Quality Monitoring and Reporting were released. The guidelines provide environmental values and water quality objectives for water bodies and assist the development of management plans for catchments, aquifers, estuarine areas, coastal waters or other water bodies. The aim of the guidelines is to help the community, catchment managers, environment protection agencies and water authorities protect water quality including developing local action plans for water quality management.


Ecologically sustainable development is critical for Australia's scarce water resources. Environment Australia implements ecologically sustainable development principles through its policies and programmes for sustainable water management.

The Council of Australian Governments' Water Reform Framework aimed to bring about better management of Australian water resources by a range of means including water allocation and pricing.

The National Wetlands Programme through the World Wide Fund for Nature worked with private landholders under the Cooperative Wetland Management Agreements in Outback Australia project to increase the understanding of the importance and value of wetlands on private land. The project has encouraged landholders to consider wetland values in property management planning decisions.

The Murray-Darling Basin initiative promoted and coordinated effective planning and management for the equitable, efficient and sustainable use of water, land and other environmental resources. Besides a key role in the Murray-Darling Basin Commission and Murray-Darling Basin Ministerial Council, the Commonwealth initiated the sustainable rivers audit and the environmental flows and water quality objectives for the River Murray project.

The Lake Eyre Basin Intergovernmental Agreement between Queensland, South Australia and the Commonwealth provided for the management of water and water-related natural resources associated with the major cross-border river systems in the basin.

Image: Lake Eyre Basin Agreement Area

Lake Eyre Basin Agreement Area