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Wetlands Australia: the National Wetlands Newsletter

Issue No. 2
Environment Australia, November 1995

A cooperative project between Environment Australia - Biodiversity Group and the Murray-Darling Basin Commission

Further wetland funds from the Federal Government

Welcome news from the 1995 Federal Budget was the allocation of a further $5 million to the conservation of Australia's wetlands, bringing the total in the last two budgets to $8.1 million over five years. Projects this financial year under the National Wetlands Program are listed on a separate sheet.

As part of the 1995-96 fundings, the Minister for the Environment, Senator John Faulkner, announced projects totaling $460,000 at the Ramsar Convention's Standing Committee Meeting held in Brisbane recently. The highest priority was for management planning and awareness for Australia's Wetlands of International Importance.

The Ramsar Convention's Standing Committee was in Brisbane to view the facilities and finalise business papers for the conference next year.

'As the host country for this Conference which will be attended by over 100 countries, we see it as very important to show our commitment to wise use and conservation of our own wetlands' Senator Faulkner said.

Projects were also funded which will assist the management of key wetland areas such as those in Arnhem Land including the Arafura Swamp. Other projects will aim to improve wetland management practices and enhance education and public awareness activities.

Funds will also be provided for two additional international projects to assist cooperation with our nearest neighbours. Details of these projects will be announced at a later date, before the Conference in March 1996.

Funding has been allowed for the establishment of a National Wetlands advisory Committee to advise the Minister on the priorities of the National Wetlands Program and advance the development of the Commonwealth Government's Wetlands Policy. The Committee is made up of 15 members from Parties with a major interest in wetlands, representing conservation, management, recreational, commercial, scientific and community points of view. State/Territory and local governments are also represented. Details of the members can be obtained from the Wetlands and Migratory Wildlife Unit.

The Conference of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands will be held from 19-27 March 1995 at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre.

Waterwatch joins the Wetlands Unit

The Wetlands and Migratory Wildlife Unit has recently been given responsibility for the management of the national Waterwatch Program. This is a community-based water quality monitoring program which provides funds to support groups to become involved in monitoring Australia's waterways. The program is principally an environmental education one designed to promote total catchment planning and management.

Waterwatch has been very successful in the three years it has been operating, growing from about 200 groups operating in 16 catchments in 1993 to 1,110 groups in 86 catchments today. Groups use the information obtained by water monitoring to develop action strategies which will help rectify any problems they have identified.

Stop Press

On 25 October 1995 well known pioneer of the Clean Up Australia Program, Ian Kiernan, was announced as the patron of the Waterwatch Program in a joint press release by the Federal Ministers for the Environment, Senator John Faulkner and Primary Industries and Industry, senator Bob Collins.

Macquarie Marshes under review

The Macquarie Marshes is a large wetlands system in North Western NSW covering an area of 212,000 ha. The Macquarie Marshes Nature Reserve (18,150) is listed on the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance.

The Marshes are currently the subject of four interrelated activities:

The Macquarie Marshes Management Strategy - Biophysical Investigations is funded by the Murray-Darling Basin Commission under the Natural Resources Management Strategy. It is jointly sponsored by the NSW Department of Land and Water Conservation, National Parks and Wildlife Service and the Macquarie Marshes Catchment Committee. This project is a large scale multi-disciplinary study which is defining baseline conditions as well as looking at the changes which have occurred within the marshes.

The project has researched some of the key attributes of the Marshes such as River Red Gum health, waterbird breeding, groundwater and salinity and the erosion of channels through wetland areas.

The 1986 Macquarie Marshes Water Management Plan devised water sharing arrangements between consumptive and wetland use. It was the first such plan in Australia and is currently under review. A draft of the revised plan has been produced with funding from the Australian Nature Conservation Agency, the NSW Department of Land and Water Conservation and National Parks and Wildlife Service. This draft was recently released for public comment. It has some new initiatives, such as an increase in the environmental flow to the Marshes, greater restrictions on the access to unregulated flow for irrigation and more control on irrigation within the vicinity if the Marshes. The draft plan also proposes much wider community involvement in ongoing management.

While the water management plan provides rules on the distribution of water between water users and the Macquarie Marshes there are many other factors that can impact on them. To address these issues the Macquarie Marshes Catchment Committee are developing a community based Land and Water Management Plan. The Catchment Committee consists of representatives from graziers, irrigators, environmentalists, local government and relevant government agencies.

The Macquarie Marshes Nature Reserve Plan of Management recognises that the nature reserve is only a small part of the Marshes and that adequate management for the whole area of the wetlands is important to maintain its values. Management of the nature reserve gives priority to rehabilitation of the reserve to a natural condition, as far as practicable. Water quality, erosion and tree decline will be controlled where possible; introduced plants and animals will also be controlled and, in conjunction with the Department of Land and Water Conservation, the water regime will be protected and limited opportunities for public recreational use of the reserve will be developed in the long term.

These activities rely on the integration of community needs and scientific understanding within the planning framework. Such consultative adaptive management will ensure a healthy biologically diverse Macquarie Marshes wetland system for the future, while supporting a sustainable rural community within the Macquarie Valley.

Greg Brereton - NSW Department of Land and Water Conservation, Dubbo, ph (068) 842560.
Bill Johnson - NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service, Hurstville, ph (02) 5885 6444.
Pip Brock - Macquarie Marshes Catchment Committee, Warren, ph (068) 473 798.

Murray-Darling Basin water audit

The Murray-Darling Basin Commission recently completed an audit of water use in the Murray-darling Basin. The audit collated data on water entitlements and water usage throughout the Basin and examined trends in diversions over recent years. It also used computer models of all the major rivers to examine the prospects for future growth in diversions and the consequences of this growth on flow regimes throughout the Basin.

A key result of the audit is presented in Figure 1. This figure shows how diversions have been growing over the last seventy five years and how they could continue to grow in the future if no changes are made to the existing water allocation and management procedures. Diversions have increased by 7.9% over the last six years and are currently almost 11000GL/year. Even if no further water entitlements are issued, diversions could increase by a further 14.5%.

The impact of the current level of development of the natural flow regime varies across the Basin. Just downstream of the storages, the seasonality of the flow has been altered as water is stored and then released during the irrigation season. Downstream of the irrigation offtakes, this change in seasonality is no longer present but the flows are much lower than natural and the frequency of the flooding of wetlands is much reduced. In both these locations, further growth in diversions will exacerbate the changes that have already occurred. At the mouth of the Murray, the median annual outflow is now only 21% of the natural median and this could fall to only 17% if all existing entitlements were fully developed.

Further growth in diversions will reduce the security of supply of existing irrigators and further changes to the flow regime will impact on the quality of the water in the streams and the health of the river and the wetlands. The consumptive use of the water of the Basin provides significant economic and social benefits to the people of the basin and the nation but a balance needs to be struck between further growth in water consumption and river health.

Murray-Darling Basin Ministerial Council Cap on Diversions

On 30 June 1995, the Murray-Darling Basin Ministerial Council considered the Water Audit Report and agreed that a balance needed to be struck between consumptive and instream uses of water in the rivers of the Murray-Darling Basin. The Council agreed that diversions must be capped and it directed the Murray-Darling Basin Commission to establish a working group to determine the appropriate level of the cap and to prepare the management arrangements required to implement that cap noting any special circumstances and the importance of equity issues in water use in all States of the Basin. In the interim, the Council introduced a moratorium on further growth in diversions.

The working group is currently examining the issues. As part of this process, the States are seeking advice from the community on its views on the appropriate level of the cap and on the most appropriate mechanisms for its implementation.

Contact: Andy Close, MDBC Engineer, Systems Modelling Ph (02) 6279 0102.

The Sustainable Rivers Program

The Sustainable Rivers Program There is a general acceptance that flows have been substantially over-allocated to consumptive use in some rivers of the Murray-Darling Basin. This has resulted in considerable community pressure to deal with the broad issue of environmental flows.

To address the needs of the riverine environment, a number of agencies have developed pragmatic short-term approaches to the determination of environmental flows. These approaches provide a valuable first attempt at securing water for the environment but do no make full use of existing knowledge on environmental-flow interactions.

The Murray-Darling Basin Commission is developing and ambitious program called the Sustainable Rivers Program (SR) to address this issue. The SR will enable a generic, consistent and objective approach to assessing the environmental impacts of changes in flow regimes within a community context.

It seeks to enhance the quality of information available to decision makers through the integration and quantification of past research into environmental water requirements via a decision support system (DS).

The rigour, consistency and scientifically based approach of a DS will ensure decisions relating to the determination and allocation of environmental flows are more soundly based and justifiable.

The SRP currently focuses on the issue of flow, although other factors, such as water quality and floodplain landuse, which also influence the health and sustainability of riverine systems, will be addressed in future.

Key elements of the Sustainable Rivers Program are:

For further information contact Bob Banens on (06) 2790123 or Brian Lawrence on
(06) 2790103.

Chowilla Floodplain management

The Chowilla floodplain occupies an area of 177 km2 forming an anabranch system of the River Murray. The floodplain is dissected by numerous channels and creeks which have a permanent flow from the river since the construction of Lock 6. Most of the Chowilla floodplain lies in South Australia (76%) with the other 24% in New South Wales.

In 1963 the River Murray Commission purchased the South Australian portion of the floodplain in preparations for the Chowilla Dam Project. The project did not eventuate and the land was leased back for sheep grazing to Robertson-Chowilla Pty. Ltd.

A diversity of habitats and landforms are found with wetlands being a major feature. The Chowilla region is also the 'largest' remaining area of natural riverine forest in the lower River Murray and is listed as a Wetlands of International Importance under the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands due to its importance to waterbirds and representation of Red Gum forests. The floodplain is also important for recreation, sheep grazing and fish production.

In August 1990 the Murray-Darling basin Ministerial Council held public meetings at which the community contributed ideas on the management of the Chowilla floodplain. Management options endorsed by these community groups formed the basis of the Chowilla Resource Management Plan. The Murray-Darling Basin Ministerial Council in 1992 adopted the plan and committed $1 m over 4 years for the partial rehabilitation of the Chowilla floodplain through the Natural Resources Management Strategy Investigation and Education (NRMS I&E) program.

The Chowilla Resource Management Plan identified extensive degradation including: raised saline water tables, over grazing as a result of the historical overland stock route, timber cutting, vermin, erosion and uncontrolled recreation. The Chowilla rehabilitation project, now in its third year, is developing the foundations for the long term integrated sustainable management for the area.

The Commission has recently published the final report of the Chowilla Resource Management Plan and has also endorsed the establishment of a community based management group to implement the integrated management plant for the Chowilla floodplain.

As the result of initiative from the private sector, Federal, State and Local Governments, the Bookmark Biosphere Reserve has been established which incorporates the Chowilla floodplain. Bookmark which covers over 600,000 ha is part of a network of international Biosphere Reserves which are coordinated by UNESCO's Man and the Biosphere Program. Functions of a Biosphere Reserve include the conservation of species diversity, research and monitoring of the environment, education and the development and promotion of sustainable use.

The management group established to implement the Chowilla Management Plan now coordinates the management of the Bookmark Biosphere Reserve. This now expanded group called the Bookmark Biosphere Trust has the responsibility of working with the local Riverland community to achieve long term sustainable management of the Reserve. The Trust held a community information day on 27 November in Berri. For information about this day contact Mike Harper on (085) 952111.

A workshop on biosphere management was recently convened by the Australia Nature Conservation Agency in the Riverland. Issues discussed concerned community involvement in biosphere management, the role of science and the promotion of ecologically sustainable industries. There was a particular focus on irrigation and salt intrusion management of the Murray River and how to alert the community to these and gain their involvement in rectifying them.

Murray-Darling Basin Commission wetland projects

Waterbirds in Wetlands is a joint 3-year project between the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) and the Royal Australasian Ornithologists Union (RAOU). The project is in its final year and has several objectives, some long-term.

The NPWS component involves preparing a GIS system of all the wetlands in the Murray-Darling Basin, providing guidelines for water allocation to those wetlands, identifying wetlands which require the collection of waterbird data, and developing an effective database for waterbird data. The RAOU component involves setting up a network of observers in the community to monitor waterbirds on selected wetlands.

The RAOU and NPWS components complement each other. Ground surveys carried out by the network of observers help to confirm aerial survey counts conducted by the NPWS. About 320 sites are being monitored on a quarterly basis. The volunteers also count and detect 'cryptic' species that can't be seen from the air.

A newsletter is available about the latest findings of the counts conducted by the network of volunteers. A forum was held recently in Deniliquin. Others are planned in the future and any interested person is welcome to attend.

Copies of the Basin Bird Observer or other information about the project is available from Dr Michael Hutchison on (02) 2521403. For information about the NPWS component of the project contact Dr Richard Kingsford on (02) 5856488.

Another project running under Dr Richard Kingsford involves developing a Geographic Information System database for the wetlands of the Murray-Darling Basin. This project has been running for one year and ties in with the Waterbirds in Wetlands project. Much of the planning and design work has been done. Richard and his assistants demonstrated a prototype of the database at the Commission in August.

Anne Jensen, at the Department of Environment and Natural Resources in Adelaide, in is the final year of her project on determining the environmental requirements of the wetlands below the junction of the Darling and Murray Rivers. The project is laying the groundwork for preparing a flow management strategy, mainly for the Riverland area. The strategy will aim to change the water flows to benefit wetlands while still supplying water for direct human uses. An opportunity exists to create valuable results in an area where water is currently strictly controlled during low flow times with minimum disruption to users.

Dr Sue Briggs, of the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service and co-workers, are in the second year of researching effects of different flooding regimes in the western Murray-Darling lakes on the animals dependent on these wetlands. These include invertebrates, and other living closely associated with water, such as reptiles and mammals. Crops are grown on these lakes during their drying out phase and Dr Briggs is also studying effects of cropping on these animals. The aims are to prepare guidelines for managing lake bed cropping in the region and a manual for working with landholders to achieve conservation goals on leasehold and private land.

The project Water requirements of wetlands in the Lachlan Valley aims to quantify the water requirements of important wetland systems of the Lachlan Valley, encourage the use this date in the management of the area and establish a program for monitoring the effectiveness of management. A surface and groundwater monitoring program has been established in the Cumbung Swamp. It is planned to assess and refine methodologies used in assessing wetland water requirements, including water budgeting, analysis of simulated past and present water regimes, assessment of plant requirements and the use of remote sensing. The project commenced in November 1994. For further information contact Anne Brady on (02) 895 7078.

Effective buffers for wetlands

Condensed from the summary of the report, Guidelines for Design of Effective Buffers for Wetlands on the Swan Coastal Plain, 1995, to ANCA by Peter M Davies and J A K Lane.

Since European settlement, the majority of wetlands on the Swan Coastal Plain have been filled and/or drained and many of those remaining are under threat, predominantly from increasing urbanisation and intensification of agriculture. At present, inadequate buffers are considered to be responsible for the majority of wetland degradation.

These guidelines provide information on the definition of a 'wetland'; determination of a wetland boundary; wetlands issues to consider when determining an adequate buffer zone and recommended criterion-based buffer zone widths.

A fully functional wetland is considered to comprise both the open water environment and the associated wetland-dependent vegetation. The wetland boundary is therefore the outer extent of the wetland vegetation. Using this wetland definition, a buffer zone is defined as an area of terrestrial vegetation which is upslope of the wetland-dependent vegetation.

Adequate buffer zones perform the following functions:

Ideally, adequate buffer zones would include the entire catchment, usually not attainable in practice and due to the diverse range of threats that can impact upon a wetland, there can be no single adequate buffer zone width. In recognition of this, a criterion-based model is developed where, depending on the major threat and the main function to be protected, different buffer zone widths are recommended.

For setting parameter-based buffer widths, measurements need to be made from different components of the wetland depending on the major threat (eg measured from the permanent water for nuisance insect problems, and from the outer edge of wetland-dependent vegetation for nutrient inputs, as excessive nutrients will adversely affect both the wetland-dependent vegetation and the open-water habitat).

Environmental cost associated with inadequate buffers include disturbance of waterbird activities, particularly nesting, modification of typical wetland food-webs, increased eutrophication, sedimentation, disruption of reproductive migrations (eg the Long-necked Tortoise) and importantly, a gradual loss of biodiversity. Economic costs include expenses associated with midge spraying, filtration of drain water, removal of invasive plant species and provision of suitable replacement land elsewhere.

For further information contact the Wetlands and Migratory Wildlife Unit.

A Multilateral approach to the conservation of migratory waterbirds

The conservation of migratory shorebirds requires action on an international basis because the birds depend on protection and appropriate habitat management in a number of countries. Migratory birds, such as shorebirds, breed in the arctic regions of Russia, China and Alaska during June and July. These birds then migrate through South-east Asia along known routes called flyways to spend the non-breeding season in Australia before returning the next year to breed. The East Asian-Australasian Flyway is one of three major flyways for shorebirds in the Asia-Pacific region. Comprehensive management for these birds needs to address all three phases of the annual life cycle: breeding, migration and non-breeding.

A five day workshop was held in Kushiro on the northern island of Hokkaido, Japan in December 1994 to discuss waterbird conservation in the East Asian-Australasian Flyway. The outcomes of the workshop were focused into a statement that has become known as the "Kushiro Initiative". The Initiative called for the development of the Asia-Pacific Migratory Waterbird Conservation Strategy which would provide an overview of the conservation issues and a plan for priorities for action, mechanisms, resources, implementation and review for the Asia-Pacific Flyways.

East Asian-Australasian Shorebird Reserve Network

As part of the Strategy, Action Plans are currently being developed for the three groups of migratory waterbird species: shorebirds, ducks and geese and cranes. The Action Plan suggest the development of site networks for the species groups as a means of implementing these plans. The East Asian-Australasian Shorebird Reserve Network proposal has been developed as part of this process.

The aim of the East Asian-Australasian Shorebird Reserve Network is to provide a framework for regional shorebird conservation by building on the already existing system of wetland reserves that are already listed under the Ramsar Convention. It will be a network of both sites and people with a broad membership not limited to those countries that are Contracting Parties to the Ramsar Convention. The Network will enable site owners, managers, local people and participating organisations to gain international recognition for their sites and their conservation efforts.

The Brisbane Initiative

The 'Brisbane Initiative' will assist the implementation of the Shorebird Reserve Network. it is a draft Recommendation to be considered at the 1996 Ramsar Conference, which Japan and Australia will co-sponsor. It calls on the countries of the East Asian-Australasian Flyway to support a multilateral flyway approach to the conservation of migratory waterbirds.

It will also call on the twelve Ramsar Contracting Parties in the East Asian-Australasian Flyway to nominate internationally important wetlands for shorebird to be included in the East Asian Australasian Shorebird Reserve Network. (See Brochure).

Stop press

The Asian Wetland Bureau (AWB and ANCA have formed a partnership for water conservation. their shared objectives and compatibility have resulted in the co-location of AWB's Oceania Program with the Wetlands and Migratory Wildlife Unit in ANCA. The two agencies recognise the need for coordinated wetland conservation activities, particularly along the East Asian-Australasian Shorebird Flyway.

Banrock Swamp project

The enhancement of the Banrock Swamp floodplain was Ducks Unlimited Australia's first wetland project. Ducks Unlimited, established in 1991, is a community based non profit conservation organisation, engaged in securing the future of Australia's waterbirds and other aquatic life by restoration, creation, conservation and management of wetlands.

Banrock Swamp floodplain is located on the River Murray at Banrock Station, within the Riverland of South Australia. This 350 hectare floodplain includes Banrock Swamp, a 90 ha shallow freshwater permanent wetlands, semi-saline billabong and areas of degraded riparian vegetation. Banrock Swamp supplies irrigation water to a large vineyard located on the highland area of the property. Major impacts to the floodplain and its wetlands have occurred from rising saline ground water due to the construction of Lock 3, levees which restrict floodwater across the floodplain and high densities of European Carp.

The goal of the Banrock Swamp project is to restore habitats that will enhance the breeding and refuge potential of the aquatic and floodplain biota, while allowing for a productive agricultural enterprise to continue.

The following strategies have been implemented to achieve the project's goal:

With the assistance of Glossop High School students through the Waterwatch Program, Ducks Unlimited volunteers are monitoring the effects of management actions on the Banrock floodplain. A research project to determine the effects European Carp have on wetlands has been implemented by Ducks Unlimited Volunteer Scientific Research Officer, Mick Olsen.

The Banrock project has cost over $250,000 representing cash and in-kind contribution. Major contributions to the projects have been the Murray-Darling Basin Commission, South Australia Youth Conservation Corps, Broadlands Wildlife Trust New Zealand and Ducks Unlimited volunteers.

Contact: Mike Harper, Executive Director, Ducks Unlimited Australia ph (085) 835243.