Land Sector Package

Restoring river health to the Condamine

Biodiversity Fund Case Study

Location: Killarney, Queensland
Funding: $348,000 (excluding GST)
Partners: Landholders, Landcare, Environmental consultants, DAFF Q (Fisheries Qld), Southern Downs Regional Council

The River Rescue program will restore and rehabilitate the Condamine River, with far reaching impacts on fish species and water health downstream, flowing through to the Murray-Darling.

The 2011 and 2012 floods had an enormous effect on the Condamine River, causing erosion and slumping around riverbanks, and dragging debris and rubbish through the river system.

"This exacerbated the damage caused by a long history of land clearing and poor management of the riparian zone," says Carl Mitchell, Manager, Water for Condamine Alliance.

The Biodiversity Fund will target 20 kilometres of the river between Killarney and Warwick, addressing 200 hectares of riparian land. "Through River Rescue we've identified priority reaches for rehabilitation, and this reach was one of the most highly degraded in this catchment."

The project will include revegetation and regeneration, pest and weed control, and fencing to protect the river from stock.

Inspecting the Condamine River Condamine Alliance's Manager  EWater and Project Coordinator Dawn Heath inspect healthy riparian vegetation on the Condamine River The Condamine River
The 'River Rescue' program will restore and rehabilitate the Condamine River

Assessing the health of the river

Following the 2011 floods, a geomorphologist carried out an assessment of the river system, looking at video footage to identify vegetation issues as well as weeds and pests.

"This river is at the headwaters of the Murray Darling, so all the work we do here will improve fish population and water quality downstream," says Carl. Upstream of Killarney, it backs onto the Great Dividing Range and World Heritage Listed Gondwana Rainforests, with many endangered species of frogs, fish and plants.

"There are many iconic fish species in the Condamine," he adds. "Most are angling fish, such as the Murray Cod, Golden Perch, Silver Perch and freshwater catfish. Works downstream of this area saw another catfish, the Hyrtl's Catfish, re-introduced to the area, so we're hoping these works will allow these species to return to the top end."

One on one support for landholders

Many of the landholdings along the river are around the townships of Killarney and Warwick, so they're relatively small agricultural or residential properties. This means several properties may be involved in the program. "We need to link the areas to get continuity along stretches of river frontage," says Carl. The project team will work with individual landholders to help develop a plan for managing their own river frontage, and support them with the revegetation and regeneration works.

"Landcare Groups will help by providing volunteers for planting and clearing. We're also talking with other groups such as Greening Australia, Young Women's Christian Association and Conservation Volunteers Australia." The Southern Downs regional council will also be involved.

One of Carl's challenges will be developing a relationship with the local community, as they haven't worked in this area before. By running education programs for landholders, schools and the wider community, Carl hopes they can make people aware of the importance of a well-functioning river.

"Where we've done river restoration work in other areas, the community develop a sense of pride and become more involved with it, so we're hoping to see a renewed connection and sense of ownership of the river."

Condamine Alliance's Manager  EWater and Project Coordinator Dawn Heath investigate pig damage on the banks of the Condamine River Condamine Alliance's Manager  EWater, Project Coordinator Dawn Heath and Landholder Dave Vardy Project Coordinator Dawn Heath and Landholder Dave Vardy discuss weed identification and control at Dave's farm near Killarney
The Project Team will work with individual landholders

Restoration and connectivity

Over the three year term of the project, linkages will be created between the existing stands of vegetation, which also provide much larger buffer areas to protect water quality. By sourcing the seeds and plants locally, they can mimic what was there originally.

"This area has your typical droughts and flooding rains of the Australian inland, so working in an ephemeral system like the Condamine is certainly subject to climate issues," says Carl. "Floods provide ideal conditions for weeds and pests." He's seen extensive wild pig damage along the river, and blackberries and privet have taken off after all the rain. "They make a mess of the place, so that's all part of our control strategy."

Tree planting and fencing will start in September 2012, commencing with a small round of initial implementation as they build local relationships.

"One of our key strategies is managing stock access to river frontage. Stock can damage sensitive areas through over-grazing and tramping of river banks, which impacts water quality. By fencing off riparian areas, we can restrict the timing and numbers of stock access to water, and we'll also provide off stream watering."

Overall, Carl expects to manage 160 hectares of weed control and 40 hectares of revegetation.

"We'll then monitor the impacts by assessing the condition of the restored area over time, and checking improvements in the state of the river." One final indicator will be support from the local community, as they take ownership of the health of their river.