Australian Heritage Commission, 1998
ISBN 0 6425 4590 1
This document addresses the conservation management of wild rivers by:
- discussing the impacts of a range of activities on wild river values;
- outlining some principles for wild river management; and
- providing a Code for wild river management.
Taken together, the principles and Code (Parts B and C of the Guidelines) constitute guidelines for the management of wild rivers. They have been developed with the objective of assisting management authorities to maintain the integrity of Australia's remaining wild rivers, where a decision has been made to manage the rivers for their wild river values.
Part A of the Guidelines outlines wild river values and discusses the impacts of human activities on these values.
Part A Wild River Values and Impacts
'Parntuu'. Parntuu is the name of the Darling River Codfish which Badger Bates people used to catch with the traps, nets and spears depicted. Mutawintji (Mootwingee National Park) is a special meeting and hunting place for traditional owners and for Aboriginal people across western NSW and South Australia, who have established many art sites in the area. While many wild rivers and their adjoining lands have been modified by Indigenous societies over time, these rivers remain relatively undisturbed in comparison with the changes made since the arrival of Europeans. Wild rivers and their catchments provide a focus for spiritual, or other Indigenous cultural activities. The involvement of Indigenous people in the management of wild rivers may be crucial for conserving wild river values.
A wild river is defined as:
a channel, channel network, or a connected network of waterbodies, of natural origin and exhibiting overland flow (which can be perennial, intermittent or episodic) in which:
- the biological, hydrological and geomorphological processes associated with river flow; and
- the biological, hydrological and geomorphological processes in those parts of the catchment with which the river is intimately linked,
have not been significantly altered since European settlement.
This includes rivers that may flow underground for all or part of their length such as rivers flowing through karst environments.
This definition accepts the view that rivers and their adjoining lands generally have been modified by Indigenous society over time, but that they remain relatively undisturbed in comparison to the changes made since European settlement.
For this report the following definitions are also used:
- the catchment is land which contributes surface water to the channel;
- the riparian zone is the channel margin (or banks), which forms part of the floodplain; and
- the floodplain, which includes the riparian zone, is that part of the land adjacent to the river that is subject to flooding and consisting of a mosaic of aquatic and terrestrial environments that are intricately linked with the river.
The discussions on wild river impacts, and on the development of the principles and Code, have been kept to a broad level. They should be considered as generic statements to assist the responsible management agencies to prepare management plans tailored to individual rivers.
Wild River Values
Wild rivers and their catchments can have a variety of values:
- they provide data for environmental monitoring and scientific study, are important educational resources and, because of their undisturbed nature, may provide biologically diverse and productive habitats;
- they provide excellent examples of natural fluvial and geomorphic processes;
- they are part of global life support systems through processes such as nutrient and water cycling and energy flow, and have intrinsic values to be recognised in their own right;
- they are becoming increasingly scarce on a global scale;
- they attract people for recreational purposes and aesthetic appreciation, and can provide a focus for spiritual, political, national or other cultural sentiment, with some places being significantly associated with cultural eras and events; and
- many wild rivers supply water of high quality for downstream use and form part of the continuum of catchment values for which Integrated Catchment Management caters.
The protection of wild rivers also contributes to achievement of several of the objectives and guiding principles of Ecologically Sustainable Development.
Impacts on Wild River Values
Disturbances associated with a range of human activities can lead directly or indirectly to physical, chemical, or biological impacts, or other, less tangible, losses in wild river values. Some activities may have an immediate and obvious impact, for instance the construction of a dam. Others may bring about incremental changes: for example, grazing in the river's riparian zone. Impacts can occur on water quality, flow regime, morphology, biological communities, or aesthetic quality. The main pressures which may (depending on the management and nature of a specific example) cause impacts on wild rivers are grazing; clearing; irrigation; cultivation; flow regulation and water diversion; river management works; mining and gravel, sand and soil extraction; roads and tracks; water-based recreation and tourism; water-enhanced recreation; introduced plant and animal species; fisheries and aquaculture; timber production; urban settlement; infrastructure; and fire.
Part B Principles and a Code for the Management of Wild River Values
Premises underlying the principles and the Code
There are eight important broad premises on which the principles and Code of management for wild rivers are based:
- the principal control and management of wild river values should remain with individual States and Territories;
- the principles and Code should be applied by all land and water resource managers, in both the public and private sectors, including Indigenous managers;
- where a river crosses State borders, all States involved should work towards cooperation and coordination of activities within the catchment and the river itself;
- consideration should be given to conserving the cultural and spiritual significance of wild rivers;
- the role of Indigenous groups in determining the management of rivers and catchments in their traditional lands should be recognised and appropriate consultation and negotiation should be undertaken;
- a river system should be treated as an integral entity, wherein the condition of the river column is linked to the health of the catchment;
- the impact of individual activities on wild river values should be assessed on a case by case basis in the context of broader policies; and
- cumulative impacts of activities which adversely affect wild river catchments should be assessed, particularly when a new development is proposed.
Principles for management of wild river values
These principles, set out in Part B of the document, are intended to assist managers, where a decision has been made to manage identified wild rivers for their wild river values. It is intended that the adoption of nationally agreed guidelines will assist in providing a more integrated and coordinated approach to wild river management. The principles and Code have been developed with the objective of maintaining wild river values. They are not intended to be prescriptive nor do they provide for the total restoration or improvement of river conditions. However, in some instances, where it is considered that an impact left unattended may cause ongoing degradation of wild river values, restorative measures are suggested. The principles relate to maintaining 'wild river' values, the approach recommended for management planning, and the application of the principles of Ecologically Sustainable Development and Integrated Catchment Management.
Part C A Code for the Management of Wild Rivers
The Code addresses the major impacts on wild river values and suggests planning and management actions to protect these values by identifying the goal and objectives of wild river management.
The goal of wild river management is to conserve wild river values by protecting them from human induced hydrological, geomorphological, and biological disturbance, and by allowing the associated natural systems and ecological processes to continue indefinitely.
The objectives include:
- identification of existing and potential threats to wild river values and the prevention of those threats from degrading values;
- support of existing uses, provided that they continue in a manner that does not threaten existing wild river values;
- rehabilitation of areas suffering limited disturbance;
- provision of, and support for, appropriate Indigenous use and management of wild rivers and their catchments;
- provision of opportunities for research, education, resource use, recreation and aesthetic enjoyment on wild rivers and in their floodplains, where such activities do not have a significant impact on natural hydrological, geomorphological or biological processes; and
- encouragement for widespread community support for wild river protection, and for cooperation in their conservation by resource management agencies, including users of wild rivers and their catchments.
Role of Indigenous groups in the principles and the Code
Kanangra Creek Valley, Kanangra-Boyd National Park, NSW. The degree to which activities in the catchment will affect wild river values will be influenced by each catchment's climate, topography andy soil type.
Photo: Rob Jung © 1998
The principles and Code for the minimisation of adverse impacts on wild rivers must be viewed in the context of native title. Aboriginal peoples and Torres Strait Islanders are important stakeholders in the development of environmental resource management policies.
Compatibility of uses in wild rivers and their catchments
The Code for wild river management suggests planning and management actions to protect wild river values.
The significance of all catchment impacts on wild river values resulting from uses should be assessed and managed to prevent significant disturbance to wild river values. This should apply to any new works or uses to ensure that the river and its catchment are capable of sustaining them. Existing uses should be reviewed, and where necessary, modified to ensure that wild river values are not degraded. Further, to maintain the status quo of wild river values, it is recommended that any activities that may be detrimental to those values and that do not currently occur, should be prevented from occurring in the future.
The greatest impacts will be experienced in the river and its riparian zone. The degree to which activities in the catchment will affect wild river values will be influenced by each catchment's climate, topography and soil type.
It is therefore only possible to provide a generalised Code for the compatibility of uses with wild river values, as decisions on the suitability of an activity in a wild river catchment need to take into account each river's geomorphology, hydrology and biology.