TRaCK: Tropical Rivers and Coastal Knowledge

Science and knowledge that governments, communities, industries for sustainable use of Australia's tropical rivers and estuaries

Trial of the Framework for the Assessment of River and Wetland Health (FARWH) in the Wet/Dry Tropics for the Daly and Fitzroy Rivers

TitleTrial of the Framework for the Assessment of River and Wetland Health (FARWH) in the Wet/Dry Tropics for the Daly and Fitzroy Rivers
Publication TypeReport
Year of Publication2011
AuthorsDixon, I, Dobbs, R, Townsend, S, Close, P, Ligtermoet, E, Dostine, P, Duncan, R, Kennard, M, Tunbridge, D
Date Published09/2011
InstitutionCharles Darwin University
ISBN Number978-1-921576-53-9
KeywordsAUSRIVAS, environmental monitoring, FARWH, fish, macroinvertebrates, River health, TRARC, water quality

Australian states and territories are signatories to the National Water Initiative (NWI), the progress of which is assessed by the National Water Commission (NWC). An important NWI outcome is the delivery of a nationally compatible market, with a regulatory and planning-based protocol for managing surface and groundwater resources for rural, social and environmental outcomes. A key component of this goal was to develop a nationally consistent approach to river health assessment and reporting. During 2006, the Australian water resources 2005 discovery phase (AWR 2005) found that, typically, information and knowledge on river health were patchy and the capacity for developing a national approach to river health assessment was limited. Consequently, a national framework for river heath assessment—The Framework for the Assessment of River and Wetland Health (FARWH)—was developed.

Over the past few years, the FARWH framework has been trialled and tested in focal catchments across Australia. The wet/dry tropics of Australia were chosen as one of the key areas to trial the framework. Tropical rivers of northern Australia are internationally recognised for their high ecological and cultural values. Not only does the climate of the wet/dry tropics fundamentally differ from temperate Australia, but the nature of environmental impacts on the aquatic environment also differs. Unlike many other tropical systems, and their temperate Australian counterparts, they have largely unmodified flow regimes and are comparatively free from the impacts typically associated with intensive land use (see Douglas et al. 2005). The region has experienced very little intensive development; cattle grazing of native pastures is the dominant land use. Other major threats to northern Australian rivers include altered fire regimes, and weed and feral animal invasions. These unique catchment conditions and the vastness of the region pose scientific and practical challenges for assessing river heath.

Assessment of the FARWH in the wet/dry tropics comprised two distinct phases: an initial desktop assessment in the Darwin Harbour and Ord River catchments using existing data, followed by a field-based assessment in the Daly and Fitzroy River catchments. Traditional owners recognise the Fitzroy River by the name Mardoowarra River. The project was managed by the Tropical Rivers and Coastal Knowledge research hub (TRaCK), which includes the University of Western Australia, as lead for Western Australia (WA), Charles Darwin University, for the Northern Territory (NT) and Griffith University, for Queensland (Qld), in association with:

  • The NT Department of Natural Resources, Environment, the Arts and Sport
  • WA Department of Water
  • Qld Department of Environment and Resource Management
  • eWater CRC.

This document describes in detail the field trial of the FARWH in the Daly and Fitzroy river catchments. The field trials were undertaken over the 2009 dry season (July–October). Forty-one and 37 sites were assessed in the Daly and Fitzroy rivers respectively. Data was collected at each site for the water quality, physical form, fringing zone and aquatic biota themes. The hydrology and catchment disturbance themes were based on existing data. The desktop trials have been previously reported by Dixon et al. (2009), although key results from this study have been included here to compare results.