The Wilson River which feeds into the Richmond River which is now a category F river.
The Wilson River which feeds into the Richmond River which is now a category F river. Marc Stapelberg

New $150 million plan to improve the region's rivers

ROUS County Council have launched a new initiative to improve the health of the region's rivers, which would involve expenditure of a $150 million package over a 10 to 15-year program of works.

Released by Rous County Council as a Discussion Paper the Northern Rivers Watershed Initiative (NRWI) is designed to address river health, long term water security and flood mitigation.

The initiative was unanimously endorsed at Rous Council's December Meeting, and the council says it could be submitted to the NSW Government's Snowy-Hydro Legacy Fund.

The degraded river system was graded an overall D- in a comprehensive 2014 expert report and is one of the unhealthiest rivers in NSW.

Covering the entirety of the Tweed River, Brunswick River, Richmond River and Evans River catchments (approximately 8,220 km2) the NRWI consists of a range of measures that aim to restore the natural functioning of river catchments, floodplains and rivers to retain water in the landscape in order to reduce downstream flood risks.

The business paper states the NRWI "would consist of the following key modules: soil health improvement; riparian restoration and catchment revegetation; redesigned floodplain drainage to meet contemporary standards; agronomic best management practice; sustainable agriculture reform package (including buy backs); and a scientific framework for landscape design and monitoring”.

Councillor Keith Williams said the next step was to consult with local councils, stakeholders and the Northern Rivers Joint Organisation.

"We think there's a real opportunity for us to secure the money we need for restoration works but to do it in a way that addresses the flood risk,” Cr Williams said.

"There's real opportunity for us to look at restoring some kind of wetland function in the area that supplies that groundwater...we want to make sure those aquifers never dry out.

"We're trying to look at the entire water cycle and how the water moves across the landscape and results in a really unhealthy river that urgently needs attention, but doing it in a systematic way that addresses other issues.”

He said in a few years the existing river plan will expire and a new plan addressing the river will be needed.

"One of the problems we have to develop a coastal management plan is the new legislation requires us to identify the funding before we write the plan. If we aren't able to identify a single long term source of funding it's going to be difficult for us to write a plan at all.

"Before an application can be submitted to the Snowy-Hydro Legacy Fund it has to be agreed to at the local joint organisation level.

"We will spend the next month or so talking with councils to get support...and for the region to say fixing the river is one of our highest priorities.

"We understand what the broad criteria (for the funding) are and the target issues include water security and economic development and we think we can meet those criteria.

"As soon as the detail is available, we can be presenting that on behalf of the entire region.

"We want all the (political) parties to be looking at this issue and for them to look at the proposal.”

Cr Williams said following consultation a finalised discussion paper will go to the joint organisation for its February 2019 meeting.