FUTURE: ‘Unprecedented’ innovative program for improving water quality issues in the Richmond River is being piloted. Picture: David Smith
FUTURE: ‘Unprecedented’ innovative program for improving water quality issues in the Richmond River is being piloted. Picture: David Smith

The new approach to improving the Richmond River

INNOVATIVE approaches to improving water quality issues in the Richmond River were being piloted as part of the NSW Government’s marine estate management strategy.

NSW DPI program coastal systems leader Marcus Riches said the river estuary had experienced poor water quality and fish deaths in the past, and current weather conditions were once again increasing this risk with heavy rainfall predicted in the region.

“Poor water quality can have significant impacts on industry, communities, the economy and our natural resources, particularly when large scale fish deaths occur, like those in the Richmond River in 2001 and 2008,” Mr Riches said.

“More than $45 million will be invested in the Marine Estate Management Strategy 2018-2028 to address these issues, with more than 70 per cent of funds dedicated to improving water quality across the coast, including run-off from acid sulfate soils and agricultural drainage works on our coastal floodplains in the Richmond (River).”

State of the Richmond River at Casino. Photo: Susanna Freymark
State of the Richmond River at Casino. Photo: Susanna Freymark

Mr Riches said more than $3.4 million had been invested in the past 18 months to support Richmond River water quality improvements under the strategy, with the catchment chosen as a key pilot area for new evidence-based approaches to addressing water quality.

“This is a multifaceted, long-term approach to deliver on-ground works, and better planning and co-ordinated management across industry, government and community with a focus on estuarine health and reducing the severity of poor water quality events,” he said.

Mr Riches said part of this funding has been provided to the North Coast Local Land Services and more works are planned this year.

“NSW DPI is working with blueberry, greenhouse vegetable and macadamia industries on improving water and nutrient management to reduce off-site water quality and habitat impacts to waterways,” he said.

“$150,000 has been provided to assist Rous Council with coastal floodplain studies to improve water quality outcomes and infrastructure management at the Keith Hall drainage system.”

He said development of estuary-wide foreshore structures, riverbank protection and marine vegetation management strategies would improve the co-ordinated management of coastal habitats, ensure sustainable development and identify where protection and rehabilitation efforts are needed.

State of the Richmond River at Casino. Photo: Susanna Freymark
State of the Richmond River at Casino. Photo: Susanna Freymark

Mr Riches said the coastal drainage management project would help improve the management of floodplain drainage infrastructure and restoration of coastal floodplain wetlands, to enhance natural water retention and flows, and address poor water quality from acid sulfate soils and low dissolved oxygen conditions.

He said all management options were currently on the table, including existing government rules and processes and non-statutory options, such as farm, drainage or floodgate management plans and on-ground works.

“These projects are unprecedented in NSW, in both their geographic scale and the complexity of issues they are addressing,” he said.

“Already we’re seeing significant progress being made that will lead to sustainable outcomes and an improvement in water quality and productivity in the long-term.

“These projects are being undertaken in collaboration with key stakeholders including local government, industry, Aboriginal leaders and local landholders – all providing unique insights and local knowledge crucial for identifying solutions.

“While we can’t stop fish kills occurring in certain conditions, we want to ensure their extent and severity are reduced both now and in the future.”