Frequently Asked Questions
Our Partners share a common goal – to provide a more complete picture of river health for the Fitzroy Basin. They support this goal by providing funding, resources and contributing water quality and ecosystem health monitoring data. The data is assessed and compiled to produce annual report cards on the health of Fitzroy Basin waterways.
Frequently Asked Questions
The marine grade is calculated from three scores: Coral, Seagrass and Water Quality.
Coral is further broken down into the following sub-indicators: proportion of macroalgal cover, rate of coral cover change, coral community compositions, coral cover, and juvenile coral density. The scores of each of these indicators are equally weighted and aggregated into an overall Coral score ranging from 0 to 1.
- 0 to 0.2 is rated ‘very poor’ and coloured red
- >0.2 to 0.4 is rated ‘poor’ and coloured orange
- >0.4 to 0.6 is rated ‘moderate’ and coloured yellow
- >0.6 to 0.8 is rated ‘good’, and coloured light green
- >0.8 and higher is rated ‘very good’ and coloured dark green
Seagrass is broken down into two sub-indicators: seagrass abundance and seagrass resilience. Each of these is assigned a score between 0 and 100 and the sub-indicators are then aggregated with equal weights into the Seagrass score, scaled to a value between 0 and 1.
Water Quality is broken down into three sub-indicators: water clarity, productivity, and particulate nutrients. These are given a score and then aggregated with equal weights to produce the Water Quality score. Further details of how the sub-indicator scores are calculated are available from https://www.reefplan.qld.gov.au/tracking-progress/reef-report-card/methods-to-create-report-card.
The current Great Barrier Reef (GBR) Marine Monitoring Program (MMP) includes measures of Seagrass, Coral, and Water Quality. MMP monitoring of water quality in the Fitzroy NRM region was discontinued in 2015, meaning that a score could not be calculated. In 2021, however, a new Fitzroy Basin Marine Monitoring Program for Inshore Water Quality began, funded by a partnership between the Australian Government’s Reef Trust, the Great Barrier Reef Foundation, and Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS). This program is designed to measure the annual condition and long-term trends of coastal waters between the mouth of the Fitzroy River and North Keppel Island.
All Marine Monitoring results currently come from Great Barrier Reef (GBR) Marine Monitoring Program (MMP) which is coordinated by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA). Water quality monitoring results come from the Fitzroy Basin Marine Monitoring Program, a partnership between the Australian Government’s Reef Trust, the Great Barrier Reef Foundation, and Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS).
GBRMPA have partnered with the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS), and James Cook University (JCU) who are conducting the monitoring. AIMS conducts the Water Quality and Coral monitoring, while JCU conducts the Seagrass monitoring.
The MMP has surveyed and reported on the health of inshore coral, seagrass, and water quality every year, and has done so for over 15 years.
The Coral, Seagrass and Water Quality scores are indicators of the health of two of the most important natural and living marine habitats (Coral and Seagrass) as well one of the most important factors that influences the health of these living habitats (Water Quality). High scores (close to 1) indicate that these assets are in good condition.
Coral: the health of coral reefs is affected by multiple environmental pressures. These may include poor water quality, high sediment loads, cyclones, elevated seawater temperatures (more likely due to climate change), ocean acidification due to rising atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations, predation by crown-of-thorns starfish, and physical damage from other causes. The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority has assessed climate change as the single greatest threat to the Great Barrier Reef, while historically, crown of thorns starfish outbreaks and cyclones have caused substantial damage. Year to year variations in coral health indices are usually caused by marine heatwaves, crown of thorns starfish outbreaks, or cyclone damage, though flood events can also be a significant factor for nearshore reefs.
Seagrass: factors that can affect the health of seagrass colonies include water temperature, the amount of light reaching the seagrass (which is affected by water quality and depth), sedimentation, and the abundance of macroalgae and other algae.
Water Quality: The management of water quality remains a priority for the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) because good water quality supports the health and resilience of coastal and inshore ecosystems of the Reef (Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, 2019). Water quality in nearshore marine waters is affected by river water quality, including sediment and nutrient loads from catchments.
The Great Barrier Reef is the planet’s largest coral reef system, and one of the most extraordinary natural wonders. It is a wildlife and diversity hotspot with booming tourism. It has been identified by as a World Heritage area of “Outstanding Universal Value”. It also has substantial cultural value, is important Sea Country for Traditional Owners and is economically important. An assessment by Deloitte assessed the economic value of the GBR as at least $56b, supporting 64,000 jobs in tourism, fisheries, and other industries (Deloitte, 2017).
Monitoring and reporting the condition of nearshore habitats helps scientists and managers to assess the effects of pressures on these habitats, which allows better management and prioritisation of action to support a healthy Great Barrier Reef. We need to know:
- when and where river flows and flood waters affect inshore marine waters, and what pollutants are carried by them;
- how extreme events and chronic pressures affect important Great Barrier Reef habitats;
whether habitats are recovering and conditions improving or getting worse, based on long-term trends in water quality (turbidity/water clarity, nutrients), coral and seagrass condition.
The Australian Drinking Water Guidelines include two different types of guideline values:
- Health – a health-related guideline value, which is the concentration or measure of a water quality characteristic that, based on present knowledge, does not result in any significant risk to the health of the consumer over a lifetime of consumption.
- Aesthetic – an aesthetic guideline value, which is the concentration or measure of a water quality characteristic that is associated with acceptability of water to the consumer; for example, appearance, taste and odour. Water that does not meet aesthetic guidelines can still be safe to drink.
Water quality information relevant to specific townships can be viewed at:
Central Highlands Region – http://www.centralhighlands.qld.gov.au
Raw water comes from creeks, rivers dams and underground bores. This water has not been treated for use as drinkable water or other uses. Councils and other suppliers of water to townships process this raw water to make it more drinkable, potable or useful by purifying, clarifying, softening or deodorising it.
Determining whether potable drinking water is safe to drink is the responsibility of the local councils of the Central Queensland area and they work to ensure water they provide to residents meets the Australian Drinking Water Guidelines. The Partnership releases independent Drinking Water Reports for the Central Highlands and Rockhampton Regional Council areas to complement the annual aquatic ecosystem health reports. All townships tested across both Council areas generally receive A grades for treated drinking water. In-depth results can be viewed in the Drinking Water Reports section – https://riverhealth.org.au/report_card/drinking-water/ .
If anyone has concerns about possible contamination of waterways, they should contact the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection on 1300 130 372, or the first port of call for issues relating to drinking water should be directed to relevant Council authorities, who release notices if there are immediate issues relating to drinking water supply.
Water quality refers to the characteristics of a water supply that will influence its suitability for a specific use. Quality is defined by certain physical, chemical and biological characteristics and specific uses have different quality needs. For example, a lower threshold for salinity is applied to drinking water for human consumption based on health and aesthetic reasons than is applied to water used by stock. Similarly, the thresholds set for the suitability of water of a given salinity for irrigation varies depending on the sensitivity of the species of crop and the type of soil used for cropping.
Landholders wishing to do water quality testing can use the services of a specialist agronomist or directly access a laboratory, preferably accredited by the National Association of Testing Authorities (NATA). NATA accreditation recognises and promotes facilities competent in specific types of testing, measurement, inspection and calibration.
Agricultural industries in the Fitzroy Basin are demonstrating a commitment to sustainable production through the promotion of environmental management programs. For example, the cotton industry’s Best Management Practices program has improved farm efficiency and productivity along with protecting the environment and its natural resources. An Australian cotton sustainability framework called PLANET. PEOPLE. PADDOCK has been created to guide work to: set sustainability targets in the areas most important to industry and stakeholders. In regards to waterway health and the environment, the topics of most importance include: water, less drops per crop; carbon, acting on climate change; biodiversity, benefit from biodiversity; and pesticides, efficient responsible pesticide use.
Crop water and stock water suitability reports have been prepared by applying the appropriate Australian and New Zealand Guidelines for Fresh and Marine Water Quality to data provided by partners. Only chemical characteristics that may affect crop production or animal health have been used.
Irrigation of crops and supplying stock with drinking water are major agricultural uses of water and good water quality is essential for sustainable long-term production. Plant health and production can be affected by the physical and chemical properties of irrigation water, however the impact on production can be very situation specific. Factors which need to be considered include: the sensitivity of the crop being cultivated, the characteristics of the soil under irrigation, soil management and water management practices, climate and rainfall.
There are fewer variables associated with stock drinking water, but requirements do vary with age and between species. There is significant use of groundwater for stock and for irrigation in some catchments within the Fitzroy Basin for example, Callide Creek, however, this report deals only with surface water quality from natural waters within creeks, rivers or on-stream storages.
The Partnership uses data provided by companies and government agencies to score surface waters against 20 indicators for stock water and 22 for crop water. Indicators were selected using the same criteria as for the EHI and those chosen for inclusion are routinely monitored and have an available guideline for stock or crop water quality suitability.
The Partnership’s reporting has been expanded to include agricultural use reports to provide a more complete picture of river health. Stock and crop watering are the major agricultural uses of surface water in the Fitzroy Basin. Over 80 per cent of the land is used for grazing and one per cent for irrigated cropping. Providing information on whether surface waters meet guidelines for safe use for animal or crop production gives landholders an indication if specific water or soil testing may be warranted at a property level.
The long-term goal of our reporting is to determine if aquatic ecosystems are in good shape, given the underlying land uses and management across the Basin. While pockets of the Fitzroy Basin are largely unmodified including national parks and forests, most of the Basin has been moderately disturbed, mainly for agriculture, with small, but significant mining, urban and expanding coal seam gas footprints.
The findings that the aquatic ecosystems in the Fitzroy Basin are in ‘fair’ to ‘good’ condition is expected, given the current extent of development across the basin and it would be unrealistic to expect that an ‘A’ grade would ever be attained for some catchments as to achieve that grade they would need to be pristine.
It is heartening given the development and the major weather events that have occurred in previous years, that ecosystem health has been maintained largely across the Basin over the past ten years. It is anticipated that future management would focus on maintaining the current condition of healthier ecosystems while addressing any hotspots. Part of the Partnership’s role is to provide a forum for collaboration and sharing of management responses and management change, with our first Stewardship Report: Being the change that is needed launched in 2021 featuring a range of water stewardship initiatives being undertaken by our partners – https://riverhealth.org.au/water-stewardship/
It would be very difficult for the Fitzroy Basin to get an A overall. Whilst it may occur at the indicator level of assessment (for example, a catchment might get an A for ecology), the overall score is unlikely to be an A.
An ’A’ represents data being at or better than the benchmark value. These benchmarks are the best available guideline and water quality objective values for the indicators that make up the Fitzroy Basin EHI. Where possible benchmarks specific to a slightly-moderately disturbed (‘working”) basin are being used. And where available sub-basin (rather than regional, state or national) level values are being used.
With ten years of data, we can see trends emerging for the condition of the Fitzroy Basin beyond a single snapshot of the health of aquatic ecosystems first presented in 2010-11.
Interesting trends can be visualised by visiting the https://riverhealth.org.au/long-term-trends/
An independent Science Panel, chaired by Dr Eva Abal, guides report card development and scrutinises results to ensure that methods used for assessment are locally relevant, scientifically robust, and based on the best available science.
The role of the Independent Science Panel is to provide independent, comprehensive, and unbiased scientific advice to the Fitzroy Partnership for River Health. This ensures that the Partnership’s monitoring and reporting activities are scientifically robust, effective and meet contemporary scientific standards.
The original purpose of the Partnership’s reporting was to provide a more complete picture of aquatic ecosystem health for all rivers, natural waterways across the Fitzroy Basin and the estuary flowing into the southern Great Barrier Reef. We often refer to aquatic ecosystem health in our communications as ‘waterway health’.
In its tenth year, Fitzroy Partnership now offers a range of waterway reporting products. These include:
- Ecosystem Health Index Report Cards (River Health report cards)
- Drinking Water Report Cards for Rockhampton and Central Highlands Regional Councils
- Agricultural Use Report Cards
- Community waterway monitoring via MyWater Portal and Citizen Science in Action programs
- Long-term Fitzroy Estuary reporting
- Long-term ecosystem health trends
Annual reporting covers from 1 July of one year to 30 June of the next. This timeline for annual reporting has been selected because it incorporates the dry and wet season cycle, ensuring that each wet season is included in one reporting period.
The Independent Science Panel has established an Ecosystem Health Index (EHI) by selecting priority aquatic indicators that are suitable for use for river health. Each indicator has a set of benchmarks representing a scale from excellent to poor (A-E grades). These benchmarks are compared to data using formulas and then weighted and averaged to provide a whole of catchment score and grade.
The Independent Science Panel has worked to ensure that the EHI is based on best available science, is locally relevant and reflects the indicators that are most appropriate for picking up changes to freshwater and estuary condition. In doing so, the Independent Science Panel have reflected on what existing waterway health monitoring programs are trying to achieve.
Freshwater and Estuary reporting areas, the Ecosystem Health Monitoring Program for freshwaters was used as a starting point for EHI development and then modified with tailored indicators, thresholds and weightings to better suit local conditions. For more information please refer to the program design on our website, as it outlines the Freshwater and Estuary EHI in much greater detail.
The Hart report was prepared following the 2008 floods and a subsequent cumulative impact assessment study also highlighted the need for an integrated monitoring and reporting system for water quality in the Fitzroy Basin.
Many organisations had already been advocating for the establishment of such a monitoring system, including Fitzroy Basin Association Incorporated (FBA), which recommended this action through its Fitzroy Basin Water Quality Improvement Report. Driven by the Association, relevant monitoring organisations were approached and asked to form an alliance to address the lack of a cohesive monitoring program.
The benefits of sharing data and the desire to provide clear information in light of growing public concern led many organisations to sign on to the initiative. In 2021, Fitzroy Partnership for River Health released its tenth report card on aquatic ecosystem health in the Fitzroy Basin and remains a diverse and committed collective of organisations and stakeholders committed to waterway health reporting to the community.
Our partners come from a diverse range of industries and organisations, with some testimonials provided below explaining their involvement and benefits from being involved with the partnership:
“The Queensland Resources Council is a foundation member of the Fitzroy Partnership for River Health and believes it plays an essential role in communicating the positive environmental management practices of the resources sector, and delivering real community understanding of river health.” Frances Hayter, Queensland Resources Council
“Cotton Australia has been a member of the Fitzroy Partnership for River Health for a number of years. As our growers are among the wide range of custodians of the Fitzroy Basin, it is not only essential that the river system remains healthy, but that we can demonstrate that health. Cotton Australia strongly endorses the work of the Fitzroy Partnership for River Health.” Michael Murray, Cotton Australia
“Being a member of the Fitzroy Partnership is more than receiving waterway report cards, it’s about being part of a community of like-minded individuals and organisations who genuinely care about protecting the environment in which we live and work. CQG Consulting is proud to be a founding member of the Partnership and to have contributed to its achievements since inception.” Patrice Brown, CQG Consulting
“I think it is important for Central Highlands Regional Council, as a major environmental stakeholder in the region with activities that could potentially impact the environment, to lead by example. We are also a major user of the waterways with public health and environmental health responsibilities. Given our presence and profile in the community, membership [of the Partnership] helps us sell the messaging around sound environmental management practices and helps our credibility with that messaging. We are also a Reef Guardian council and have schools in our region who are part of that program, so the Partnership is a good fit with what we are trying to promote environmentally. Membership is an important messaging opportunity to an organisation’s internal and external customers, that good sound environmental practices are part of the organisation’s values/culture. It also provides knowledge opportunities around best practice.” Geoff Atherfold, Central Highlands Regional Council
The community can access accurate and timely information on a range of ecosystem reports from catchments across the Fitzroy Basin. These include water quality, ecosystem health, water suitability for agricultural use and drinking water and others, all presented in a way that is easy to understand.
The community can be confident the data and reporting at FPRH is independently assessed and scrutinised by an Independent Science Panel using the best available science.
They can also be reassured that ongoing monitoring of our ecosystems is occurring each year, so that when climate or industry activities put water quality issues on the agenda, reports are readily available for community perusal. The report cards also provide information on the health of local waterways to inform management actions by government, industry and communities to achieve more resilient waterways over time.
While not directly involved in river management, report card results are designed to inform consideration of whether current management strategies are proving successful in maintaining the health of aquatic ecosystems.
In addition, the partnership approach provides a significant platform for water stewardship initiatives and potentially guides investments towards improved aquatic ecosystem health by governments and partner organisations in the Fitzroy Basin. The Partnership has produced two Stewardship Report: Being the change that is needed Reports in 2021 and 2022 which showcase a range of water management and stewardship activities being undertaken by partners for a better water future for the Fitzroy Basin.
Fitzroy Partnership Annual Report cards also help guide and improve a range of regional plans, such as the Central Queensland Sustainability Strategy.