2011-12 FAQ’s

Frequently asked questions

About the partnership

What is the Fitzroy Partnership for River Health?

The Partnership is a collective of government, agriculture, resources, industry, research and community interests across the Fitzroy Basin in central Queensland.

Partners have a common goal of providing a more complete picture on river health and support this goal by providing funding, resources and contributing water quality and ecosystem health monitoring data through data-sharing arrangements.

Who are the partners?

Major Partners include Fitzroy Basin Association (host organisation), Queensland Government, BMA, Peabody Energy, Anglo American, Rio Tinto, Santos, Origin Energy and Glencore.

Partners include Arrow Energy, Jellinbah Resources, Wesfarmers, Rockhampton Regional Council, Cockatoo Coal, Idemitsu, Isaac Plains Coal, New Hope Coal, Yancoal, Central Highlands Regional Council, Cotton Australia, CQG Consulting, CQUniversity and the Queensland Resources Council.

Associate Partners include AgForce and Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority.

How long has it taken to establish the partnership?

After two and a half years of negotiations and planning the Fitzroy Partnership was formally established in February 2012.

Identifying relevant organisations, building relationships and trust and creating an environment for organisations from various backgrounds to agree on a common vision and purpose and commit significant funds takes time.  The Partnership continues to invest these funds as well as significant staff time and effort to provide the most complete picture of river health in the Fitzroy Basin year after year.

How does the Partnership ensure aquatic ecosystems are maintained?

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. Please see our role diagram in the ‘Partners’ section of our website to better understand our role in informing better river and catchment management.

The report cards will also help guide and improve a range of regional plans, such as Regional Natural Resource Management Plans and Water Quality Improvement Plans and potentially guide investments towards improved aquatic ecosystem health by governments and all partner organisations.

How much has the report card cost?

Partners invested close to $600,000 to develop the second report card for the Fitzroy Basin.  Partners also agreed to share their existing data from their own independent monitoring programs – these monitoring programs and data collection and collation have cost partners several million dollars annually.

What are the benefits for the community?

The community will benefit through access to accurate water quality and ecosystem health information, presented in a way that is understandable by all.

The report cards provide an easy guide to the health of local waterways, which will add to local decision-making tools that feed into efforts to achieve healthier waterways.

About reporting

What is the purpose of the report cards?

The purpose of this reporting is to provide the most complete picture of aquatic ecosystem health for all rivers, natural waterways, the estuary and near shore marine environments across the Fitzroy Basin. We often refer to aquatic ecosystem health in our communications as ‘river health’.

What are reports based upon?

The Science Panel has established an Ecosystem Health Index (EHI) by selecting priority aquatic indicators that are suitable for use as barometers for river health. Learn more about our Science Panel by downloading the fact sheet in our ‘Governance’ section on the website. Each indicator has a set of benchmarks representing a scale from excellent to poor. These benchmarks are compared to data using formulas and then weighted and averaged to provide a whole of catchment score. The CQUniversity and others have supported this process of indicator, threshold and weighting selection. More details are provided in our comprehensive program design and in the website under the ‘grading explained’ section.

Why is there a difference between the freshwater and estuary program and the marine program?

The 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, estuary or marine condition. In doing so, the science panel have reflected on existing waterway health monitoring programs trying to achieve similar goals, like the Ecosystem Health Monitoring Program – http://www.healthywaterways.org/Home.aspx – and the Reef Water Quality Protection Plan – www.reefplan.qld.gov.au/measuring-success/report-cards.aspx – reporting.

For the marine zone, the science panel agreed to adopt the same EHI that is currently used in the ReefPlan marine reporting for the Fitzroy NRM region. This decision was made because the existing framework was based on best science and highly relevant to the Fitzroy. By taking this approach it also means that marine results are comparable across both reporting products.

For the 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 as it outlines the Freshwater and Estuary EHI in much greater detail.

 When are report cards released?

The first report card was released in May 2013 and provided a snapshot of aquatic ecosystem health for the 2010-2011 period. The second report card covers July 2011 to June 2012, released in August 2014 and the third will be released before the end of 2014 and takes into account water health for 2012-13.  It is anticipated that annual reports of a similar nature will be prepared and released into the future. Information on the report card is available via our website www.riverhealth.org.au.

What period of time do report cards cover?

Annual reporting covers a water year, which stretches from July of one year to June of the next. This timeline for annual reporting has been selected because it takes into account the dry and wet season cycle, ensuring that each wet season is included in one reporting period.

What condition is my waterway in today?

Our reports focus on annual snapshots that rely on third party data. Before a report card is released data needs to be collated and then undergoes comprehensive assessment and visualisation in order to make it easy to comprehend. This all takes time and for this reason we currently do not provide up-to-date data. However, many third party providers make data available. While not an exhaustive list, some handy links to more up-to-date third party data is provided below for you to explore:

 Why the delay from the last sample collected and the release of the reports?

There is a minimum period required to allow for validation and assessment of available data.  Before a report card is released data needs to be collated and then undergoes comprehensive assessment and visualisation in order to make it easy to comprehend. This all takes time, at best six to nine months once systems and processes are established. Systems also needed to be put in place to share, verify and assess the data before the results could be compiled and scrutinised by the science panel.

The good news is that this year two annual reports will be released. This moves us closer to achieving more up-to-date reporting.

So what turnaround time could be expected in the future?

The vision is to deliver a report card around nine months after the last samples are collected. For example, if the last samples were collected on the 30th June 2015 then the aim would be to release a report card by March 2016.  It will take several years to streamline all of the systems and processes to realise this vision. This year two annual reports will be released to bridge a majority of the gap.

Is the water safe to drink?

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 deodorizing it.  Determining whether potable drinking water is safe to drink currently falls under the local Councils of Central Queensland area of expertise and they work to ensure water they provide to residents meets the Australian Drinking Water Guidelines.

Our reporting relates to aquatic ecosystem health alone and no other uses for water including human consumption, agricultural use, industrial use and recreation.  If anyone has concerns about possible contamination of waterways they should contact the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection on 1300 130 372.

What is stewardship and how is it reported?

In time the report card will assess the level of ‘stewardship’ or ‘management’ of resources in the Fitzroy Basin, and also measure the effectiveness of these management actions in maintaining and protecting the basins aquatic ecosystems. While the vision is to quantify the level of stewardship adoption across each sector into the future, the current systems and processes for collecting this information are not established. Until then, a series of comprehensive case studies will continue to be prepared for each report to help identify good river stewardship occurring across the Fitzroy Basin.

For example, during this period, the resources sector continued to actively invest in improved water management, with coal industry stewardship case studies providing good examples of this ongoing improvement.

There has also been some progress in reporting on the adoption of improved management practices for diffuse sources of nutrients, pesticides and sediments from agricultural land uses through the Reef Water Quality Protection Plan.  Further information can be found at: www.reefplan.qld.gov.au

Natural factors such as flooding, groundcover and groundwater are mentioned in the report’s commentary. Where can I find out more?

There is an abundance of other waterway health information available across the Fitzroy that is not covered in the report card. This information ranges from countless other waterway health indicators on the natural dynamics of the natural system, like rainfall, climate, and soil types that blend with human induced factors such as land use, point source discharges and management practices to influence waterway health in the Fitzroy. As much of this supporting information as possible has been compiled and offered within the ‘additional information’ section of the website to provide a broader context for report card results.

About results

What are the results?

Most reporting areas remained stable or improved in 2011-12, with the exception of the Connors and Marine zone and this led to the Fitzroy Basin retaining an overall C grade. All reporting areas retained their grading from the previous year, except the Lower Dawson, which moved to a B.

It was a less extreme wet season compared to the previous year. Generally there was an improvement in turbidity, metal and nutrient results and a decline in salt and sulfate scores.

Factors that influenced the scores in this report card included less intense rainfall and flow than the previous year resulting in less catchment runoff as well as prolonged river flow in the second half of 2011 fed by higher groundwater levels.

In 2011-12 the Marine zone was again found to be in poor condition. This is likely attributable to continuing impacts from the 2011 floods resulting in larger sediment and nutrient loads reaching the marine area, as well as physical disturbance from storms.

Adequate data exists for most water quality indicators in some reporting areas. Major data gaps remain for some indicators, particularly indicators in the ecology category. Preliminary work is currently underway to help address the issue of monitoring gaps and associated data deficiency in the longer term.

Why should the results be trusted?

An independent Science Panel, chaired by Professor Barry Hart, guided report card development and scrutinised results to ensure that methods used for assessment were locally relevant, scientifically robust, and based on the best available science. Skilled researchers and a science project team assisted the Science Panel by compiling information, preparing documentation and assessing data based on this guidance.

The role of the Science Panel is to provide independent, comprehensive, 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 panel reviews Partnership activities and reports, provides advice on monitoring and reporting methods, identifies linkages to relevant research activities and guides effective science communications. The Science Panel endorsed the report card before it was released to the public.

Do these results represent a benchmark to measure future results against?

With two years’ worth of data we are now starting to get an idea about the condition of the Fitzroy Basin beyond a single snapshot of the health of aquatic ecosystems presented in 2010-11. Initial trend visualisations have been provided to support comparison between years. After several reports have been compiled and the influences of natural climatic variations on results are better understood, setting a sound benchmark for future comparison may be achievable. It is also anticipated that after several years, greater commentary of ecosystem health trends can begin to be offered.

Why was the marine environment in poor condition during 2011-2012?

Due to high rainfall and the corresponding major flooding that occurred in early 2011, a larger load of sediment reached the marine zone from the catchments, which impacted water quality, sea grass and coral condition.

As outlined in ‘Why is there a difference between the freshwater and estuary program and the marine program?’ the marine zone reporting is directly related to ReefPlan reporting. The ReefPlan report for 2009-10 was recently released and in this report, the marine zone was in fair condition during this period. The ongoing decline in marine condition from 2009-10 highlighted in this report is most likely attributable to the extreme floods in 2010-11.

What is being done to address the ongoing poor result for the marine zone?

A reduction in sediment and nutrient loads is being addressed through several initiatives; most notably activities under the Reef Water Quality Protection Plan.  For example, agricultural landholders and the Australian Government will have co-invested over $800 million by 2018 to reduce sediment and nutrient loss from agricultural lands under the Reef Programme. The stewardship case study on the grains Best Management Practice explores this management response in more detail.

Do the results indicate that a change in management is required?

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 may be unrealistic to expect that an ‘A’ grade for some catchments may ever be attained. These results do provide a snapshot for comparison over future years as more report cards are produced. It is anticipated that future management would focus on maintaining the current condition of healthier ecosystems while addressing any hotspots.

How can the Callide catchment continue to receive a ‘C’ grade overall, given that the Dee River is part of this catchment?

It is well known that the Dee River is highly impacted by historic gold mining operations in the town of Mount Morgan, and many in the community may expect the Callide to receive a lower score than it has. The Callide catchment includes the Don and Callide systems, both of which are in relatively good condition (and larger catchment area) compared with the Dee. Water from these catchments provides further dilution to inflows from the Dee River as it joins the Don River.  The Callide catchment continues to receive a fair result for cadmium and this result is most likely attributed to the historic influences of the abandoned mine.

Was salinity a big issue for aquatic ecosystems this year?

Salinity was more of an issue for aquatic ecosystems across the Fitzroy Basin during this period, with the ‘good’ results for only 4 of the 11 freshwater catchments. Seven catchments rated ‘fair’ for salinity, including the Nogoa, which does not have operating coal mines power stations or sewage treatment plants. The source of higher salinity levels in the Nogoa, particularly during low flow periods is most likely attributable to inflows of saline groundwater.  While coal mines, power stations and sewerage treatment plants did release water into waterways across the Fitzroy Basin during 2011-2012 and extensive historic land clearing practices may be resulting in dryland salinity, there is no currently reliable method for determining the relative contributions of salt from natural and human activities.

This continues to show that good management of all  non-natural sources of salts to waterways is critical to maintaining healthy aquatic ecosystems.

Why did the Lower Dawson results improve so significantly this year?

The improvement relates to a lack of data rather than a change in ecosystem health. The Fitzroy Partnership currently relies on third party data. There was macroinvertebrate data for the Lower Dawson in 2010-11, but not for 2011-12.

In the interest of timeliness, the report card has been released, despite this identified issue.

Two strategies are being implemented to stop this occurring into the future. The first relates to science panel consideration of a refinement in the current methodology for addressing missing data. This approach will be used primarily for the 2012-13 and 2013-14 report cards. The second strategy relates to targeted monitoring investment to fill data gaps and will be relevant to the 2014-15 report card and beyond.

About data

Why is there data missing for some indicators in some catchments?

Usually a monitoring program is designed from scratch. This would involve setting up monitoring points to collect data on each of the specific indicators determined for the program. This report card draws on existing monitoring data collected by partners from July 2011 to June 2012. In some areas, there was little or no data available for the specific indicators set by the Science Panel. Until now we did not know where monitoring gaps existed and now that we do, we expect these gaps to decrease with future investment by the partners.  The Fitzroy Partnership for River Health has already invested in projects to improve reference site data for future report cards. See the sampling intensity maps on ‘Data’ section of our website for more information on current monitoring gaps.

How can I feel confident that data providers haven’t interfered with results before handing it over?

Every now and then comments will be made about not trusting the results provided by some of our data providers. Interfering with the data is unlikely to occur, given the regulatory systems and processes in place that keep an eye out for such actions.  Further, many data providers who have point source discharges need to monitor both upstream and downstream of their discharge point, and in many cases the upstream monitoring site of one data provider is actually downstream of another data provider’s discharge point. Outside of the partnership, our members ensure that they know exactly what the water is like upstream of their discharge point so they can prove they are not impacting on the waterways. This checking mechanism provides an extra level of confidence in the results.