Frequently asked questions: 2015-16
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 and Glencore.
Partners include Rockhampton Regional Council, Ensham Resources, Santos, Wesfarmers, Central Highlands Regional Council, Cotton Australia, CQG Consulting, CQUniversity, New Hope Coal, Gladstone Area Water Board, Origin Energy, Jellinbah Resources and the Queensland Resources Council.
When was the partnership established?
The Fitzroy Partnership was formally established in February 2012. The Partnership acknowledges the ongoing support of the Partnership network, particularly in tough economic conditions. Their ongoing commitment to providing data year-on-year and supporting the Partnership’s vision should be commended.
What are the benefits for the community?
The community will benefit through access to accurate and timely information on water quality, ecosystem health, agricultural use and drinking water suitability, presented in a way that is understandable by all. The report cards provide an easy guide to the health of local waterways, which will inform actions to achieve healthier waterways.
What reporting products does the Partnership produce?
The original purpose of the Partnership’s reporting was to provide a more 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’.
In its sixth year, the Partnership now offers a range of waterway reporting products. These include:
- Ecosystem Health Report Cards (River Health report cards)
- Drinking Water Report Cards for Rockhampton and Central Highlands Regional Councils
- Agricultural Use Report Cards
- Great Barrier Reef Report Card – through the Reef Plan Marine Report
What are River Health reports based upon?
The 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. 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.
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 and estuary condition. In doing so, the science panel have reflected on what existing waterway health monitoring programs are trying to achieve http://healthywaterways.org/.
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.
Marine Reporting relies upon the data made available through the Reef Plan. Results for 2015-16 can be found at www.reefplan.qld.gov.au . The results for the 2015-16 period are not yet available.
What are Drinking Water Reports based on?
Water quality data provided by Councils has been scored by applying the Australian Drinking Water Guidelines to this data. From this information a Drinking Water Index (DWI) has been developed and endorsed by the Science Panel. The details of how this scoring has been done are provided on the website under the ‘grading explained’ section.
What are Agricultural Use Reports based on?
Crop water and stock water reports have been prepared by applying a selection of the 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.
The Australian and New Zealand Guidelines also include pesticides and radiological characteristics but there is insufficient data available in the Fitzroy Basin to include these parameters in the reports.
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.
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.
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 includes rainfall, flooding, ground cover, groundwater and land use. As much of this supporting information as possible has been compiled and is provided as background on the Fitzroy Basin’s story on aquatic ecosystem health. Visit http://riverhealth.org.au/report_card/additional-info/ for more information.
About results – River Health
Why should the results be trusted?
An independent Science Panel, chaired by Professor Stuart Bunn and with Science Panel member Dr Roger Shaw, 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.
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.
Do these results represent a benchmark to measure future results against?
With five years of data, we can now see trends emerging for the condition of the Fitzroy Basin beyond a single snapshot of the health of aquatic ecosystems presented in 2010-11. Interesting trends can be visualised by visiting the www.riverhealth.org.au website. It is anticipated that after several years, greater commentary of ecosystem health trends can be offered to determine natural and human influences and assist in guiding management decisions moving forward.
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 may ever be attained for some catchments.
It is heartening given the development and the major weather events that have occurred that ecosystem health has been maintained largely across the Basin over the past five years. It is anticipated that future management would focus on maintaining the current condition of healthier ecosystems while addressing any hotspots.
Given so much emphasis on agriculture and mining in the Basin, how much are they impacting the health of the waterways?
Given intensification of agriculture and mining over the past five years in the Basin and major planned projects in the pipeline in various sectors, the assumption can be made that future intensification of land use will likely lead to pressure on aquatic ecosystems. The Partnership is fully aware there will need to be a corresponding improvement in waterway management practices across industry sectors to maintain ecosystem health at current levels.
Why wasn’t the marine zone given a grade this year?
The marine zone was not included in calculating the overall basin grade this year because results for the marine zone are currently unavailable. The improvement in overall basin grade is in part due to unavailability of data for the marine zone, which was awarded a poor grade in the previous three reports. Marine scores will be presented later as part of the broader Great Barrier Reef reporting process.
How can the Callide catchment continue to receive a ‘C’ grade overall, given that the Dee River is part of this catchment?
The Dee River is known to be highly impacted from the historic gold mine in the town of Mount Morgan, and many in the community may expect the Callide to receive a lower grade than C. The Callide catchment includes the Don and Callide systems, both of which are in relatively good condition compared with the Dee. Water from these catchments provides dilution to the Dee River as it joins the Don. The Dee has influenced overall results for Callide for some indicators in this report, as in previous years. There is a strong emphasis on managing the Mount Morgan Mine site, although rehabilitating the site is complex given overtopping from flood events in previous years, as well as leaching from the soil into downstream waterways.
Was salinity a big issue for aquatic ecosystems this year?
No. Salinity results were good across the Basin, with the exception of Lower Dawson.
About results – Agricultural Use
Why produce an Agricultural Use Report?
The Partnership’s reporting has been expanded to include agricultural use reports so as 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. Currently 86 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.
What is the agricultural industry doing to address its water quality impacts?
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. Michael Murray, General Manager Cotton Australia growers are using a range of techniques to address water quality impacts including improved water use efficiency, as well as better pesticide and fertiliser management.
Where can landholders get water samples tested?
Landholders wishing to do water quality testing can use the services of a specialist agronomist or directly access a laboratory, preferable 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. To search for an accredited laboratory visit the NATA website http://www.nata.com.au/nata/.
Why do different uses have different water quality thresholds?
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.
About results – Drinking water
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 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 received A grades for treated drinking water in 2013-14. In-depth results can be viewed in the Reports section of the www.riverhealth.org.au website.
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 issues relating to drinking water supply.
We know there are community concerns about water quality at times so how can townships receive an A?
The Australian Drinking Water Guidelines include two different types of guideline values:
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.
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.
Townships can view specific water quality information relevant to them at:
Central Highlands Region – http://www.centralhighlands.qld.gov.au/about-your-water