Wilsons River in very poor health: report

Wilsons River Tidal Pool is benefiting from riparian plantings by Rous Water and Local Land Services. Photo LLS

Wilsons River Tidal Pool. It is hoped riparian plantings by Rous Water and Local Land Services will go some way to reversing its very poor health. Photo LLS

A 2015 report that measures the health of local rivers and estuaries has given an ‘F’ to the mid and lower estuarine reaches of the Wilsons River, which runs through Lismore. It is the lowest rating possible.

Byron Shire is also on the radar for poor estuary and creek health.

Utility Rous Water told Echonetdaily that the independent Ecohealth assessment examined ‘key environmental indicators throughout the Richmond River catchment including water quality, riparian (riverbank) vegetation, geomorphic (channel) condition and macroinvertebrates (water bugs), and reports on their condition.’

Data was applied to regional and national guidelines for healthy rivers, and then a scorecard given.

In the Wilsons River catchment, Leycester Creek received an F, Coopers Creek  a D+, Byron Creek  a D- and Wilsons Creek a C-.

The Rous water spokesperson said conditions ‘decline quickly downstream’ due to dominance of noxious invasive weeds, land clearing and grazing in riparian zones.

‘Water quality was generally very poor, although [it] was better in the upper reaches of most tributaries,’ the spokesperson added.

University of New England scientists collated information about each of the indicators from 48 sites across the Richmond catchment over a 12-month period in 2014.

The data was used to calculate scores, which were then given a corresponding grade with ratings ranging from a high of ‘A’, through intermediate ratings of ‘B’, ‘C’ and ‘D’, to the lowest possible score of an ‘F’.

‘Overall, the Richmond River catchment received a D+ rating. Mid and lower estuarine reaches of the Wilsons River achieved an overall grade of F (‘very poor’) which was driven by the dominance of invasive exotic riparian vegetation and poor water quality.

The spokesperson said the Ecohealth assessment was ‘consistent with catchment water quality risk assessments that have been conducted by Rous Water,’ which also ‘identified a wide range of threats to water quality and catchment health’.

Rous Water is currently working on a range of initiatives with catchment landholders to reverse this including weed control, management of stock access, planting and erosion control/bank stabilisation works.

100 years of decline

But, the spokesperson added, ‘the current water quality and health status within the Wilsons River catchment is a reflection of over 100 years of land use history.’

‘Effective responses to these prevailing conditions requires a whole-of-government and a whole-of-community approach and Rous Water is unable to achieve significant change on a whole-of-catchment basis by working in isolation,’ the spokesperson said.

Rous Water is involved in a series of ‘creative partnerships’ to address the decline, including the Wilsons River Tidal Pool River Reach Program, the Emigrant Creek River Reach Program, the Bangalow Landcare plantings and a long-term partnership with Big Scrub Rainforest Landcare.

Rous Water also works with Ballina, Byron, Lismore and Richmond Valley councils to ‘establish effective approaches to on-site sewage management and development within water supply drinking water catchments.’

The spokesperson said that, given the very poor Ecohealth rating, it was critical that any development in the water supply catchment ‘needs to be an acceptable incremental risk.’

‘Rous Water considers that significant new development in water supply catchments should be assessed against a test resulting in a neutral or beneficial effect to water quality within our catchment areas,’ the spokesperson said.

Drought measures

Another Rous Water spokesperson said the utility is not licensed to take water from the river in drought times.

‘Under our current license we can only take a portion of the flow in the river and must cease taking water when the river experiences lower (non drought) flows. This arrangement is to ensure that there are always adequate flows in the river to accommodate the needs of the environment and other river users,’ the spokesperson said.

‘Back in the severe drought of 2002/3 we did have an emergency license which enabled us to take water during the drought. Interestingly the water was quite reasonable quality.

‘Since then we have increased the capacity of the supply so that we can survive a very extreme drought without needing to access the river during drought times. Even so, the river remains a potential source of water if an even more extreme drought occurs in the future and our normal supplies are depleted.’


8 responses to “Wilsons River in very poor health: report”

  1. Ken says:

    Hello ?
    This is nothing new.
    There is a local university that has been doing environmental studies in these water-courses for many years .
    SCU (Southern Cross University) has conducted surveys for many years , that show appalling water quality in the Wilson River, apart from the massive poison run off from macadamia plantations, the lack of riparian vegetation, run off from suburban and industrial sources, Septic tank drainage and the Ballina sewerage system that empties into the river that is already being contaminated with enormous amounts of sulphuric acid, formed when drains are constructed through the acid sulphate soils in Tuci Tucki and other low-lying areas.
    As the population increases this, of course, is compounding the amount of toxic substances finding their way into the water courses. Makes you feel a whole new respect for those poor sharks that must live in all our filth doesn’t it ?

  2. Dot Moller says:

    I see that the Ecohealth report was back in 2014. With new development in the subcatchment, lack of monitoring of the impact of such land development, we are headed for more F ratings… Cameron Rd, McLeans Ridges – where are the sediment controls??
    Poor old Wilsons Creek.

  3. john larsson says:

    Agree on both counts above. The UNE Health Card report for the Richmond was released last year. Old news. Many sections of our Richmond valley community have to come together and start pressing for reform, education of the problem areas and support solutions along with any organisation that is prepared to carry the restoration flag. Oysters in any estuary are a great benchmark and ours on the Richmond continue to die because of poor water quality. Additionally to that, our few oysters growers remaining have not been able to sustain an oyster industry here on the Richmond since 1976. Check out the Richmond River Chapter of OzFish Unlimited

  4. Wendy M says:

    Weeds are definitely choking it at my place, near Wilsons Creek Bush Fire Brigade!

  5. Dave Grinham says:

    I have raised concerns regarding the destruction of the upper reaches of the Main arm of the Brunswick River, for the past three years and I get bounced from one government agency to another! Why cant we rehabilitate the creek?

  6. SteveB. says:

    I wonder what state these waterways were in 250 years ago? I would imagine that they were once pristine A-grade streams whose waters were clean & pure and had sustained the aboriginal peoples there for thousands of years. Wherever European man & his livestock go, environmental ruin soon follows. Land clearing, cattle & exotic weeds… the same old pattern. Very sad…

  7. PhilM says:

    Wow …..and not a gas well in sight wonder if the knitting ninnies will be out barricading the farmers who can’t be bothered keeping their cattle out of the river ,or toxic runoff from Macca farms agriculture needs to lift its act big time. No gas wells just an awful lot of hypocrites !

  8. Liam says:

    Trying to find references for a summary of macadamia plantations and the effect they have on local river systems as it is known macadamia farms are subject to increased runoff. We were interested in the effects fertilisers and pesticides may have when washed into the river, have found some journal articles on increased nitrogen levels in rivers surrounding plantations. But can’t seem to find any of the references you talk about in this article, are you referencing studies done from reading them or just word of mouth?

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