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Byron Shire
October 17, 2021

Rous Watershed for Richmond River

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Wilsons River at Lismore. Photo Duncan Wilson – www.aerialpunkin.com.

To make everything old, new again is a dream for the Richmond River as plans get underway to restore the watercourse to its natural state.

The Northern Rivers Watershed Initiative (NRWI) is a proposal to restore the Richmond and Tweed rivers back to as natural and as healthy a state as they were prior to European settlement.

Ballina councillor Keith Williams, who is also the Chair of Rous County Council, says the Northern Rivers Watershed Initiative is based on the best available science to restore natural functions to our catchments and river systems. ‘Natural flood mitigation requires us to do exactly the same kind of things (restore riparian vegetation) that we need to do to improve river health,’ he said

‘By combining these approaches we systematically assess the catchments of the region and target stream bank fencing and revegetation works where they will also deliver a flood mitigation effect,’ said Cr Williams. ‘This increases the benefits to the community and the environment from each dollar of public investment.’

Photo Duncan Wilson – www.aerialpunkin.com.

The project would involve a wide range of generally small scale activities, including all landowners along the catchment. Whilst the emphasis will be on the works being ‘nature based’, the project will allow for engineering and other works when necessary.

Cr Williams said that the planning and enactment will involve all relevant groups and bodies. ‘We want to include industry, the Bundjalung people, government, Landcare, river communities and educational institutions to name a few, to ensure all voices are heard and to bring the whole community along on this potential legacy project.’

We need to all work together

Professor of Environmental Economics and Policy at SCU Caroline Sullivan says that we need to all work together to make sure that the problems currently being experienced in the Darling River are not repeated here in the Northern Rivers.

‘Fish kills are the result of a combination of natural and human pressures,’ she says. ‘We need to try to reduce human pressures on rivers as much as possible, as river health underpins our current and future wellbeing.

‘The NR Watershed Initiative can help to make this happen’.

Snowy Hydro Fund to the rescue?

According to Cr Williams the potential source of funds for the NRWI is the Snowy Hydro Fund, and the NRWI ticks quite a few boxes in regards to this fund. The Snowy Hydro Fund is not the only source of money in the state, but it has been earmarked for regional areas and water security and employment are some of its primary objectives. These are central to the NRWI.

The next step will be for the Joint Organisation of Councils (JO) – Lismore, Byron, Richmond. Tweed and Kyogle, to be presented with this project and Cr Williams is hopeful that the mayors and their respective GMs will get behind it.

Once the JO has given the NWRI its stamp of approval then the Premiers Department, who control the Snowy Hydro fund, will be contacted and the work will begin to prepare the business case.

Cr Williams says that, ‘as part of a wholistic view of the water cycle, the Initiative will also examine ground water systems and map significant recharge zones within the catchments. ‘These areas would also be high priorities for revegetation and restoration of wetlands. By ensuring recharge zones remain wet, we can increase security of the ground water supply for agriculture in our region.’

Climate change a factor

‘Climate change will mean longer dry spells, more intense rainfall and risk of flooding and increasing sea levels,’ says Cr Williams. ‘The Initiative will help the region adapt to this more variable climate.

‘There is a strong desire in the local community that we stop talking about and start addressing the terrible state of our rivers. This Initiative is the first time a local authority has proposed a whole of catchment approach to restoring our rivers.

‘I think it is particularly fitting that the Snowy Hydro Legacy Fund be used to help make the northern rivers healthy again’.

Fore more information visit the Richmond River Rescue website.


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