Water Tester | Landholders Driving Change

Water monitoring group swings into action

The water monitoring sites established to date in the BBB

THE aim of the community water quality monitoring program is to improve our understanding of BBB sub-catchment sources of suspended sediment and associated nutrients discharged during wet season first flush and major flow events.

The map shows the nine sites where LDC is collecting water samples – these sites are where we lack historical high flow event water quality data.

Zoe Bainbridge demonstrates how to take a water sample

Catchment data will help scientists track sediment

WATER samples collected by the volunteer network of graziers across Burdekin tributaries and major sub-catchments will help trace the origin of suspended sediment.

This data will provide the LDC project with information on how best to tackle gully remediation, keep soil on the land, and improve water quality.  The data is being used in two ways:

  • To feed into modelling validation and to be used in research to better understand the sediment and nutrient composition of each tributary;
  • To be shared directly back to the landholders to help them understand how the land and soil types on their property, and surrounding area, react to various rainfall events.

    Steve Lewis TropWATER (left), Buster O’Loughlin Exevale Station and Barb Colls LDC during a training session at Exevale

Ideally the LDC hopes to capture one to three high flow events over the course of a wet season, and for each of these, capture the flow hydrograph – that is the rising, peak and falling stages of the river flow.  

Sediment and nutrient concentrations are generally highest on the rise and the peak which is collecting water samples at this time is a priority.

The participating graziers have been provided with kits that include sample bottles and data sheets to record the information, and those who are keen will also take photos of the event.  

Samples will be stored in a fridge on-site at the property until a LDC field officer is able to collect them following a rain event, to transport them to TropWATER.

TropWATER James Cook University scientists Steve Lewis and Zoe Bainbridge trained the volunteer network of graziers in the latter part of 2018, and will be analysing the samples – researching sediment characterisation and tracing from the BBB catchment to the Great Barrier Reef.

Steve and Zoe have spent more than a decade examining the sources, transport, loads and fate of sediment in catchments of the Great Barrier Reef.

Dr Steve Lewis said TropWATER was pleased to be part of the LDC project.

“It’s great to interact with graziers in the Burdekin region.  We’re able to use information collected directly from landholders and share this into the latest water quality research for the catchment,”  Dr Lewis said.

NQ Dry Tropics’ LDC Monitoring and Evaluation Officer Barbara Colls said grazier interest to take part in the water monitoring program was high.

“Landholders have shown great enthusiasm to participate, and everyone who engaged with the training by TropWATer found it informative,” Ms Colls said.

“Our first samples have been collected and are at the lab to be analysed.

“We anticipate the first round of results being compiled at the end of the wet season and should be available to share with landholders and the community by late May,” she said.

The data collected by the group will be used by the Queensland Government’s Paddock to Reef program.

With substantial investment and action underway to improve land practices, water quality and reef health, the Paddock to Reef (P2R) program tracks the work of many stakeholders by monitoring progress towards reef targets in the Reef 2050 Water Quality Improvement Plan.

Steve Lewis TropWATER with Eileen Hillier Glenmore Station (centre), and Barb Colls LDC

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Figure 1. Total fine sediment reduction by project type and erosion source. Inset shows the proportion of the total project area for each project type.

These estimates have been calculated using two methods: 

1) The pollutant reduction component of the Alluvium/Great Barrier Reef Foundation (GBRF) investment tool for hillslope and streambank erosion management projects; 

2) The Reef Trust Gully Toolbox method for gully erosion management projects. The LDC Water Quality Report 2020 (Waterhouse et al., 2020) highlights that a number of assumptions underlay these calculations, therefore these figures should be treated as the best available estimate of sediment reductions to date.

Preventing sediment from reaching the Great Barrier Reef

Each wet season sediment is washed into local waterways and out to the Great Barrier Reef (GBR). 

Most sediment is very fine, and can stay suspended for a long time and can travel great distances. Valuable topsoil is lost from production, and increased concentrations on the reef can be harmful to seagrasses and corals. 

Landholders in the BBB have completed 69 on-ground water quality practice changes, and it is estimated that these have contributed a fine sediment reduction of 6,154 tonnes per year from reaching the GBR. 

Of this, approximately half of the sediment savings are attributable to grazing land management changes on hillslopes and streambanks, and the other half as a result of gully remediation treatments across a broad range of scales, as shown in the graphs above. 

The table below also highlights the relatively small area of intervention in the gully management projects compared to the large sediment savings that these can achieve - 60 per cent of the sediment savings over only 4 per cent of the project area.

Table 1. Estimated sediment reductions (tonnes) from projects completed in the LDC Project to date.

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*GLMWW = Grazing Land Management Wire and Water

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*The Exploring New Incentives activity area has provided an opportunity for graziers to adopt improved land management practices through a range of activities. For some of these properties, it was the first time they signed contracts for on-ground works.

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The LDC project monitors four gully sites (represented in this table) with gold standard equipment and analysis, carried out by CSIRO.

Results have been compiled in a preliminary report from Bartley et al (2020), with the final report expected to be released by the end of 2020. The preliminary report shows all four sites have indicators of improvements, notably the Strathbogie and Mt Wickham sites.

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Reef regulations - grazing, standard conditions

  1. For land in good or fair condition (more than 50 per cent ground cover at 30 September), continue using measures to maintain land condition.
  2. For land in poor condition (less than 50 per cent ground cover at 30 September), steps must be taken to improve land condition.
  3. For land in degraded condition (less than 20 per cent ground cover at 30 September), steps must be taken to improve land condition OR prevent areas from further degrading or expanding.
  4. Keep records of measures taken and also of agricultural chemicals, fertiliser and mill mud or mill ash applied to land.
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