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Everyone lives and works in a river catchment. Everything you do in your backyard, your school playground, your farm or your business then has the potential to affect waterways lower down the catchment,and ultimately the ocean and marine life.
Even little things you do in your part of the catchment can help prevent big problems like toxic algal blooms elsewhere in the system.
What is a catchment?
A catchment area or basin is land which is bounded by natural features such as hills or mountains from which all runoff water flows to a low point. This low point will be a dam, a location on a river, or the mouth of a river where the water enters a bay or the ocean.
It's just like water in a bathtub flowing to the plughole, or water that falls on a roof flowing to a downpipe.
Catchment areas vary in size and make-up. Large catchment areas such as those drained by the Burdekin and Fitzroy Rivers are bordered by mountain ranges and include major drainage networks of creeks and rivers. Large catchment areas are made up of hundreds of smaller 'sub-catchment' areas. These can be bordered by low hills and ridges and drained by only a small creek or gully.
Catchment areas are important
What happens in one part of a catchment is likely to affect the wellbeing of the rest of the catchment area, so there are many things you can do to minimise your impact on the system.
For example, since stormwater drains run straight into our waterways, heavy rainfall can wash sediments, rubbish and pollutants into the rivers and eventually into the ocean. This may impact negatively on aquatic life, coral reefs and seagrass beds. It can also affect people who use the water, for example, for irrigation or stock watering.
Development decisions under the Environmental Protection Act 1994 involving pollutant discharge to waterways must consider environmental values and water quality objectives.
The State Planning Policy (SPP) sets out State interests that must be addressed through local government planning schemes, regional plans and when making decisions about the designation of land for community infrastructure. There are 16 State interests, (including coastal environment, and water quality) that are important to protect and enhance through Queensland's continued development.
Find out more about water quality under the SPP.
Well-known contaminants include oils, animal waste, litter, fertilisers and weed sprays. But grass cuttings, leaves and soil can also upset the waterways' ecological balance. Some pollutants directly poison aquatic and marine plants and animals; others harm the environment through eutrophication or sedimentation.
Floods and cyclones are natural processes which can benefit the environment. Changes we make to our catchments can change the way they respond to flooding and cyclones.
Toxic algal blooms
The blue-green algal blooms which have caused serious damage to many of our waterways in the last few years are a result of accelerated eutrophication.
Accelerated eutrophication occurs where excess nutrients make their way into inland and coastal waters, allowing increased growth of algae. As the algae decay they deplete the oxygen content of the water and aquatic animals die in large numbers. Urban sewage and runoff from agricultural land and stormwater drains are the major causes of these damaging algal blooms.
So, we need to think of our roads, yards, farms and drains in the same way we do our creeks, remembering all stormwater eventually flows into our waterways.
Sediments in waterways are particles of soils that have been washed from farms, construction and development sites, road stockpiles, sewage effluent and other sources.
Large amounts of sediments in the water reduces the amount of light able to reach the river beds and bay bottoms. That means aquatic plants and marine seagrasses don't have enough light to photosynthesise and die.
Sediments cause more problems as they sink to the bottom, because they alter the shape of estuaries and shores and smother filter-feeding marine life such as coral and sponges.
The combination of increased sediments and higher nutrients have been linked to massive dieback of seagrasses in many areas.
You can help care for catchments
You can do many little things such as reducing water pollution and conserving water to reduce your impact on your catchment. Minimising erosion around your home and business will also reduce problems downstream; tree planting and mulching prevents excess soil and nutrients getting into drains and creeks.
You can also help by joining your local Coastcare or Waterwatch group and supporting programs that care for your catchment including programs being developed by your Regional Natural Resource Management Body.
Regional Natural Resource Management Bodies are a joint initiative between Queensland and Australian Governments. These groups develop regional Natural Resource Management plans and organise on-ground works and community events.
Regional Natural Resource Management depends on local people and local communities getting involved. To get involved or to find out more about Regional Natural Resource Management Bodies follow the Regional Natural Resource Management link above.
What is government doing to protect water quality?
The Reef Water Quality Protection Plan is a collaborative program of coordinated projects and partnerships designed to improve the quality of water in the Great Barrier Reef though improved land management in reef catchments.
The plan is a joint commitment of the Australian and Queensland governments. Its primary focus is diffuse source pollution from broadscale land use. This is pollution that comes from a wide range of different sources and cannot be directly attributed to one point of dispersal, such as a pipe or waste outlet.
The plan sets ambitious, but achievable, targets for improved water quality and land management practices and identifies actions to improve the quality of water entering the reef. Initially established in 2003, the plan was updated in 2009 and 2013. It details specific actions and deliverables to be completed by 2018 when the plan will be reviewed.
The Reef 2050 Plan is the overarching framework for protecting and managing the Great Barrier Reef from 2015 to 2050. The Reef 2050 Plan is also a key component of the Australian Government’s response to the recommendations of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee.
Regional Natural Resource Management bodies are responsible for preparing water quality improvement plans to address water quality management. For information on these refer to your Regional Natural Resource Management Body.
Marine parks are established over tidal lands and waters to protect and conserve special areas while allowing for the planned use of marine resources.
Special areas protected by marine parks conserve important natural features such as seagrass meadows, mangroves, rocky shores, reefs, sandy beaches, bays, sheltered channels, rivers, creeks and estuaries.
These areas are home to a wealth of wildlife including whales, turtles, dugong, grey nurse sharks, fish, corals, birds and more.
Marine parks protect our marine environments from the threat of direct impacts, including land sourced runoff of sediments, nutrients and chemicals as well as the careless discarding of litter.
We can improve the health of our marine environments by:
- disposing of all rubbish properly
- taking cans, glass, plastics, fishing line and non-biodegradable wastes ashore
- not discarding pollutants in stormwater drains
- reducing your use of chemicals, fertilisers and pesticides.
Remember, what goes down your stormwater drain, sink and toilet or on your garden eventually reaches our marine environments.
Find out more about Queensland’s marine parks.
Coastal environment interests are included in the State Planning Policy (SPP).
Additionally, the Coastal Management Plan commenced on 18 March 2014. It is made under the Coastal Protection and Management Act 1995. The Coastal Management Plan provides non-regulatory policy guidance to coastal land managers.