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National River Contaminants Program

River restoration has also become a priority for many catchment and resource managers looking to repair damaged rivers. Contaminants in rivers are central to this issue because they determine both the quality of irrigation and drinking water, and the condition of in-stream habitats for river dependent plants and animals. River contaminants fall into two broad categories:  firstly, substances that occur naturally, but for which significant increases in the amounts present contaminate the environment, and secondly, those that do not occur naturally, for which even small amounts may contaminate the environment.

First category Examples:

  • salt
  • nutrients
  • sediments, about which we need to understand the causes of contamination, their ecological effects, and options for improved management.

Second category examples:

  • agricultural chemicals
  • heavy metals, about which we need to understand their ecological effects and the extent to which we need to improve management.

River contaminants are also a major threat to receiving waters (estuarine, coastal, wetland and reservoirs) and some ecosystems under serious threat are of enormous national value, eg the Great Barrier Reef, Gippsland Lakes, Macquarie Marshes, and Swan-Canning estuary.

To improve our understanding and management of river contamination issues, and ultimately to help reduce the associated environmental, social and economic costs, the National River Contaminants Program (NRCP) was established in 2001 by Land & Water Australia  (LWA) and the Murray Darling Basin Commission  (MDBC). This continued the partnership between LWA and the MDBC from the preceding National Eutrophication Management Program, which focused on the causes and management of algal blooms in waterways, including the role of phosphorus as a contaminant.

The National River Contaminants Program Strategic Plan (ATECH Report, 2000) canvassed the views of catchment and river managers as to the most important river contaminant issues for management. It was agreed to focus the program on developing strategies for better managing salt, nutrients and sediments as priority contaminant issues. The first activity of the NRCP was a workshop (June 2001) to scope the sources, pathways and transformations of each of these contaminants within river systems, and to consider the possible interactions between them. A Program Plan was prepared to guide investments, knowledge management and evaluation over the life of the program. (National River Contaminants Program R&D Plan, 2001 LWA)

The objective of the National River Contaminants Program is to improve our understanding and management of river contamination issues, to help reduce the associated costs and to better manage the risk of river contamination.
To do this we need to understand;

  • Where contaminants are coming from in the landscape?
  • How they are transported to the river system and
  • What transformations will occur as contaminants interact within the water column and with other potentially harmful contaminants?

The ultimate goal of the river contaminants program is improved water quality of Australian streams and rivers to meet the community’s objectives of maintaining ecological integrity and biodiversity, and to promote sustainable use for current and future generations. This includes forming a better understanding of river contamination issues, reducing management costs and the risks that lead to river contamination.

A review of the National River Contaminants Program was conducted in by SKM in 2004 (Unpublished report to LWA). It found that the science conducted in the program to be of very high quality with the researchers uniformly enthusiastic about their projects. Projects were generally well connected to stakeholder groups through combinations of formal and informal networks and projects were linking with each other and with relevant work outside the program. Several projects had excellent potential to influence river management practice or policy and the research

id: 3702 / created: 09 September, 2009 / last updated: 09 September, 2009