Monsoon brings water monitoring madness

It’s been a hectic time for Reef Catchments (Mackay Whitsunday Isaac) staff tasked with monitoring the region’s water quality. The recent monsoon has filled all the waterways to capacity making it prime time for natural resource management (NRM) organisations to find out just what pollutants are being washed down our river systems.

Seven days a week in driving rain, Reef Catchments’ project officers were out and about from Sarina to Proserpine taking water samples. Further afield, other NRM groups were also participating in the Queensland Government’s Catchment Load Monitoring Program, which is keeping track of how much sediment, nutrients, and pesticides are being washed off the land and out into the Great Barrier Reef.

This kind of action takes place regularly across Queensland. State-wide, the Queensland Department of Environment and Science has monitoring stations in many of the 35 drainage basins which flow into the Great Barrier Reef lagoon. These stations have to be constantly attended to so that water samples captured during the event at different river heights can be sent off for contaminant analysis.

Monitoring stations are based in a variety of locations, from small creeks on private land to large weirs which supply water to our cities.

The purpose of the monitoring is to work out what is being washed down stream and what effect this is having on the environment. The aim is to ultimately reduce overall runoff so that the land is not eroded and degraded, the reef is not harmed and farmers aren’t losing valuable inputs such as nutrients and chemicals.

And now the water has subsided, every stream you pass bears testament to the speed, height and sheer volume of water and debris which came through our river systems in a very short amount of time.

Project officer for Water and Waterways, Carlos Bueno said, “High rainfall events are very important for the monitoring process. If we miss an event like this, it’s like trying to test someone’s cardio fitness without having them do any exercise. You need to catch it while it’s in action.

“After this big flush out, the creeks are now looking really clear, you can see plenty of small fish moving around and the streams are no longer choked with aquatic plants and exotic grasses.

“Hopefully the next big event will not be for a while so that repairs to infrastructure can be carried out and the riparian vegetation has a chance to recover and re-establish.”

If you look at what the wet season was like in the mid-20th century, prolonged heavy rains and flooding were an annual event, often occurring several times a year. The best response is for us to be prepared for extreme weather – anything from fires to cyclones and floods. It’s the nature of things in this neck of the woods.

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