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Report card rates health of Queensland's Fitzroy Basin

Environmental water quality within Queensland’s Fitzroy Basin has been measured by the Fitzroy Partnership for River Health, with the 10th annual report card revealing water quality and biological health indicators have remained stable at good to fair levels of health.

The majority of the 11 freshwater catchments received C grades, and the estuary, Upper Dawson and Lower Isaac received B grades.

The Fitzroy Partnership for River Health was formed in 2012. Including organisations from government, agriculture, resources, industry, research and community, it aims to provide a more detailed picture of waterway health in the basin.

Executive officer Dr Leigh Stitz told CQToday that the partnership was developing a good idea of how the basin has faired over the past decade, with the help of data collected by the various entities within the partnership.

“The overall grade of ‘C’ — a very high C — for the 2019-20 year is quite close to the low B from the previous year and the trends do show the resilience of the Fitzroy Basin over 10 years of reporting,” she said.

With more than 525,000 results assessed from across 244 sites, catchment health has remained largely unchanged, except for the Fitzroy and Connors catchment, which have reflected a decline in waterway health.

“While there was slight decrease in the water quality I think it’s really important to remember that this is an average of all the grades across the basin itself and the expectation is that the decrease in the overall grade can be partly attributed this year to lower than average rainfall across the basin,” Stitz said.

Maintaining basin health levels

Stiz said that local central Queensland residents can be confident that the basin has maintained a good level of health within the past 10 years.

“Our science panel scrutinises the data really carefully and ensures that the community can be confident with what is occurring in the basin,” she said.

“The results haven’t really shifted a lot in 10 years which I think is great news because it means that the Fitzroy Basin is being managed really well and the regulation of the basin is occurring as well at a great standard.

“The biggest things that change water quality are the shifts in hydrology such as cyclones and flooding events. It’s a very resilient system able to cope with the busy catchment we have here.”

Cassie Jones, a CQUniversity academic and science coordinator for the Fitzroy River Partnership for River Health, said the Fitzroy Basin had received consistent grades since the partnership was formed.

“Environmental water quality and biological health indicators are at good and fair levels right across the Fitzroy River Basin,” she said.

“The barramundi data, the ecology indicator for the estuary, was the best it's ever been and for the Upper Dawson a lot of the physical and chemical indicators met the really excellent standards of an A, which brought its average up to a B.”

Indicators of health

Each part of the Fitzroy Basin is assessed under a number of indicators, including physical and chemical indicators, toxicant indicators, nutrient indicators, and ecology.

“We have a broad understanding of the major contributors to water quality, which are things like rainfall and river flow, but with the advent of this unique data set we look forward to doing more detailed statistical analysis,” Jones said.

Stitz said the partnership encourages locals to do their bit in contributing to the health of the basin by engaging in more sustainable practices.

“Not using single use plastics also helps because there’s less water used in the production of those products. Above all, it’s about understanding your local creek — go down and have a look at it, see what you can you do to help manage it,” she said.

She advocates talking to local councils about planting more plants, and for everyone to play their part to play in managing water quality.

“We have this amazing system here with a lot of ethereal streams that dry out over time but also some great dams and creeks," she said.

"And of course the fishing in the Fitzroy is wonderful. I’m really proud to have such a beautiful river on our doorstep and you should be as well.”

For more detailed look at the report card’s results, visit riverhealth.org.au