What an incredible night to bring together people from different places and perspectives with a shared caring for country and our catchments in Australia.

The 2019 RBMS Awards Night on Friday 15 November was the biggest we have ever brought together.

Held at Showtime on South Wharf in Melbourne, more than 220 people were there to recognise and celebrate the outstanding contributions that have been made to waterways and catchment in Australia.

The field of award nominations reviewed by the judges was noted to be particularly strong in 2019.

Special thank you to:

  • Everyone who nominated and their supporting organisations
  • The Awards Night Committee – Chairs Jacqui Lloyd and Kathy Russell with the amazing support of Penny Rogers, Apanie Wood, Mark Stacey, Jess Walker, Myles Coker and the 2019/20 RBMS committee.
  • The Judging Panel – Ian Rutherfurd, Terori Hareko-Samios, Lance Lloyd, Penny Rogers and Mark Stacey
  • Event Sponsors  – Jacobs, DELWP, Vic Catchments as the Collaboration of CMAs, Streamology, Melbourne Water, the Murray Darling Basin Authority, RMCG, ALS, DiscoverEI, Hydrobiology, Ecology Australia and NRM jobs and the Australian River Restoration Centre
  • Event partners – Pip Vietz from Elements Events and MC Alanta Colley

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Knowledge and Practice in Waterway Management

Judges note: Due to the diversity of the projects nominated, judges decided to award two winners for this category. Nominations were received for fantastic projects completed at both a local and regional scale. The judges therefore felt it was important to acknowledge the role and input of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander knowledge and practice in waterway management at both scales.

The Winner – Local Scale – Barkindji Maraura Elders Council (BMEC)

Barkindji Maraura Elders Council (BMEC) and the Management of Cultural Heritage at Lake Victoria, NSW

Lake Victoria, ‘Tar-Ru’ in the local Barkindji language, is a natural lake in the south west corner of NSW. It is known for its rich array of evidence of Aboriginal life and is of high spiritual and cultural significance to the Barkindji and Maraura people.

Since 1928, Lake Victoria has been operated by the Murray–Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) and its predecessors as a regulated, off-river storage as part of the River Murray system. The Lake is managed and operated by the South Australia Water Corporation, on behalf of the MDBA. As the Lake is situated in New South Wales, it is subject to NSW environmental and planning legislation along with Aboriginal and cultural heritage legislation.

Following an archaeological survey of the lakeshore in 1994, operation of the Lake as a water storage has been restricted. To ensure that the important objectives of protection and conservation are met a Cultural Landscape Plan of Management and Lake Victoria Operating Strategy were developed.

In 1996, the consultative process with the Aboriginal community and other stakeholders was formalised through the establishment of the Lake Victoria Advisory Committee. The Committee’s main role is to provide input and advice on aspects of the management of Lake Victoria relating to protection of cultural heritage.

It was considered most important that management of lake operations ensured the active and meaningful involvement of Aboriginal people in decision-making. As such, the Barkindji Maraura Elders Council (BMEC) represent the majority on the committee, and have done so for the last 23 years.

The management of Lake Victoria as a storage aims to balance the cultural, spiritual, social, economic and environmental values of the landscape. These objectives have been implemented through investigations, operational changes, implementation of on-ground works and greater community involvement in management to improve the lake environment.

Partners: Murray Darling Basin Authority, South Australian Water, NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment (DPIE) – Water, NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment (DPIE) – Biodiversity and Conservation (former OEH).

The Winner – Regional Scale – Murray Lower Darling Rivers Indigenous Nations (MLDRIN)

MLDRIN Victorian Aboriginal Waterway Assessment (AWA) Program

MLDRIN’s Victorian Aboriginal Waterway Assessment (AWA) Program is an innovative, First Nations-led and community-driven project, developed to advance Victorian First Nations’ participation in water planning in the lower Murray-Darling Basin.

The AWA tool draws on ground-breaking Indigenous participatory assessment and monitoring methods developed by Maori researchers in Aotearoa/New Zealand. It provides a framework for the capture of qualitative and quantitative data, enabling First Nations to consistently measure and articulate their water-related values, uses and objectives to inform waterway planning and management. The tool is widely applicable to different waterway contexts, making it an effective and versatile method for including cultural knowledge, perspectives and practice into waterway and catchment management.

Between 2016-2019, MLDRIN coordinated on-Country AWA projects with seven First Nations across northern and western Victoria. Traditional Owners used the AWA tool to document cultural values and assess the cultural and environmental health of waterways on Country. 72 sites were assessed, across over 40 rivers, waterways and wetlands in Victoria, generating detailed data about environmental and cultural health, water-dependent values, threats and management objectives. All information arising from the projects was delivered back to participating Nations, who have drawn on this data to advance their interests through Water Resource Plans, Environmental Water Management Plans and to develop additional projects.

An independent evaluation of MLDRIN’s Victorian AWA Program identified key outcomes including: culturally safe two-way knowledge exchange; enhanced community engagement and water sector partnerships; strengthened connection to Country and enhanced training and employment opportunities.

MLDRIN’s AWA program has provided an effective pathway for First Nations to influence water planning with an empowering, Indigenous-led research method.

Partners: MLDRIN recognises the following First Nations as program partners:

  • Gunditj Mirring Traditional Owner Aboriginal Corporation
  • Barengi Gadjin Land Council
  • Barapa Barapa Traditional Owners
  • Dja Dja Wurrung Clans Aboriginal Corporation
  • Tati Tati and Wadi Wadi Traditional Owners
  • Taungurung Lands and Waters Council
  • Ngintait Traditional Owners

Other program partners:

  • DELWP (primary funding body)
  • Murray Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) (secondary funding body)
  • Victorian CMAs: specifically Mallee CMA, North Central CMA, Wimmera CMA and Goulburn-Broken CMA, who provided significant in-kind support for the program.

Finalist – Taungurung Land and Waters Council – TLAWC

The Baan Ganalina (Guardians of Water) transformation of Taungurung involvement in Northern Victoria water management and governance

Taungurung’s Baan Ganalina (Guardians of Water) is transforming water management and governance within biik-nganjin (our Country) in Northern Victoria.

The water knowledge group was formed by the Taungurung Land and Water Council in November 2018 with the aim of increasing Taungurung participation in water management, building internal capacity and contributing to the advancement of Taungurung water rights.

Baan Ganalina reflects Taungurung objectives, concerns, and aspirations relating to water, their responsibility for healing our rivers and wetlands, the Taungurung values and uses of water, and their expectations to transform water management in Victoria.

Baan Ganalina’s main focus includes reintroducing Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) around water and land management, contributing to the Taungurung reconnection with Country, supporting Aboriginal Water Officers, assisting in project development and implementation, and planning and conducting cultural activities on waterways.

Critical to Baan Ganalina’s success is the experience of members who have worked on Country combined with the deep connection and understanding Taungurung Elders have of significant sites across Taungurung Country.

Baan Ganalina works in partnership with statutory authorities, landholders and other land managers including catchment management authorities (CMAs), water corporations, local government, Landcare groups and other land managers including Vic Forests, the Department of Land, Water and Planning (DELWP), and Parks Victoria (PV).

Transformational activities include working with North East CMA and Goulburn-Murray Water to convert a consumptive water allocation to an environmental flow, helping ‘heal’ Country on the King River.

Water governance in Victoria has historically denied customary management practices. Increased Taungurung participation through Baan Ganalina in consultation processes and waterways assessments with stakeholders is changing this.


  • North East Catchment Management Authority
  • Goulburn Broken Catchment Management Authority
  • North Central Catchment Management Authority
  • Victorian Environmental Water Holder

Finalist – North Central Catchment Management Authority (NCCMA)

Barapa Barapa Wamba Wamba Water for Country

The Barapa Barapa Wamba Wamba water for Country project brings Traditional owner input into natural resource management including water for the environment on the Wamba and Barapa people’s traditional lands, in the North West of Victoria.

This project is overseen by a Traditional Owner steering committee, and managed by a Wamba Traditional Owner project officer.

The project is managed in a culturally appropriate manner to meet the needs and aspirations of its members.  Project outcomes include incorporating Traditional ecological knowledge into NRM activities and regional management plans, returning of cultural practice to country, employment on country and most importantly a continued connection to country for both Nations.

Partners: DELWP, Parks Victoria, Fire Flood & Flora (Kate Bennetts), Jo Bell Heritage services Pty. Ltd.

Outstanding Waterway Management Project

The Winner – The Merri Alliance

Nominated by Glenelg Hopkins Catchment Management Authority on behalf of all alliance partners.

The Merri River through Warrnambool is a significant natural asset and is now one of the region’s most valued and well-used rivers. The Merri is undergoing a period of great change, with several new urban developments at various stages of planning. There is significant and growing interest from the community to access the Merri and undertake nature-based recreation. This creates an opportunity to enhance the environmental, social and cultural values of the river within these growth footprints.

Small-scale works have been undertaken by community groups along the Merri for several years, however in 2016 the Merri Alliance was formed to accelerate these works and capitalise on Warrnambool’s growth.  Organisations that have contributed to the Alliance and its activities include agencies, non-government organisations, businesses, industries, developers, angling organisations, local community and Landcare groups, primary producers, schools and Traditional Owners.  The Alliance realises that the cumulative impact of all interest groups is much greater than that of any individual organization.  The majority of works undertaken by the Alliance have occurred since July 2017.

Through the combined efforts of the Alliance, the project is contributing to the transformation of the Merri from largely weed-infested and highly-grazed frontages to a green, recreational corridor and an ecologically-healthier river.  Works have included the restoration of 5.2 km of river through the removal of extensive sections of weeds, revegetation, stock exclusion fencing, the reintroduction of instream habitat, fishing platforms, roof water harvesting, bridge and track upgrades and extensive engagement events.  Monitoring has already shown an 89% increase in black bream populations as a result of instream works.  Fishing, kayaking, foot and bicycle path patronage has increased and further works will create even more healthy recreational spaces for residents and visitors to enjoy.

Partners: Warrnambool City Council, OZFish – South West Chapter, Warrnambool Coastcare and Landcare Group, MAD For the Merri, Wannon Water, Fishcare Victoria and others.

Judges Note: The judges noted this was one of the most comprehensive and complete waterway restoration projects ever completed in Victoria and that the project had fantastic alignment with key State and local strategies.

Finalist – West Gippsland Catchment Management Authority (WGCMA)

Thomson River Fishway – Horseshoe Bend

The Thomson River Fishway at Horseshoe Bend has been a long-term project to restore fish passage from the Gippsland Lakes to the Victorian Alps.

A river diversion tunnel was constructed in 1912 to provide dry riverbed access for alluvial goldmining in the Thomson River. The tunnel short circuited the river, creating a fish barrier and cutting migratory fish access to over 80 km of high-quality confined, gravel bed, river habitat.

In 2010, following previous attempts to progress projects for the site, the WGCMA commenced a broader stakeholder engagement process. The WGCMA worked with stakeholders to identify fish passage, environmental, community, heritage, and recreational objectives for the site and developed a design and construction arrangement that satisfied these objectives. The project construction was completed after an extensive planning and permitting process, on time and on budget in August 2019. The project has exceeded the objectives of stakeholders. A monitoring, evaluation reporting and improvement program was initiated prior to construction and continues.

The Thomson River Fishway is a unique and outstanding project that balances competing objectives, demonstrates best industry practice, and achieves outstanding environmental and social outcomes.

Partners: Alluvium Consulting, Thompson Berrill Landscape Design, DELWP.

Finalist – Ipswich City Council

Small Creek Naturalisation

Stage one and two of the Small Creek naturalisation projects; one of Australia’s most significant waterway restoration projects, is now complete.

Once a chain of ponds, the waterway was turned into a concrete channel during the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. Council has a bold vision to see Small Creek become a living waterway once more.  The stage 1 and 2 (of 4) works have included the removal of over 800 metres of concrete channel, and the recreation of 1180m of healthy functioning waterway delivering multiple benefits to the community and the environment over an area of just under 7Ha.

  • Over 230,000 native plants have been planted drawing influence from locally prevalent species and regional ecosystems
  • Over 40 gully baskets have been installed to prevent excess litter entering the waterway
  • 45,000m3 of earthworks undertaken to provide flooding capacity to compensate for reduced grade and increased roughness of the waterway
  • Creation of a low flow channel including meandering reaches punctuated by rock riffles doubling as grade control structures, deeper pools and large woody debris.
  • 50 tonnes of gypsum and other ameliorants have been added to improve the soil condition enhancing stability and providing improved plant growth medium
  • Yarning Circle and lomandra mat weaving area for use by traditional owners
  • Informal, but open and inviting ‘parkland’ areas for people to enjoy and dense bush/riparian areas for ecological functionality, waterway restoration and for the more adventurous of heart to enjoy explore.

Partners: Bligh Tanner, Landscapology, Streamology, Australian Wetlands, TLCC

Involving Community in Waterway Management

The Winner – Nature Glenelg Trust (NGT)

Restoring the Wannon River Floodplain

The restoration of the upper Wannon River Delta floodplain is a community driven waterway management project. The major wetlands in this complex once supported breeding colonies of magpie geese and ibis and formed roosting grounds for large flocks of brolgas. The area was drained in the 1950s for agriculture. In the 1980’s the Fisheries and Wildlife Department attempted to restore water level and duration to a more natural regime at Gooseneck Swamp but the proposal was rejected by adjacent landholders. Despite this set-back, the Hamilton Field Naturalists Club remained supportive of the restoration of this area for the following decades.

In 2013 at the invitation of Glenelg Hopkins Catchment Management Authority (GHCMA) and Nature Glenelg Trust (NGT) commenced a process of planning, community consultation and on-ground trials. New partnerships with private landholders, community organisations, volunteer groups and government organisations established a broad support base, allowing commencement of a restoration project across 13km2 of floodplain area, which was significantly larger than originally visioned.

Through this, NGT worked with GHCMA to assess the feasibility of blocking the drain outlets and the impacts this would have on threatened species, private property and roads. On-ground works such as fencing, biodiversity surveys, and sandbagging outlet drains has been achieved by over 5000 community volunteer hours. In addition, NGT purchased an additional area of over 400 hectares of the floodplain, through a combination of grants and public donations, to supplement the area under management for conservation.

In a landscape which has been extensively modified for agriculture and plantation forestry, a significant element of viability, condition and connectivity has now been restored. In doing so we have provided habitat and/or refuge for several threatened and protected fauna and flora species, including the brolga, magpie geese, growling grass frog and a seasonal herbaceous wetland.

Partners: Glenelg Hopkins Catchment Management Authority (GHCMA), Hamilton Field Naturalist Club, Parks Victoria, Department of Land, Water and Environment (DELWP)

Judges Note: The judges noted this nomination demonstrated great community involvement, trust and confidence.  From starting from a position of opposition and shifting to a position where landowners are willing to do more, the project’s success demonstrates the turnaround of the whole community.

Finalist – North Central Catchment Management Authority (NCCMA)

River Detectives

The River Detectives program involves our future in waterway management. Professional development sessions are provided to educators, who, armed with a website, supporting materials, testing equipment and enthusiasm, share tales, facts and capture data about waterways with school students. Repeat visits to a waterway and the online resources enable them to learn about topics such as catchment health, water quality, macroinvertebrates, and salinity. The website enables data entry and provides analysis, course materials and other resources. This year’s delivery, led by North Central CMA, includes Corangamite, North East and Wimmera CMAs, 100 schools, Landcare groups, local government and other partners. More than 160 educators benefitted from 29 professional development workshops to reach about 5,500 students.

This year a partnership with Victoria University saw Education students, who “…never imagined there is so much life in a drop of water” developing new modules for the program. Schools have formed partnerships with local governments, community groups and others to involve their kids in waterway management. For example, Footscray City College teacher Michelle said the River Detectives program is part of a bigger program at the school, where they have also built connections with The Friends of Newell’s Paddock and Maribyrnong City Council. “It is about raising awareness of the local environment and ecosystem that we can affect… They didn’t know they [waterbugs] even existed or are an indicator of river health. It has built a sense of wonder and engagement. They are grossed out but that is all part of it,” she said.

Partners: Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning, North Central, Corangamite, North East and Wimmera Catchment Management Authorities, Melbourne Water, Victoria University.

Finalist – Wodonga Urban Landcare Network Inc.

The Wodonga Region Waterways Action Plan

With 13 key waterways in the municipality, planning for and restoring waterways is critical. All have been impacted by floods, woody weeds, and adverse effects of urban development in a fast-growing municipality. Our network members wanted to repair and restore these valuable ecological and community assets but did not know what or how. An earlier waterway action plan was developed by technical experts before the Wodonga Urban Landcare Network (WULN) and its member groups existed. It was out of date, did not cover all the key waterways, and was too technical to provide real guidance for volunteers.

As a first step, WULN initiated a community consultation process that resulted in documenting the community values and vision, current issues impacting on the health of the waterway and the community’s access and use, for each key waterway. This provided an important foundation for a more comprehensive planning process. In 2017, WULN set about to facilitate the development of the Wodonga Region Waterways Action Plan (WRWAP).

Acknowledging the importance of achieving a common understanding of the issues and an agreement on priorities and strategies, WULN initiated a partnership approach with Wodonga Council and North East Catchment Authority. The partnership was formalised with a memorandum of understanding with each partner contributing both cash and in-kind resources to the development of the plan and collaborating on all decisions.  Over the succeeding 18 months, WULN chaired regular project control group meetings, contracted technical consultants, and facilitated further community consultation.

The partnership resulted in a plan that meets the needs of all three partners and provides useful guidance for future action. The partners continue to collaborate during implementation with each contributing resource and sharing in decision-making.

To our knowledge, this is the first community-led, joint authority waterways action plan in Victoria to cover a whole municipality.

Partners: Wodonga Council, North East Catchment Management Authority, the 22 member groups of WULN.

Building Knowledge in Waterway Management

The Winner – Melbourne Water

Melbourne Waterway Research-Practice Partnership

The Melbourne Waterway Research-Practice Partnership (MWRPP) is an innovative, long-term, collaborative industry-research agreement between Melbourne Water (MW) and the Waterway Ecosystem Research Group (WERG) at the University of Melbourne. Operating since July 2013, it represents a unique, integrated approach to waterway management research, with a dual focus on:

  1. applied research aimed at understanding the drivers of waterway ecosystem condition and appropriate management options; and
  2. knowledge transfer that integrates research findings with industry activities.

Our industry-engaged research model was jointly designed by MW and the WERG. Together, our multidisciplinary Partnership has conducted projects exceeding $14.5M in funds (including several ARC Discovery and Linkage Grants) over the first round that concluded in June 2018. Based on research priorities identified within Melbourne’s Healthy Waterways and Stormwater strategies, the user-driven research by the Partnership focusses on key drivers of waterway ecosystem condition, developing knowledge and tools to support systematic and strategic planning, integrated water management and prioritisation, and design of interventions at catchment and site scales to best protect and restore waterway health.

At the conclusion of the first round of the Partnership (2013-2018) an independent review concluded that ‘the MWRPP is an excellent example of a leading-edge waterways research program that has developed a complementary collection of high-quality projects, delivering substantial new knowledge to inform future waterway policy, planning and management’. Following the success of this Partnership, a similar model has been adopted by other Melbourne Water research partnerships e.g. Aquatic Pollution Prevention Partnership (A3P) with RMIT University.

Partners: Tim Fletcher, Chris Walsh, Yung En Chee, Darren Bos, Waterway Ecosystem Research Group, School of Ecosystem and Forest Sciences, The University of Melbourne (http://thewerg.org)

Judges Note: The judges noted the multidisciplinary coverage of research topics from this research partnership was impressive. The nomination demonstrated how research findings and information generated by the partnership was being widely disseminated, and the thorough engagement process undertaken to determine research priorities. The collaborative industry-focused research model is being adopted elsewhere, proving how influential the group is.

Finalist – Wimmera Catchment Management Authority

Wimmera Southern Mallee Socio-economic value of recreational and environmental water

This project is a joint initiative of Wimmera Development Association (WDA), Wimmera Catchment Management Authority, GWMWater and Local Councils. It has been designed to quantify the socio-economic contribution of local weirs, lakes and rivers to regional communities and improve decisioning making abilities of waterway managers. It is funded by the Victorian Government’s Water for Victoria initiative with support from other partners. The longitudinal study is in its third year and gives insightful knowledge on economic and health benefits.

The project supports sustainable development, water allocation planning, leverage funding and improves community knowledge of waterway health and management. It demonstrates to the community and government the value of environmental and recreational water. It provides information to decision makers about the best use of water, particularly in drought.

The project includes assessments of 27 lakes, weir pools and rivers in the region and measures contributions in the ‘recreational water supply chain’ at three levels:

Level 1: Service providers including water supply and management, camping/caravanning, maintenance, construction, management, research and catering.

Level 2: Users of the Recreational Water Lakes/Weir Pools including residents, community groups and visitors.

Level 3: Local businesses including accommodation, food services, health, sport and recreation, transport, retail and personal services.

Most waterways are assessed every year as part of a four-year longitudinal study. Four of the surveyed sites have only been studied for a single year to assist smaller communities with future planning.

The 2018/19 survey involved over 3500 one on one surveys, representing a large sample size and ensuring quality data.

Partners: Wimmera Development Association, GWM Water, Wimmera Mallee Tourism, Local Government Authorities

Finalist – Corangamite Catchment Management Authority

Water Outcomes for Wadawurrung Country

This project improved knowledge in waterway management and achieved outcomes by identifying and incorporating Aboriginal values into waterway management on Wadawurrung Country. This was made possible by the strong partnership between the Wadawurrung, Victorian Environmental Water Holder (VEWH), DELWP, Barwon Water, Central Highlands Water, and the Corangamite Catchment Management Authority (CCMA).

The CCMA (with DELWP funding), coordinated a new Barwon FLOWS Study (Alluvium and Lloyd 2019). For the first time this incorporated a Wadawurrung representative, Melinda Kennedy, on the technical panel to ensure Aboriginal values were identified and reflected in the FLOWS recommendations.

The FLOWS work identified Wadawurrung values on the rivers that flowed through their Country. This included vegetation like Polango/Warngare (water ribbons) which are crisp and sweet food.  This work highlighted the close alignment between environmental and Aboriginal values and now enables more informed water management decisions by Corangamite CMA.

Although the FLOWS study was specific to the Barwon and Leigh Rivers, there are many values transferrable throughout Wadawurrung country. For example, river confluences hold great significance as locations for meeting, living spaces, ceremony, and trade.

The CCMA and Wadawurrung utilised the knowledge gained through the FLOWS study to work with the VEWH and attain additional water for the Moorabool river. As a result, an extra 1,500 ML of water was made available in addition to the existing environmental entitlement.

Approximately 500ML of this additional water was released down the Moorabool River from Lal Lal Reservoir in May 2019. Wadawurrung celebrated this with partner agencies and the community at the picturesque Dog Rocks on the Moorabool River (Morrabul Yaluk). This moving celebration was the culmination of an 18-month partnership between the Wadawurrung and CCMA to ensure Aboriginal People have a central voice in the management of waterways on their Country.

Partners: Wathaurung Aboriginal Corporation trading as Wadawurrung, Victorian Environmental Water Holder, Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning, Barwon Water, and Central Highlands Water

Advancing Waterway Management Through Graduate Research

The Winner – Katy Limpert, Deakin University

Maximising carbon offset opportunities in freshwater wetlands

Protecting and rehabilitating natural ecosystems that reduce greenhouse gases is a global priority for mitigating climate change. Freshwater wetlands are important carbon sinks trapping ~450 gigatons of C; however, when heavily disturbed they can become significant sources of carbon emissions. Understanding carbon dynamics in freshwater wetlands is a research priority to maximise carbon offset opportunities through effective management, conservation and rehabilitation.

More than 2/3 of the world’s freshwater wetlands are in a degraded state. Currently there is limited knowledge about the volume of carbon emissions being returned to the atmosphere following this degradation and the best opportunities for reduction through changed management practices. To address this knowledge gap, we researched carbon cycling in freshwater wetlands and examined how several management practices, including the exclusion of livestock grazing and environmental watering programs, impact the retention and release of greenhouse gases.

Assessing global freshwater wetland carbon dynamics across 813 publications determined that higher soil carbon storage and carbon sequestration is found within riverine ecosystems as well as in the temperate and tropical bioregions. Field research also found that delivery of water to a degraded wetland ecosystem significantly increases carbon sequestration and reduces carbon emissions. Delivery of environmental water in the autumn as opposed to spring further reduces carbon emissions from degraded freshwater wetlands. Finally, excluding grazing practices significantly improves soil carbon storage and reduces carbon emissions within rain-filled wetlands.

This research could have significant implications for investment where carbon sequestration or carbon emissions reduction is a focus, as rehabilitation and management of freshwater wetlands is a feasible option that can assist in mitigating Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Partners: North Central Catchment Management Authority, Wimmera Catchment Management Authority, Blue Carbon Lab, Deakin University.

Judges Note: The judges were impressed with the variety of knowledge sharing forums where the research had been presented, particularly for the public or layperson, and that the project addressed the pressing need to find innovative solutions to climate change.


Finalist – Wei (Daniel) Zhu, The University of Melbourne

Advancing waterway management through smart real-time control technology

Dwindling water supplies, flooding, droughts, and degradation of waterways threaten the sustainability of many of the world’s major cities. For years, researchers and waterway managers have identified the need to capture and use urban runoff to augment supply and mitigate flooding risks, and to restore stream “ecosystem services”. New advances in digital automation and smart control technology – until now only applied to large-scale critical infrastructure – offer great promise to revolutionise urban waterway management. Internet of things could enable a sensor network to monitor the state of streams and infrastructures in real-time. Real-time control allows people and groups to become suppliers of water by allowing their rainwater tanks to release flows to local streams (e.g. create habitat for platypus during dry periods). Tanks could automatically release water before a storm, coordinated with large flood management infrastructure, to reduce the risk of urban flooding. The outflow can be regulated to prevent waterway erosion. Financial incentives could be used to encourage participation, inspired by economic innovations pioneered in the energy market. This could save the need to undertake expensive upgrades of existing urban water infrastructure. Applications of real-time control technology in urban waterway management are virtually limitless, however, current knowledge is limited. Harnessing the potential of such technologies requires:

1) greater trust in the technology

2) development and testing of case studies, and

3) overcoming of social, institutional and economical barriers.

This project therefore aims to develop and test new multi-scale real-time control technologies on rainwater harvesting systems to revolutionise the management of urban stormwater. This project has three targeted investigations, using literature review, modelling and field experiments.

Partners: South East Water corporation, Melbourne Water, Yarra Ranges Council, The University of Melbourne

Finalist – Alex Sims, School of Geography, University of Melbourne

Accelerating the recovery of rivers and streams degraded by sand slugs

Alex Sims is completing a research project that makes a fundamental contribution to the management of the huge number of streams and rivers degraded by pulses of sediment. Billions of dollars are being invested in environmental water to restore Australian rivers but this investment is wasted if the water is delivered to streams with degraded habitat.  Many streams are degraded by slugs of sand that raise bed levels, widen streams, and smother and simplify bed features such as pool-and riffle sequences.  Their catastrophic effect on streams is well described, but so far, the main management strategy has been to wait for the sand to move through the river which can take centuries.  The Glenelg Hopkins CMA (GHCMA) is attempting to accelerate the recovery of sand slugs by removing the sand using commercial extraction.  Alex Sims’ PhD project (sponsored and supported by the GHCMA) has made three contributions.  First it has developed the first principles for accelerating the recovery of sand slugged streams (Sims & Rutherfurd, 2018). Second, he has done detailed field work that shows that local interventions (at the scale of properties) can lead to recovery of sand slugs, but only if stock are excluded and instream macrophytes are able to establish in the stream bed. Third he has developed numerical models that demonstrate how extraction pits fill with sand and affect whole reaches of the river.  All of these advances allow the CMA to make better decisions to rehabilitate this class of degraded stream.

Partners: Glenelg Hopkins Catchment Management Authority (funded project), Vickery Brothers (commercial extraction company – Provide data and support)

Finalist – Nuosha Zhang, School of Geography, University of Melbourne

Establishing the impact of large logs on river bank erosion

Dr Nuosha Zhang recently completed her PhD at the University of Melbourne (awarded in 2019) in which she investigated the effect of large logs (often called large woody debris) on river bank erosion.  It is now well established that the roots of riparian trees substantially reduce river bank erosion.  But when trees fall into the river they can deflect flow and increase river bank erosion.  This phenomenon is well known to all river managers and landholders.  In fact, this erosion has traditionally been a reason for river managers to remove large logs from rivers (called desnagging).  Remarkably, the processes and magnitude of erosion caused by logs has never been rigorously investigated.  This represents a basic and substantial gap in basic knowledge about rivers.  This has been a particular concern to the managers of the River Murray where numerous large river red gums are falling into the river.  Dr Zhang’s thesis has addressed this problem in a remarkable set of flume and field experiments (based on the Murray R.).  Dr Zhang has made three fundamental advances:

  1. She has described the basic hydraulic equations of flow around single and multiple logs.
  2. From flume experiments she has demonstrated the amount of increased erosion that will occur around single logs with different angles and distances from the bank. She has shown that the size of the root plate is the critical factor, and that this controls the blockage ratio. Surprisingly, bank erosion extends well downstream of the log, but falls off quickly as the log moves away from the bank.
  3. Using elaborate flume studies she has then shown that multiple logs in a river actually have the opposite effect than a single log, and substantially reduce bank erosion at the reach scale. This conclusion has major implications for projects to resnag rivers. Finally, Dr Zhang has validated all of this flume work with detailed field measurements carried out in the anabranches of the River Murray.

Partners: NSW Department of Primary Industry (funded the project and provided logistical support), Department of Civil, Environmental and Mining Engineering, University of Western Australia (Provided the hydraulic flume and logistical support), School of Engineering and School of Geography, The University of Melbourne (provided scholarships and support).

Innovation in Waterway Management

The Winner – North Central Catchment Management Authority

The Cohuna Fish Screen: Protecting Native Fish in Gunbower Creek

In winter 2018, Australia’s first self-cleaning irrigation channel screen was installed in front of the Cohuna Channel to prevent native fish from being lost from Gunbower Creek into the irrigation system. When fish move into irrigation channels they are exposed to high levels of predation and poor habitat, particularly when channels are drawn down for maintenance during the irrigation-off season in winter. With no way of returning to the natural system, fish that move into channels are lost from the breeding population in our streams.

The Cohuna Screen, funded by the Victorian Environmental Water Holder (VEWH), was designed, manufactured and installed by Cohuna based engineering company AWMA Water Control Solution. AWMA used an innovative design consisting of a series of four 4.2m diameter stainless steel cone screens constructed of 3mm wedge wire, to screen out even the smallest life stages (eggs and larvae) of nearly all the fish species that occur in the Murray-Darling Basin. A hydraulic motor powers rotating brushes that clean aquatic plants and other debris that may otherwise build up on the screen, meaning that water can be reliably delivered to irrigators. The screen has now been in place for a full irrigation season with no issues for water delivery and no maintenance required.

The Cohuna Irrigation Screen has been a win-win for native fish and irrigators. Native fish are kept in Gunbower Creek without compromising the delivery of water for irrigators. Investments in fish habitat restoration, flows and fishways are enhanced and more Murray cod and golden perch in the creek means better fishing opportunities.

Partners: VEWH, AWMA Water Control, Goulburn Murray Water, Gannawarra Shire

Finalist – Streamology

South Creek Urban Streamflow Impact Assessment (USIA) Application

Never before has a method linked urban streamflow to waterway values. This is surprising considering how well known the impacts of urbanisation on receiving waterways are worldwide (the ‘urban stream syndrome’). The primary driver of this degradation is recognised as excess stormwater runoff volume, often more than 10 times greater than natural levels. In addition, wastewater outflows often exacerbate excess streamflows, and there is an overwhelming understanding that water quantity is the major contributor to the loss of social, ecological and geomorphic values provided by streams.

Until now, there was no formal method to quantify these links and inform planning and design in urban catchments. The innovative USIA method draws upon more than a decade of research by various research teams, including the Melbourne Waterway Research Practice Partnership (Melbourne University and Melbourne Water). USIA explicitly links the severity of impacts to stream values with development scenarios and their stormwater runoff and streamflow regimes using a risk-based assessment.

This project has involved the development of the USIA method and its application on the South Creek Catchment in Western Sydney – an area poised for significant urban development. The project has evaluated scenarios using the anticipated 2050 catchment development using varying degrees of WSUD to control catchment runoff and a variety of wastewater flow disposal options.

The results of this project are currently being used to inform the creation of an urban development framework for implementation within one of the fastest developing catchments in Australia. The USIA method and framework is being rolled out more broadly across NSW by Sydney Water and the Department of Primary Industries and Environment, has been slated for application by Melbourne Water, and publications have been cited internationally.

Partners: Sydney Water, CT Environmental, I2I Digital

Finalist – Alluvium Consulting Australia P/L

Nimmie Caira Enhanced Water Delivery Project

The $180 million Nimmie-Caira Enhanced Water Delivery Project is a significant land, water and waterway management project in NSW, occurring within the Murrumbidgee region.

The project area covers 84,417ha in the lower reaches of the Murrumbidgee River floodplain (the Lowbidgee) between Maude and Balranald, in south western NSW. This area is a vital component the Lowbidgee ecosystem, being the largest remaining area of wetlands in the Murrumbidgee Valley. The project area is equivalent in size to 1/3 of the ACT.

The Nimmie-Caira Enhanced Water Delivery Project aims to balance environmental and Aboriginal cultural heritage protection with commercial use of the area, so as to create an asset for the local community and the wider Murray Darling Basin.

There are five major components to this project:

  1. Land and water purchase, involving the purchase of 19 irrigation properties on the Nimmie-Caira floodplain, together with their share of the Lowbidgee Supplementary Water Entitlement (381,000 shares).
  2. Water savings to ‘Bridge the Gap’, by transferring the water entitlement purchased from landholders to the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder, to help ‘bridge the gap’ to meet Sustainable Diversion Limits.
  3. Reconfiguring the water delivery infrastructure, to convert infrastructure once used for irrigation to provide for delivery of environmental water to lands identified as having high ecological value.
  4. Development of a land and water management plan, that outlines how the area will be managed into the future. The plan involves some land being managed for Aboriginal cultural heritage, some for environmental values and other for commercial use. This plan involved documenting the demand for environmental water within and beyond the project area.
  5. Initiating a long-term land management regime, by transferring the land (through sale or lease) to a non-government entity to manage the land according to the arrangements set out in the L&WM Plan.

Partners: NSW Dept of Industry Planning and Environment, Palladium Pty Ltd, Biosis Pty Ltd

Finalist – Melbourne Water

Ecological Modelling and Waterway Management Prioritisation in Melbourne

Like other cities around the world, there is increasing pressure on our freshwater ecosystems from impacts such as urban growth and climate change. To halt and reverse the degradation of our rivers and creeks it is essential that decision-making is underpinned by best available science. Critical to this, is sound knowledge of current ecological status, key threats, likely future condition, and an understanding of the types of management actions most likely to protect or improve the health of waterways given expected challenges.

We developed and applied an innovative approach to identifying waterway management priorities for Melbourne’s new Healthy Waterways Strategy. Central to this was the use of quantitative habitat suitability models for instream values (aquatic macroinvertebrates, fish, platypus) that drew on >20 years of biological monitoring data. These models allowed us to estimate the current status of biotic values at stream reaches across the region, make predictions of how those values are likely to change under projected future scenarios of urban growth and climate change, and quantify anticipated benefits of specific management actions or combinations of actions. These models helped us identify the most cost-effective management action at any given reach. We then analysed this map of cost-effective actions with conservation planning software (Zonation) to rank all reaches showing where we should optimally act first to protect and improve aquatic biodiversity.

Model outputs informed multiple co-design workshops with a broad range of stakeholders where predictions were combined with local knowledge and expertise to agree on priority actions and 50-year environmental outcome targets. This project demonstrated how spatially-explicit quantitative habitat modelling and a whole-of-landscape approach can help us strategically understand threats and identify actions to give us the best chance of protecting our waterways for future generations.

Partners: Dr Yung En Chee and A/Prof Christopher Walsh, Waterway Ecosystem Research Group, School of Ecosystem and Forest Sciences, The University of Melbourne.  Prof Nick Bond, Centre for Freshwater Ecosystems, School of Life Sciences, La Trobe University.  Sharyn RossRakesh, Principal, Waterways Planning, Regional Water Planning, Melbourne Water.

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