Northern Australia Water Futures Assessment Northern Australia Aquatic Ecological Assets Project Aquatic Ecosystems in northern Australia Northern Australia boasts a range of significant aquatic ecosystems and ecosystem types, including estuaries, rivers, lakes and wetlands. These ecosystems not only provide clean water, food and recreation but have important intrinsic ecological and cultural values. These ecosystems also support high biodiversity, including many unique species of aquatic plants and animals. Project Location The geographical area being considered by the project stretches more than 3000 km, from Broome in the west to Cairns in the east. This area includes three drainage divisions: Timor Sea, Gulf of Carpentaria, and part of the North-East Coast (north of Cairns). Northern Australia Water Futures Assessment (NAWFA) To increase knowledge about these aquatic ecosystems the Australian Government is funding the Northern Australia Aquatic Ecological Assets Project as part of the Northern Australia Water Futures Assessment (NAWFA). The objective of the NAWFA is to provide an enduring knowledge base to inform the protection and development of northern Australia’s water resources, so that any development proceeds in an ecologically, culturally and economically sustainable manner. This project, one of a number under the NAWFA, will identify key aquatic ecological assets in northern Australia. Further information on the NAWFA can be found at: www.environment.gov.au/nawfa The Northern Australia Aquatic Ecological Assets Project is being undertaken by the Tropical Rivers and Coastal Knowledge (TRaCK) Commonwealth Environmental Research Facility in collaboration with the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities (DSEWPaC) and the National Water Commission (NWC). Mitchell-Lawley Rivers Region, Cathy Zwick Project Outline The project consists of the following three phases: Contributions to the Northern Australia Land and Water Science Review 2009 The project contributed to the Northern Australia Land and Water Science Review 2009 by determining the impact of development alternatives on northern Australia aquatic ecosystems and aquatic biodiversity. The full review is available at: http://www.nalwt.gov.au/science_review.a spx Broad Scale Assessment The project recently conducted a broad scale assessment of aquatic ecological assets across northern Australia. The assessment mapped aquatic ecosystems (assets) across the study region and undertook a trial of the national draft High Conservation Value Aquatic Ecosystems (HCVAE) Framework being developed by the Australian, state and territory governments. The broad scale assessment interim report is available from the NAWFA Ecological Program website: www.environment.gov.au/nawfa Lessons learnt from the trial, along with feedback and stakeholder consultation, will contribute to the development of the national HCVAE Framework. Fine Scale Assessment Fine scale assessments will be conducted, in conjunction with the northern jurisdictions, for specific catchments identified by each jurisdiction. The nominated fine scale study areas are the Mitchell and upper Fitzroy River catchments in Western Australia, the Daly River catchment in the Northern Territory, and the Flinders, Gilbert and Norman River catchments in Queensland. In the second half of 2010, expert panel workshops will be held for each of the fine scale locations. These workshops will bring together experts to identify the key ecological thresholds and identify and map high conservation value aquatic ecosystems at the local scale. Next Steps The next phase of the NAWFA Ecological Program will assess the likely impacts of development and climate change on the assets identified through this project and will consider management options to minimise the impacts. What is the HCVAE Framework? The National Water Initiative (NWI), an agreement between the Australian Government and all the states and territories, is the blueprint for improving water management across the country. The NWI states that there is a ‘national imperative to ensure the health of river and groundwater systems’, and that the states and territories need to ‘identify and acknowledge surface and groundwater systems of high conservation value and manage these systems to protect and enhance those values’. The Aquatic Ecosystem Task Group representing the Australian, state and territory governments is developing a common framework to identify and classify HCVAE. This project is trialling the draft HCVAE Framework across northern Australia. The Team The project is led by Dr Mark Kennard who is working with a team of researchers from Griffith University, Charles Darwin University, the Australian National University, the Australian Government’s Environmental Research Institute of the Supervising Scientist (ERISS) and CSIRO. Contacts For more information on this project contact: Cameron Colebatch Northern Australia Water Futures Assessment Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities [email protected] Phone: 02 6275 9021 w: www.environment.gov.au Mark Kennard Tropical Rivers and Coastal Knowledge (TRaCK), Australian Rivers Institute, Griffith University [email protected] Phone: 07 3735 7401 W: www.track.gov.au NAWFA is a multidisciplinary program being delivered jointly by the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities (DSEWPaC) and the National Water Commission (NWC), in close collaboration with relevant state and territory government agencies. Through the Raising National Water Standards program under Water for the Future, the Australian Government will allocate up to $13 million for projects under the assessment from 200809 to 2011-12. Published by the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities, September 2010.