Extra monitoring sites

October 18, 2018

Almost 30 new water-monitoring sites are being rolled out across the Johnstone and Tully catchments to give landowners a better idea of water quality in their patch.

The Wet Tropics Major Integrated Project’s Alicia Buckle said the installations were in response to farmer feedback.

“This is about filling in gaps - growers want to know what is coming off their farms, and what sort of loads are in sub-catchments,’’ she said.

“Right through the design phase of the Major Integrated Project, growers were saying 'show me that it’s my nitrogen (in the water) and I’ll fix the problem’.

“Up until now, with the end-of-valley monitoring aggregated from a large area with lots of different users and uses, it has made it really hard for someone to know what their relative contribution is.’’

The Wet Tropics Major Integrated Project (MIP) is a first-of-its-kind reef water-quality program funded by the Queensland Government and designed by a consortium of over 40 organisations and hundreds of people from the local community.

Ms Buckle said the new water monitoring program part of the project would operate across a range of sites starting from the top of the catchment, downstream to the end of the valley, in order to help track changes in water quality all the way along.

She said there would be water monitoring training for land managers in coming months.

MIP water monitoring officers are working closely with a technical advisory group including experts from CSIRO, TropWater, Rob Lait & Associates, Department of Environment and Science, Department of Natural Resources, Mines and Energy, Alluvium Consulting, and Department of Agriculture and Fisheries.

“We want the data to be useful to farmers so that they can make decisions accordingly,’’ she said. “Working with the group means we can draw on the best available science and expertise to inform the program and with the training for land managers we can build community capacity so the project stays locally-owned and leaves a legacy.”

Natural sites in the upper reaches of the Tully and Johnstone catchments will act as a ‘control’, by monitoring the quality of water before it receives agricultural and urban contributions.

Ms Buckle said MIP paddock demonstration sites and on-farm sites would be linked to treatment trials.

“Demonstration sites are located where specific farm practices are monitored intensively so we can say with confidence which practices, when implemented on specific soil types, reduce the amount of nitrogen leaving the farm,’’ she said.

“Similarly, where farmers are installing catchment repair technologies like bioreactors and wetlands in an effort to treat water leaving the farm, sub-surface monitoring will help to show how effective the treatment systems are.”

Sub-catchment sites have been chosen at points along small streams which multiple farms feed into, and they are usually sampled via “grab-sampling” and nitrate probes.

Depending on the method of sampling, results are ‘real time’ or ‘in time’ - nitrate sensors sit permanently in a stream and can communicate data immediately (real time), whereas grab samples need to go to the laboratory for analysis, with results delivered back to farmers within six weeks (in time).

The Wet Tropics Major Integrated Project is funded by the Queensland Government through the Queensland Reef Water Quality Program. The project includes trialling and monitoring on-farm bioreactors, wetlands and sediment basins as ways to reduce nutrient and sediment loads entering the Great Barrier Reef, and the introduction of a ‘Reef Credits’ system that will be similar to carbon credits.

Those interested in learning more about the Wet Tropics Major Integrated Project can contact Tully Basin Coordinator Fiona George on 0488 702 203 or Johnstone Basin Coordinator Sandra Henrich on 0439 916 749.