Scoping Study into the Establishment of a Long Term Wetland Ecological Monitoring Network in the Murray-Darling Basin - M/BUS/223
MDFRC Client Report
Wetlands dominate the riverine landscape in the Murray-Darling Basin and are internationally recognised as some of our most significant environmental assets. Wetlands play an important role in maintaining the health and integrity of river systems and are crucial in providing ecosystem services. Wetlands provide critical habitats for plants, invertebrates, fish, birds, and mammals, including rare and threatened species and thus, are important in maintaining regional and national biodiversity. Wetlands also perform important ecological functions such as nutrient cycling, production of living plants and animals and decomposition of organic matter. In addition, wetlands have significant cultural and recreational values. In regions with variable climates, such as Murray-Darling Basin, wetlands are also important in flood mitigation and provide drought refuges. Many wetlands in the Murray-Darling Basin are of national and international importance. The wetland ecosystems of the Murray-Darling Basin are changing rapidly and are subject to a wide range of processes that could significantly alter their character and ability to provide critical ecosystem services. These changes include water resource development, land use changes and the introduction of animals and plants that may directly and through complex interactions affect the character of wetlands and therefore the ecosystem services that they provide. One of the MDBC objectives is the protection and enhancement of the Basin's shared environmental assets and water resources. If the MDBC is to achieve this objective, sustainable management of wetlands will be an essential component of their management strategy. The MDBC is also responsible for the equitable and efficient management of water resources These responsibility means that MDBC operations will have significant effects on the condition of floodplains and wetlands within the MDB. Sustainable management requires implementation of a monitoring program as the data is necessary to report on the status of environmental assets, determine whether management intervention is required, identify the required management actions, determine whether the intervention has been successful and identify ways in which the intervention could be improved. The development of a monitoring program requires several steps: System Inventory Identification and Prioritisation of Assets System Understanding Determine Objectives and Targets Assessment and Monitoring Currently, wetland monitoring is required at several jurisdictional levels, including federal and state governments, the MDBC and Catchment Management Organisations. However, despite significant investment in monitoring river health, there has been very little investment in the development of wetland monitoring programs. At best, ad-hoc arrangements exist for monitoring wetlands, and in many cases they are ignored because of the lack of suitable monitoring techniques. Thus wetland monitoring is often incomplete and inconsistent at both regional and state levels. This has resulted in a paucity of information regarding wetland condition and an inability to sustainability manage wetlands across much of Australia. The National Land and Water Resources Audit, National Water Commission, Department if Environment and Water, the NRM Ministerial Council, the Wetlands and Waterbirds Taskforce and all state governments have accepted the need for the development of wetland monitoring programs and the need for a consistent approach. In light of this, the National Land and Water Resources Audit (NLWRA), in conjunction with state agencies undertook the National Wetland Indicators Review which developed a framework for monitoring wetland extent, distribution and condition. The National Wetland Indicators Review undertook an extensive review of the different programs, indicators, and frameworks currently being used to monitor wetlands in Australia and overseas, and held jurisdictional workshops and national workshops to develop and reach national agreement on a set of indicators and guidelines for extent, distribution and condition of lacustrine and palustrine wetlands. This review was used to develop nationally consistent and coherent wetland indicators relating to wetland extent, distribution and condition, protocols, and methodologies to inform national natural resource management processes at a variety of scales ranging from individual wetland, regional and state-wide scale (e.g. the Australian Wetland Inventory, State of the Environment reporting, Ramsar Convention implementation, and NRM national, state and regional monitoring and evaluation). The report also reviewed government programs to clarify the relationship between the proposed wetland monitoring program and other water initiatives such as the National Water Commission's Framework for the Assessment of River and Wetland Health (FARWH). It should be noted that the NLWRA framework is an extent and condition assessment and is not appropriate for evaluation of the effectiveness of specific management interventions (intervention assessment). The MDBC will be involved in decisions about the management of flows in the northern MDB and as a consequence should consider the development of an intervention assessment program to compliment any condition assessment undertaken in the northern MDB. The NLWRA framework has the support of federal, state and regional jurisdictions and the proposed framework has been agreed to by the Wetlands and Waterbirds Taskforce and has been presented to the Aquatic Ecosystems Taskforce for consideration. The proposed indicators are currently being trialled and sampling protocols and methodologies are being developed for a number of indicators. Given the widespread support for the NLWRA framework, there can be no value in duplicating this framework. Thus, it would appear sensible for the MDBC to support its implementation. The major issue for the MDBC is what role it should play in implementation of the NLWRA and where can the MDBC add value to the data that might be generated in order to further improve its capacity to meet its objectives. This report provides a summary of the NLWRA framework and of the current approaches being taken to System Inventory, Identification and Prioritisation of Assets, Intervention Monitoring, System Understanding and Condition Assessment. The report outlines the management need in all of these areas and provides the MDBC with options for collaboration with the various institutions involved in implementing the NLWRA framework In order for the MDBC to maximise the value of wetland monitoring data it will be important that the data is gathered in a consistent manner throughout the MDB and that the data is consistent with other monitoring programs being undertaken by the MDBC. The best way for the MDBC to achieve consistency will be to provide leadership in the development of wetland monitoring programs in the northern MDB. The report identifies 4 areas in which the MDBC can provide leadership in the development of wetland condition monitoring in the northern MDB. -Development of conceptual models for Northern Basin wetlands: -Indicator development and sampling methodologies: -Determination of the potential for the use of remote sensing in gathering wetland extent, distribution and condition information. -Development and production of wetland information sheets that will be an invaluable resource for NRM managers at all tiers of government Given the range of options available to the Commission and the current state of development of the National Program it has not been possible for this report to go into detail about the institutional arrangements that would be appropriate or the quantum of investment required from the MDBC. It is clear that a collaborative approach will yield the best outcome but the level of investment will depend on the options chosen and the level of investment being made in that area by the state and federal governments.