Urgent action needed to reverse Richmond River disaster

NO WONDER fishing in the Richmond River has gone down the toilet in the past 30 years - the river is worse than a toilet!

The technical report on the state of the river, compiled last year by the Aquatic Ecology and Restoration Research Group at the University of New England, reads like a horror story.

Released a few weeks ago, the report gave the overall catchment a D-minus mark and the media went "tsk-tsk", shook their heads for a minute and then skipped on to the next distraction.

The Richmond Ecohealth Project 2014: Assessment of River and Estuarine Condition. Final Technical Report, by Ryder, Mika, Richardson, Schmidt and Fitzgibbon, actually ranked the tidal section of the river from Pimlico to Lismore and Tatham as an abject failure - an F.

Across the catchment 48 study sites were sampled regularly over 2014 and data was gathered on water quality, macroinvertebrates, riparian condition and geomorphic condition.

The grades ranged from an F in the Wilsons River and upper Richmond estuary to a C in the headwater streams. Twelve of the 17 river systems recorded a D or less.

The poorest water quality was recorded from the sites closest to the tidal limit.

The upper freshwater reaches of the Richmond catchment had better water quality, aquatic macroinvertebrates and geomorphic condition than the lower freshwater reaches, but no better riparian condition.

The upper estuary (upstream of Woodburn) was consistently poorest, with very high nutrient concentrations, turbidity and algal biomass.

Estuarine reaches were mostly poor, with evidence of active erosion, especially where the riparian zone had been cleared for cropping.

Concentrations of all nutrients consistently exceeded guideline values across all sites throughout the study period.

Low dissolved oxygen concentrations were recorded at a number of mid and lower catchment sites, reaching levels that would influence the health and distribution of life forms.

This was despite the lack during the study period of the heavy rains that generally trigger crashes in dissolved oxygen and then acid runoff.

Nevertheless, sites within the Bungawalbyn sub-catchment had consistently low pH values, reflecting altered land use and swamp vegetation present. North Creek also had pH consistently below the trigger value.

"Active restoration of riparian revegetation as a long term action for improving geomorphic condition must be a priority in the Richmond catchment," the report concluded.

"The poor geomorphic condition is directly linked to low scores in water quality, macroinvertebrates and riparian vegetation. Improving geomorphic condition, particularly in the mid and lower (including estuary) reaches will lead to an improvement in all other indicators."

It's a huge job to reverse this disaster but it must be done.

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