Message from the Director General
Welcome to our first edition of the Estuary echo, the official newsletter of the Regional Estuaries Initiative.
Here at the Department of Water and Environmental Regulation, we consider ourselves the steward of the State’s estuaries.
A stewardship model recognises that there are many players in any given estuary – all of whom can make a difference.
Strong, effective partnerships are at the heart of a stewardship model.
The Regional Estuaries Initiative was launched in April 2016 to restore and protect the health of six estuaries in the South West: the Peel-Harvey Estuary, the Leschenault Estuary, the Vasse-Wonnerup Estuary, Hardy Inlet, Wilson Inlet and Oyster Harbour.
A big part of this program is co-delivery with our partners to implement five strategies that will help reduce the nutrients entering estuaries and restore systems that have been degraded over time.
We hope that you’ll enjoy discovering here, the breadth of projects being rolled out.
Department of Water and Environmental Regulation
Innovative water treatment trial shows early promise
Initial stages of a trial aimed at controlling algal growth in the Lower Vasse River have shown improved visual amenity and reduced phosphorus build-up associated with algal blooms.
High nutrient concentrations and low flows in the Lower Vasse River over summer can lead to blue-green algal blooms and nuisance odours.
Fifteen tanks were immersed in the river near the Lower Vasse traffic bridge by Department of Water and Environmental Regulation scientists in November 2016. An innovative new clay product was applied to the tanks at different doses. The clay strips phosphorous from the water and prevents phosphorous release from the sediments.
“We have been really pleased with the visual improvement in water quality in the tanks with the clay compared to those with no clay,” said Dr Svenja Tulipani, lead scientist on the trial.
“We are now looking closely at the water quality data collected over the trial to assess if we extend the trial over larger areas of the river this summer.”
The trial is part of a series of experiments to explore unique ways to improve soil condition and reduce nutrients entering waterways from urban and rural land uses.
At a forum held in Busselton, the Department of Water and Environmental Regulation shared this information with interested community members.
Organised by local catchment group GeoCatch, the forum aimed to build a better understanding of current waterway and estuary health, sharing this information with communities to guide future management and planning.
Farmers and scientists share their experiences and success stories
Over 120 farming, land and water management experts gathered in Mandurah on 15 August 2017 to discuss the best ways to manage nutrient run-off into Western Australian estuaries.
The Nutrient Summit, hosted by the Department of Water and Environmental Regulation (DWER), is part of the department’s work to improve the health of regional estuaries.
DWER Water Science Manager Malcolm Robb said the focus of the summit was how to sustain productive agriculture while maintaining healthy estuaries when nutrient run-off from agricultural land represents the largest source of nutrients entering estuaries in the South West.
“The speakers brought together a wealth of knowledge from water and land management science and policy, innovative farming approaches from a Queensland sugar cane farmer and a New Zealand dairy farmer, and an industry perspective from Fertilizer Australia”, said Malcolm.
The Summit certainly delivered with some encouraging feedback.
View speaker presentations by visiting our video playlist.
Denmark Farmer: “Preserver and conserver of the land”
In Chris Vogel’s own words he sees his role as preserver and conserver of the land to optimise and maximise its use and then to leave it in a pristine condition, refined and even improved.
As Dellendale Creamery’s owner, Chris has taken part in various programs over many years to help improve the water quality entering the Wilson Inlet in Denmark.
More recently he joined the Regional Estuaries Initiative (REI) to continue his work fencing and revegetating the banks of the Denmark River flowing through his property.
The REI’s stream restoration program partners catchment groups with landholders and community to fence priority waterways to exclude stock and plant vegetation along foreshores.
Clearing for agriculture has often removed vegetation from the banks of rivers and streams, and stock can have easy entry to streams and drains. This can lead to a decline in nutrient uptake by plants and a build-up of organic matter filling rivers, wetlands and estuaries.
If you would like more information or how to get involved contact email@example.com
The Haines family from Benger in the Leschenault catchment share their story here.
Soil testing to support better fertiliser decisions
Grazing farmers across the South West are taking part in a soil testing program designed to support farmers make better fertiliser decisions.
The program involves soil testing, nutrient mapping, farmer workshops and the option for one on one accredited agronomic advice.
Ken John, Beef producer from Karridale who was involved in the soil testing program in 2016 said “I’m absolutely rapt in the program, I’ve saved about $3000-$5000 this year making changes to my fertiliser program”.
“I’ve now got a good understanding on what soil pH is doing across my farm, and know in my mind that the cattle are getting good feed. 100 per cent excellent and I encourage other farmers to do this too.”
Department of Water and Environmental Regulation’s Regional Estuaries Initiative Coordinator, Jennifer Stritzke said soil testing programs undertaken across the broader South West over the last eight years have shown that around 70 per cent of paddocks have more phosphorus than needed to support pasture growth.
“With nutrient run-off from agricultural land representing the largest source of nutrients entering estuaries in South West WA, farmers have the opportunity to improve water quality in their local waterways and estuary”, said Jennifer.
The program is so popular that we are over-subscribed in 2017 with expressions of interest from 186 farmers – 143 of which are new farmers to the program.
While expressions of interest for the 2017 soil testing program are now closed, enquiries can be submitted at any time for next year by contacting our regional catchment groups:
Investigations underway to better understand Wilson Inlet
Three new monitoring stations have been installed in the Wilson Inlet to help State Government scientists better understand the inlet’s characteristics.
The monitoring stations were deployed earlier this year and will measure the inlet’s physical parameters, including water temperature and salinity.
Department of Water and Environmental Regulation Scientific Officer, Peta Kelsey said the stations would provide continuous data for 12 months and would be used to develop an estuarine numerical model for the inlet.
“Gathering information from these new monitoring stations will improve our knowledge of the inlet’s water circulation, salinity as well as temperature changes associated with the river inflow and sand bar management.
“While a separate catchment numerical model will assess land-use changes and water abstraction, the estuarine model will help us better understand water requirements to support seagrass and vegetation growth as well as fish and birds in the area”, Peta said.
Scientific instruments called ‘drifters’ are also being periodically deployed in the inlet measuring surface currents and a depth sensor was recently installed in preparation for the Wilson Inlet bar opening.
The data collected from the monitoring stations and the drifters in the Wilson Inlet can be viewed on the Regional Estuaries Initiative website here.
Denmark dairy farmers showcase innovation
Members of the Sustainable Agriculture Project Reference Group visited the state’s first robotic dairies in Denmark last week to see how the new technology has changed day to day operations in the milking shed.
Two dairies, one privately owned and the other part of the Denmark Agricultural College, have been using the technology for a few years. Enticed to the milking shed by food, cows enter up to five times a day where robots locate the cow’s udders using a camera and attach milking cups. Automatic gates with microchip readers turn cows away if they try to enter the shed too soon after a previous milking.
At a cost of around $250 000 each, the robots aren’t cheap, however one farm owner, Mr Malcolm Hick, who installed the robots three years ago, said he expected the payback time on investment was about 10 years.
Malcolm explained to the group that the savings in labour costs and logistics associated with finding and retaining staff made it a very worthwhile investment. Another benefit of the technology was allowing greater freedom away from the dairy and a better work-life balance, an often rare experience for a dairy farmer.
“It was certainly one of the more relaxed milking sheds I’ve seen”, said Bree Brown, DairyCare Project Officer.
“It was surprising to see the cows casually moving through the shed to be milked without any coaxing and enjoying a scratch from a well-placed brush on one of the gates.”
Members of the group also noted the lack of odour and flies and low manure levels around the dairy. Mr Hick explained that effluent production from the shed had greatly reduced as the cows no longer need to be held waiting for their turn.
“Rather than having to wash down the milking shed twice a day, it’s only required around two times a week now.”
“Working with dairy farmers to implement best practice in dairy effluent management is a key objective of the Reference Group and seeing how different farms operate is important in identifying opportunities to do things better”.
“Managing effluent on farms is a crucial component to reduce nutrient run-off into waterways”, said Bree.
The Sustainable Agriculture Project Reference Group is made up of representatives from catchment groups, government, industry and farmers and was established to oversee and value add to agriculture projects under the State Government’s Regional Estuaries Initiative and Revitalising Geographe Waterways programs.
The Wilson Inlet is a spectacular estuary that flows through agricultural land around Denmark before flowing into the sea near Ocean Beach. The Group would like to thank the Wilson Inlet Catchment Committee for hosting the dairy farm visits and graciously turning on a glorious sunny day in a beautiful part of the world.
For more information or to get involved contact firstname.lastname@example.org .
Perks of working on water
Captured by Dr Jo Browne while out monitoring water quality on the Leschenault estuary, this footage shows just one of the many reasons we need to effectively manage our iconic estuaries.
Estuaries are among the most fertile and productive environments in the world, and their diverse range of physical habitats support many plant and animal species.
Scientific understanding of catchment and estuarine condition, threats and the interventions required to make a difference are key to effective management of estuaries and their catchments.
As part of the Regional Estuaries Initiative, we monitor water quality within freshwater rivers and streams, and estuaries to understand pressures from land uses.
Understanding the presence, abundance and species of algae and seagrasses also helps us understand how healthy our estuaries are.
The data collected from the monitoring program allows our modelling team to build numerical hydrological catchment and estuarine models that can be used to predict the response of the catchment or estuary to a range of management actions.
If you would like more information on the monitoring program check out this page on our website and explore the interactive maps
Gardening guru shares low fertiliser gardening tips
The weather was kind to nearly 300 people when gardening guru, Sabrina Hahn, came to talk about low fertiliser and low water gardening.
Organised by the Leschenault Catchment Council, this free community workshop was held at the Leschenault Community Nursery in Bunbury on a sunny June day.
Leschenault Catchment Council Project Officer, Julie Palmer, said that excessive garden fertilisers are entering our waterways and estuaries.
“Estuaries that receive too much nutrient from fertilisers have more water quality issues which can cause algal blooms and fish death events”, she said
While entertaining guests with her unique charm, Sabrina Hahn shared her knowledge on creating a waterwise garden that requires minimal fertiliser, without compromising on style, using resilient local native plants.
The Leschenault estuary receives water from drainage networks and when drains move water through the landscape, it picks up organic matter, sediments and nutrients along the way.
This workshop was the first of four gardening workshops that will be undertaken by the Leschenault Catchment Council. If you would like to be notified when the next workshop takes place or for more information on what else is happening around the Leschenault estuary email@example.com .
Sabrina Hahn (right) with a satisfied guest at the Gardening Workshop held 18 June 2017
Mammoth effort put in by the Haines’ family at Benger
Mick and Shari Haines are passionate about protecting their property in Benger and the surrounding environment for future generations.
With assistance from the Regional Estuaries Initiative they installed three kilometres of stock-proof fencing to keep stock away from Norah Brook, two stock troughs, and fenced off five swales where drainage from the property flows into the Brook.
These five swales have been planted out densely with water loving sedges and shrubs suited to the banks to filter run-off prior to entering the waterway.
In total 2 700 seedlings have been planted by a small group of volunteers, Leschenault Catchment Council staff and the broader Haines family.
Such is their passion, they have already set their sights on other spots on their property to fence and revegetate with local native species to bring back the biodiversity and of course, improve water quality.
Funding is available for stock exclusion fencing along natural water courses or drains, and for planting local native vegetation to reduce sediments and nutrients entering waterways and improve water quality.
Alternatively, funding can be used to engage a fencing contractor if the landholder purchases the fencing materials. Up to two stock troughs are also on offer to prevent stock access to waterways.
If you would like more information or how to get involved in your area contact firstname.lastname@example.org
2017 Wilson Inlet bar opening
In most years, the Wilson Inlet bar is opened, mainly to stop flooding on adjacent low-lying land.
The timing and location of the opening is managed by the Water Corporation as per an agreed protocol. In 2017, the bar was opened on 24 August 2017.
It was the highest bar opening since 1978 with an estimated elevation of 1.27 m AHD. Approximately 27 GL of water (~14 per cent of the Inlet volume) was discharged to the ocean. The high water level and strong flow effectively scoured the bar to a width of approximately 150 metres in the first 24 hours.
While not a project of the Regional Estuaries Initiative, we just had to show you this fantastic footage captured with a drone by our REI videographer Ash Ramsay.
In preparation for the Wilson Inlet bar opening, the Department of Water and Environmental Regulation installed a depth sensor in Ocean Beach to measure ocean depth, temperature and wave action. Visit here to learn more about our work to better understand the Wilson Inlet.