Message from the Director General
Welcome to the second edition of the Estuary echo, the official newsletter of the Regional Estuaries Initiative (REI).
Thank you to everyone who provided feedback on our first edition. In addition to your praise, your tips for improvements are appreciated.
In this edition, you’ll learn how projects are progressing – including a large-scale innovative trial in the Peel-Harvey Estuary and how we are working with farmers to adopt best practice to reduce nutrients entering our waterways and estuaries.
We are also introducing you to people working on REI projects, and in this edition Sam Taylor is featured. We will continue to feature our partners in future editions.
I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate GeoCatch for its 20 years of working in the Geographe catchment.
For the past 20 years GeoCatch has worked with community, farmers and all levels of government to improve the natural resources of the Geographe catchment.
Improving water quality and protecting the health of the Vasse-Wonnerup wetlands and Geographe Bay has been a strong focus for GeoCatch, and one we continue to build on through the Regional Estuaries Initiative.
I would especially like to thank committee members past and present and the many volunteers that have contributed to the success that GeoCatch has achieved over the last 20 years.
It is also timely to wish you and your family all the best for the festive season and I hope that 2018 brings you good health and happiness.
Department of Water and Environmental Regulation
Whole farm nutrient mapping gets industry tick of approval
An eight-year project by the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development to improve fertiliser use on-farm and deliver environmental benefits has been recognised as meeting national industry standards.
The Whole Farm Nutrient Mapping project, which has soil tested and nutrient mapped more than 600 farms from Albany to Gingin, has been assessed as meeting Fertcare® standards.
Funding for the Fertcare® assessment was provided by the Regional Estuaries Initiative (REI) to demonstrate the process was meeting industry standards.
The REI team is delighted that this recognition supports the successful implementation of our Sustainable Agriculture program.
For more information on the accreditation, visit the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development website.
Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development officers (l-r) Ron Master, Rob Summers, David Weaver, David Rogers, with Nick Drew from Fertilizer Australia (2nd from left).
Soil sampling underway
The next step in this popular program is underway, with soil sampling teams making their way around South West farms, taking advantage of the relatively dry conditions.
More than 150 farmers are taking part in a soil testing program designed to support farmers make better fertiliser decisions.
Regional Estuaries Initiative partner catchment groups have been busy visiting with their local farmers to undertake pre-soil testing surveys to get a feel for current fertiliser practices.
The Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD) teams have started soil sampling in the Peel and Leschenault catchments, with the Upper Capel area, Geographe and Lower Blackwood catchments, next on the agenda.
The DPIRD teams will also head to the west coast to pick up a few farms before moving back to the south coast where they have the Wilson and Oyster catchments to sample.
DPIRD senior research officer David Weaver said that with each paddock on 152 farms to sample with GPS transects, it will be a busy summer for all of our sampling crew.
“The sampling is just the first step in the soil testing program, to be followed by analysis, preparation of mapping reports, and workshops where participants receive their colour coded nutrient maps.
“Participants can opt to take up independent agronomic advice from a Fertcare® accredited advisor, who will use the soil test results as the basis for that advice,” said David.
Updates will continue to be available on the Whole Farm Nutrient Mapping Facebook site.
DPIRD team: (l-r)- Tony Dore, Eric Dobbe, Paul Matson, and John Grant before heading out sampling.
Large-scale trial of newly developed WA clay
A large scale in-stream dosing trial with a new WA developed clay product designed to fight algal blooms was conducted at Punrak Drain at Keralup in the Peel Region in October 2017.
Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Water; Fisheries; Forestry; Innovation and ICT; Science, Chris Tallentire MLA, visited the trial site to observe firsthand the new trial of this innovative product.
Department of Water and Environmental Regulation (DWER) environmental chemist Dr Svenja Tulipani said it was the first time that the application of the clay has been attempted at a larger-scale in the fast flowing waters of an agricultural drain in the Peel-Harvey catchment.
“The clay product being trialled consists of a natural bentonite clay, which is modified with a phosphorus-binding hydrotalcite coating.
“It reduces algal growth by removing phosphorus from the water column while also preventing phosphorus release from the sediments by forming a protective layer after settling,” Svenja said.
“A total of 580 kilograms of clay was delivered as a slurry into the flowing water.
“The water was monitored for phosphorus concentrations and other water quality indicators before, during and after dosing over a period of five hours.
“The results of this trial will inform best application design, demonstrate treatment efficiency and how the clay moves through the drain and where it settles,” said Svenja.
The trial is a partnership between the DWER and the Department of Communities delivered through the Regional Estuaries Initiative (REI).
Department of Communities, Acting Director General, Mr Paul Whyte said the Department values the opportunity to contribute to innovative solutions that will not only lead to cleaner water at the Department’s Keralup site but potentially to the whole Peel-Harvey Estuary.
Check out this YouTube channel to view footage from the trial and subscribe to receive latest video uploads on other REI projects.
To learn about a different technology being trialled in the Vasse-Wonnerup Estuary check out this story.
Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Water; Fisheries; Forestry; Innovation and ICT; Science, Mr Chris Tallentire MLA, at the trial site with DWER environmental chemist, Dr Svenja Tulipani.
Sustaining productive agriculture while maintaining healthy estuaries is a national challenge
A visit to Queensland to discuss farming best management practice programs to reduce nutrients entering the Great Barrier Reef was invaluable in recognising the important role of farmers in the long term health of estuaries.
Representatives from the Sustainable Agriculture Project Reference Group visited Queensland recently to hear first-hand experiences on programs and regulations to reduce nutrient loss off farms.
“Common to both Western Australia and Queensland, run-off from agricultural land represents the largest source of nutrients entering estuaries,” said Dr Kath Lynch from the Department of Water and Environmental Regulation (DWER).
“Over a fully packed, three day visit of discussions, workshops and site visits, the team met with representatives from the Queensland State Government, catchment groups, private agronomists and sugar cane farmers.
“Queensland has a multi-method approach to reducing nutrients off agricultural areas including fertiliser regulations, industry best management practice (BMP) programs and incentivised support for farmers for soil testing and agronomic advice,” said Kath.
“Taking an approach that farmers are part of the solution, the Queensland Government has initiated a number of BMP programs and farmer-led fertiliser trials in collaboration with industry producers.
“A highly successful project highlighted on the trip was the RP20 project, with 23 farmers involved in farmer-led fertiliser trials.
“The sugar cane farmers we met were really proud to have been involved in the project and keen to share their experience.
“The support to farmers and farmer trials, industry BMPs, and regulation provides a comprehensive set of tools to work with farmers to reduce nutrient loss off farm.
“We certainly want to use some of our Queensland learnings to develop programs to better support our farmers,” said Kath.
The Sustainable Agriculture program aims to support productive and profitable farming while improving and protecting the health of our estuaries.
Members of the Sustainable Agriculture Project Reference Group meet with sugar cane farmer involved in RP20 project: (l-r) Tim Prosser (beef farmer), Christian DeFranciscis (farmer); David DeFranciscis (farmer); Kelly Lavell (DWER), Kath Lynch (DWER), and David Weaver (Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development).
Seagrass – an important indicator of estuarine health
Seagrass surveys in the Leschenault Estuary have been conducted by the Department of Water and Environmental Regulation since 2009. That year showed an abundance of healthy seagrass meadows covering about 70 per cent of the estuary. Seagrass monitored again in the summer of 2015, told a different story.
Department of Water and Environmental Regulation (DWER) environmental officer Marta Sanchez Alarcon said monitoring in 2015 suggested that seagrass in the Leschenault Estuary was near tipping point. Plants appeared in poor health with few production of flowers and fruits and plant distribution covering only around half of the area assessed in 2009.
“The most likely factors that contributed to the deterioration of seagrass were persistent algal blooms caused by excessive nutrients in the water, increased salinity, less light reaching seagrass and unusually high water temperature,” said Marta.
“Since then, seagrasses have been monitored in the Leschenault Estuary every summer to assess its performance condition and distribution.
“While detailed data analysis of seagrass monitoring undertaken in 2017 is still required, the seagrass population appears more stable, with some signs of improved reproduction (flowers and fruits), though still under stress.
Seagrass requires good water and sediment quality to thrive, which makes it a good indicator for estuarine health. The team has commenced monitoring seagrass in the Leschenault Estuary for the 2017-2018 summer period and initial observations look promising.
“As done previously, we will monitor three fixed sites to assess seagrass condition and resilience. Seagrass samples will be collected by core and processed in the lab. Temperature and light loggers will be deployed to understand the environmental conditions where seagrass live,” said Marta.
Findings from the studies will reported via the REI website soon.
To help protect seagrasses you can:
- reduce the use of fertilisers in your garden and use natural cleaning products (bicarb soda or vinegar) in your home to reduce nutrients and chemicals going into the estuary
- avoid anchoring your boat at areas where seagrass are present and
- be careful when navigating in shallow waters, as motors can cause scars in seagrass beds.
Blue manna crab frolicking in Leschenault Estuary seagrasses (Ruppia Megacarpa and Halophila ovalis).
Innovative with a dash of ingenuity – that’s how New Zealand farmers do dairy effluent
With over 12 000 dairies in a tiny country, New Zealand dairy farmers know how to deal with the back end of a dairy shed. That thinking led a small team from the DairyCare Effluent project to visit the Waikato region, located in the North Island of New Zealand.
The team was eager to look at a variety of system designs and management practices utilised by farmers in the Waikato region to deal with issues faced in Western Australia including high water tables, sandy soils and large herd sizes.
“The NZ dairy farms we visited had excellent systems to manage their effluent that incorporated good equipment and monitoring to allow the reuse of this product on the farm,” said DairyCare Effluent Project Coordinator Bree Brown.
The mindset of farmers really stood out. Regulation of dairy effluent in New Zealand appears to be a strong motivator, however the nutrient value contained in effluent was readily acknowledged by farmers; they truly believed that effluent was a fertiliser resource and not a waste product.
“Farmers were actively identifying areas of soils on their farms where they could apply and reuse effluent,” said Bree.
“This not only allowed them to keep fertiliser costs down across larger areas on the farm, but it allowed them to build smaller effluent storage ponds, resulting in further savings around construction costs.
The Western Australian project team were also interested to explore how effluent management practices were influenced by regulation and high social expectations.
“Effluent management and reuse is very much incorporated into daily operation on dairy farms in New Zealand.
“Significant investment, good planning and good design appeared to be paying off for the farms that were visited.
“It was a great opportunity to look at different and innovative ways of managing effluent.
“The project team is now looking to incorporate some of the ideas and designs into dairy effluent systems on WA farms that will be valuable for both farmers and our waterways,” said Bree.
The trip was supported through the Sustainable Agriculture program being delivered under the Regional Estuaries Initiative and Revitalising Geographe Waterways programs. Dairy Australia and Western Dairy also provided support for the study tour.
The DairyCare team visits a site in the Waikato NZ where the effluent pond is linked to the irrigator via a remote monitoring system
Partnering with local government
The Department of Water and Environmental Regulation was recently invited to present at a Western Australian Local Government Association Natural Area Management Network Forum (NAMN), hosted by the Shire of Collie, to discuss improving water quality of waterways and wetlands.
As the steward for the state’s water and environmental resources, Department of Water and Environmental Regulation (DWER) recognises the important role that local government has in restoring and improving the health of our estuaries.
The Western Australian Local Government Association (WALGA) Forum was a great opportunity to share information on initiatives that aim to improve the water quality of rivers, estuary and wetland environments at the catchment and local scale.
DWER’s Regional Estuaries Initiative (REI) Coordinator, Jennifer Stritzke said the REI is a project of partnerships – we’re working with catchment groups, local government and industry groups to co-deliver projects.
Jennifer updated the predominantly local government environment officers and other natural area management agencies attending on the work being carried out across the South West and in particular projects being co-delivered with local government.
“There are some really exciting projects in the pipe works to improve how water moves through the catchment using water sensitive urban design techniques.
“The REI has also been working with local government to trial new technologies like soil amendment and phosphorus binding clay to reduce nutrients entering waterways.
“These trials are being conducted in the Peel-Harvey and Vasse-Wonnerup catchments,” Jennifer said.
WALGA runs approximately six NAMN forums a year. Please refer to their website for topics and presentations from the most recent forums.
REI Coordinator, Jennifer Stritzke presenting at the WALGA Forum, hosted by the Shire of Collie on 3 November 2017.
Changing how we think about suburban gardens
Celebrity gardener John Colwill from Beyond Gardens, joined the Leschenault Catchment Council to share tips with the public on how to create a waterwise garden using minimal fertiliser and resilient local native plants, without compromising on style.
The Leschenault Catchment Council (LCC) is working with Water Corporation and the Leschenault Community Nursery to encourage the community to do their part in protecting our rivers and estuaries.
LCC Communications Manager, Sharon Upston said that two free workshops were held at the Australind Shopping Centre in October where plenty of native plants were available for sale, as well as staff and volunteers on hand to answer gardening questions.
“The workshops help people understand that, on average, we use too much fertiliser on our gardens. During garden watering or rainfall, this excess fertiliser runs off our gardens and enters our rivers and estuaries through stormwater drains, said Sharon.
“In addition, native gardens require less water and fertiliser, so by making small changes in our gardens we can further reduce fertiliser use and save some money as well.
“The Greater Bunbury region is experiencing high population growth and development with a number of new subdivisions near Australind, including the subdivisions of Kingston, Treendale and Millbridge.
“Accordingly, these workshops are designed to attract young families that are building new homes and planning their garden landscaping in the near future.
“If you would like more information or to express your interest in attending future workshops, contact the Leschenault Catchment Council,” offered Sharon.
John Colwil at the Australind Shopping Centre on 21 October 2017.
Vasse Oval part of innovative soil and water trial
A scientific trial using the soil amendment product Iron Man Gypsum (IMG) that stops fertiliser washing from soils to groundwater and polluting waterways is underway in the Vasse-Wonnerup catchment.
The trial at the Vasse Sporting Complex aims to reduce the level of nutrients leached from the newly constructed oval, a consequence of fertilisers applied when the land was farmed.
This site of the sporting complex was previously grazed and fertilised, which left a legacy of high phosphorus content in the sandy soils. Without treatment the site would continue to leach this phosphorus into local waterways.
“The additive is a mineral processing product developed by Iluka Resources called IMG. IMG binds phosphorus, keeping it within the soil and making it available for plant growth rather than washing into local waterways,” said
Department of Water and Environmental Regulation (DWER) senior scientist, Dr Brad Degens.
“Water monitoring stations called lysimeters that collect water percolating below the turf have recently been installed and will be sampled monthly to track how effective the soil amendment treatment is at reducing nutrient leaching.
“If the trial proves successful, it has numerous potential applications from helping protect waterways from redeveloped farmlands, to reducing use of fertilisers for turf by helping retain them longer in the soil rather than washing away shortly after application,” said Brad.
The trial is one of two that have started in the Vasse-Wonnerup catchment as part of DWER led Revitalising Geographe Waterways program.
This trial is a partnership between the City of Busselton, DWER and Iluka Resources Ltd.
A further two trials are in the planning stages, as part of DWER’s Regional Estuaries Initiative which targets a further five estuaries in the South West.
Water monitoring stations called lysimeters being installed to monitor nutrient leakage.
Introducing Sam Taylor, member of the DairyCare Effluent Technical Working Group or ‘Kenny’ to his dairy farmer mates. Not only is Sam a skilled agronomist, he is also a creative writer. A competition was run by our REI project partners to come up with a catchy name for our newsletter. Congratulations Sam for the overwhelmingly popular Estuary echo.
“I’ve been working with dairy farmers to manage nutrient loads on farm since I was involved in one of the first whole farm soil testing programs in 2008,” said Sam.
“We used to call it Nutrient Management Systems for the Dairy Industry and Intensive Agriculture in the South West, or Dairy NMS for short.
“But what’s in a name – it must be a success because whole farm soil testing programs continue to be rolled out, more recently under the Regional Estuaries Initiative and the Revitalising Geographe Waterways programs.
“My involvement in these programs has been both presenting at workshops and also meeting individually with farmers to prepare reports, interpret results and provide fertiliser recommendations.
“While I continue to be involved in the soil testing programs, I am now helping dairy farmers, particularly in the Geographe Catchment, manage and improve their effluent systems.
“These farmers have started to call me “Kenny” after the 2006 movie to do with the portable toilet plumber, and they think that all I talk about is poo!! (of the cow variety), explained Sam.
“Recently, I was privileged to travel to New Zealand as part of the Effluent Technical Working Group to look at state of the art effluent management systems.
“The New Zealand dairy farmers face stringent regulation around managing effluent, and their systems for containment and reuse of nutrient are second to none.
“We visited farms that had made significant investment in effluent systems to ensure compliance and maximum nutrient reuse on farm.
“Personally, I am married with four kids who attend school in the Geographe Catchment, and enjoy an active outdoor lifestyle (mainly running around the kids to junior sporting events!!) when I am not working,” said Sam.
Thanks for sharing Sam! We are delighted that you bring your extensive experience to both the Regional Estuaries Initiative and the Revitalising Geographe Waterways programs.
Check out this article for more information on the study tour to New Zealand.
Sam Taylor, member of the DairyCare Effluent Technical Working Group.