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Queenscliffe Herald Article - February 2005

Monitoring the Health of our Waterways

Recent publicity regarding the state of the Yarra River serves to remind us how important is the cleanliness and health of all our waterways. This is particularly relevant to our local wetlands which Australia has agreed to protect as part of various international environmental treaties.

We tend to forget that everything we drop on the ground is likely to end up in one of our waterways including Swan Bay and Port Philip Bay. Discarded dog poo, car-washing shampoo, cigarette butts, fertilisers, plastics, drink bottles and much more are flushed down gutters and stormwater drains into our rivers and bays. Even when these items have broken down into their chemical components they still enter the environment via seepage and groundwater.

To assist in the monitoring of our local environment various local groups, including schools, Landcare and Swan Bay Catchment Committee, participate in the Waterwatch Program. which is sponsored by Corangamite Waterwatch and Barwon Water.

Tests are carried out around the Bellarine Peninsula at a number of sites which drain into Swan Bay. Monitoring is done on a regular basis to check the physical and chemical health of the waterways, and their ability to support macro-invertebrate life.

One of the tests measures the amount of dissolved oxygen gas in the water. The temperature of the water affects the result so this is taken into account when measuring. Very low levels of dissolved oxygen in the water will reduce the numbers of sensitive species in the ecosystem. (A small-scale example of one of the possible eventual effects of global warming – warmer water temperatures affecting the number of species which are able to survive.)

Tests are also made for conductivity (salinity), turbidity (the more cloudy the water the less sunlight available for the plants to photosynthesize), phosphates (high levels of both organic and inorganic phosphates can lead to algal blooms and produce toxins in the water) and nitrates (high levels can also lead to algal blooms and increase of bacteria.)

Samples of invertebrate life are taken twice a year to test the ability of each site to support aquatic life.

Weather patterns, particularly recent rains, need to be taken into account each time a test is run. For example heavy rain can lead to extra flushing of phosphates, chemicals and rubbish.

Test results are collated each year so long-term trends can be watched and managed in the Catchment area of Swan Bay. Two of the biggest influences are the amount and type of waste flowing down both the natural and man-made drains and the amount and type of fertilisers and pesticides being used on farmlands.

Locals can make a positive contribution to the health of our environment by ensuring they limit and contain any use of chemicals and other pollutants thus preventing further contamination of our waterways.

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