Our Plan for Water
Despite the fact that the journey our water takes within the catchments of the Wet Tropics is highly variable, almost no one questions the importance of good quality water for our economy, environment and lifestyle.
In every discussion/workshop/feedback session held during the planning process, the importance of maintaining and enhancing our waterways and wetlands remained a priority. Emphasis was placed on the quality of the water, as well as the health of the catchment systems through which it flows.
Our Plan for Water is based on extensive engagement about:
- The challenges preventing us from achieving our Water Goal
- The things that may assist us in achieving our Water Goal
- The priority actions that we should put in place to address the challenges and also make the most of the opportunities
1. We will influence the policies and regulations that govern us, ensuring they support Great Barrier Reef water quality and catchment health outcomes at local, catchment system and regional scales.
Challenges: There is a history of coastal planning and policy that focuses on controlling water and transporting it to where it is wanted and quickly taking it away from where it isn’t wanted.
The highly modified coastal flood plains of the Wet Tropics are testament to this model.
Unfortunately the downstream impacts of water pollution, water over-allocation, engineered drainage, riparian vegetation removal and erosion are not always well considered at the planning and policy level. Neither are the health of the animals and plants within the freshwater systems or the ecosystem services that are offered by healthy waterways and wetlands.
Opportunities: The region is fortunate to have good quality data and a new region-wide Water Quality Improvement Plan, that provide clear pathways for policy and planning changes that will result in improved water quality and waterways condition in the region.
The global importance of the Great Barrier Reef has highlighted the importance of water quality and this is an opportune policy lever for securing long-term changes in the way water is perceived and managed in the Wet Tropics.
Priority actions focus on a cross-sector, multi-partner Regional Influence Strategy aimed at high level influence and putting in place cohesive, collaborative water quality and catchment health monitoring systems.
2. Collectively we manage our water and waterways strategically, making the most of available knowledge and taking into account projected impacts of climate change. It is important to have, share and use this information effectively.
Challenges: The structured and typically cylindrical nature of science, and often its inaccessibility for those in catchment management or agricultural extension, is exacerbated by loss of extension staff and the vested interests of private companies (e.g. fertiliser companies) that fund research and development (R&D).
Water and waterways management is often not drawing on the latest information and is not always strategic, coordinated and collaborative. In some of the most heavily farmed, modified and damaged catchments, the problem of water and waterways management is overwhelming.
At the same time, there are insufficient resources to protect the values of the less modified waterways, where a ‘stitch in time’ could save the need for significant future investment.
Opportunities: The Wet Tropics does have many active community groups focusing on restoring and maintaining catchment health and there are some inspirational farmers who are trialling innovative practices which significantly reduce the farming impact on water quality.
Information is becoming more readily available through knowledge brokerage tools such as the Wet Tropics Plan.
Priority actions focus on working more collaboratively on sharing knowledge and enhancing strategic water and waterways management partnerships.
3. We will respect the importance that Traditional Owners place on water and proactively action their rights and desire to be involved in, and benefit from, initiatives aiming to improve water quality and catchment health.
Challenges: Traditional Owners have consistently expressed concerns about water pollution and the disruption to the natural flow of waterways, which for them can be a sacred connection to their ancestors.
There is difference between the values of Traditional Owners and non-Indigenous regarding water, as well as a lack of recognition of Traditional Owners’ rights and interests regarding water in government policy and also within the community.
Opportunities: Healthy waterways are a highly valued resource for Traditional Owners in the region as many streams, creeks and rivers have great spiritual significance. They also play an important role in creation stories and frequently form focal points of Country.
Traditional Owners’ rights and interests in water should be considered, taking into account their cultural perspectives, and Traditional Owners should be actively engaged in restoring the health of the waterways that are so important to them.
Priority actions focus on communicating cultural values of water and establishing more effective ways for Rainforest Aboriginal People to be involved in, and benefit from, the management of water and waterways.
4. We will secure long term and diverse resources and investment to improve the quality of the Wet Tropics water and waterways.
Challenges: Not only is Government investment in natural resource management on a downward trend, it is often narrowly targeted and doesn’t take into effect the big picture or long term strategies. Competitive funding processes pit partners against one another and short term ‘quick fixes’ are often more politically attractive than the long-haul of building resilience in our water and waterways.
Opportunities: The national and global attention that the health of the Great Barrier Reef has received will help provide the hook for higher levels of government, corporate, community and philanthropic investment, if the story is told well and the benefits are compelling.
The Wet Tropics is also a hot spot for freshwater endemism (where numerous species are unique to this region) and this could be another hook for investors. At the community level, new farming methods are revealing that land and water stewardship can also deliver improved profitability.
Priority actions focus on attracting novel funding for innovation in agriculture, as well as catchment repair, support for stewardship and extending known practices in farming.
5. We will inspire the Wet Tropics community to place high value on the health of our water and waterways and be actively involved in its management and protection.
Challenges: When dealing with any environmental issues, the ‘what’s in it for me’ attitude is always at the forefront.
People take water and waterways for granted and don’t always understand the impact of their own actions. Long-term solutions may not be palatable to the public and in light of recent publicity about the reef and climate change, people can become galvanised into inaction.
There is also a great diversity of views on the way water should flow in the landscape and be used to service the community. Many believe we already have enough water in the Wet Tropics and are supportive of engineering solutions which simply move the water out of the way.
Opportunities: Despite this, there is a growing support in the community with people genuinely concerned about our water quality and the health of our waterways.
There is also a heightened awareness about the environmental footprint of our livelihoods and lifestyles. Many people in the region are nostalgic about their childhood days when they could swim in the waterways of the Wet Tropics (at least those without crocodiles).
Priority actions focus on a more effective, positive and ‘good news’ community focused communication campaign as well as effective brokering of the science.