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Great Southern Landscapes

Rivers of Carbon

We’re working in partnership with the Australian River Restoration Centre, landholders and other organisations across regional New South Wales to protect and restore rivers.

Through the ‘Rivers of Carbon’ program, Greening Australia works in partnership with the Australian River Restoration Centre, landholders and other organisations across regional New South Wales to protect and restore rivers to boost biodiversity, sequester carbon and empower communities to respond to climate change. Australia is a vast, arid continent, yet it is covered in small waterways which act as the capillaries and arteries of larger rivers like the Lachlan, Murrumbidgee and the Murray.

The program’s mantra, ‘mess it up and slow it down’, appears contrary to this aim, but when it comes to rivers, messy is better for wildlife, river health, carbon sequestration, biodiversity and recreation. ‘Mess’ includes in-stream vegetation such as reeds and water plants, fallen trees and logs, rocks and a diversity of flow regimes includes riffles and pools. These structures provide somewhere for fish to shelter, hunt and spawn, help to oxygenate the water and hold water in the landscape for longer buffering waterways from drought and providing opportunities for recreation.

Rivers need to be messy and have ‘room to move’ so that they can perform a range of functions, providing habitat and food for a wide range of animals, as well as having a range of flows and movement.  Disturbance and movement is really important for rivers, creeks and streams, as the beds of rivers need to ‘turn over’ so that the water is oxygenated, and pools and riffles are formed.  Some fish only spawn in submerged trees and logs, so we need these structures in our rivers for this to happen.

The Challenge

Past policies and beliefs about what good land management practices are have led us to clear our paddocks, pick up wood and natural ‘litter’, straighten our streams, and get water flowing as quickly as possible. However, these activities reduce the complex habitat our native wildlife needs to thrive, as well as impacting on our ability to spend time along our rivers fishing, swimming and connecting with nature. Recent research has also shown that in our efforts to ‘neaten’ our rivers, we have drastically reduced the ability of our waterways to capture carbon.

“Natural river systems are complex, ‘messy’ and retain water, nutrients and carbon.  Modified river systems are simple, ‘neat’ and designed to keep water moving.  These systems are carbon poor.  It is estimated that modified river systems store less than 2% of the carbon they used to,” says Professor Ellen Wohl.

The Solution

Through the ‘Rivers of Carbon’ program, Greening Australia works in partnership with landholders and organisations across regional New South Wales to protect and restore rivers to boost biodiversity, sequester carbon and empower communities to respond to climate change.

Project milestones

Building on the success of the original project, the Rivers of Carbon partnership has facilitated the roll-out of six major projects in Goulburn, Burra and the Breadalbane region of New South Wales, and on the Lachlan, Yass and Murrumbidgee rivers. We are also working with Water New South Wales to protect and restore Sydney’s water catchments.  To date, almost 1,000ha of rivers have been revegetated, a further 1,000 ha of remnant vegetation protected, 122 km of stream fencing installed and 1,652 volunteers engaged.