The Commonwealth Environmental Water Monitoring, Evaluation, Reporting and Improvement (MERI) Framework has been released. This follows publication of a discussion paper on the Framework in 2011, and includes changes made in response to issues raised by stakeholders.
The Framework will be amended over time and is intended to provide a broad overview of how we will approach MERI activities. Feedback and suggestions about the Framework are very welcome. A summary of the Framework is outlined below:
A summary of the Framework
Operational monitoring will continue to be implemented by delivery partners for all watering actions to ensure water is delivered as planned and to monitor immediate environmental responses.
Targeted intervention monitoring of selected watering actions
Targeted intervention monitoring will occur where there is a need to understand short-term outcomes, inform annual planning and inform long-term intensive monitoring. Examples of this approach undertaken in 2011-12 (and likely to be extended into 2012-13), include monitoring of:
- water quality, primary productivity, fish, macro-invertebrate and frog responses in the Edward-Wakool river system
- water quality, fish, macro-invertebrate and frog responses within the river channel and fringing wetlands in the mid-Murrumbidgee area
- water quality, flow diversity and fish response in the lower Murray
- water quality, sediment and fish and macro-invertebrate responses in the lower Murrumbidgee River
- fish, macro-invertebrate, vegetation and geomorphic responses in the Goulburn River and Broken Creek.
The results from these projects will be published as they become available. The need for targeted intervention monitoring of selected watering actions will continue to be considered as water use options are developed.
Intensive intervention monitoring of selected areas (indicator sites)
As part of implementing the Framework, Commonwealth Environmental Water is establishing long-term arrangements for intensive monitoring at indicator sites. In doing so we will be seeking to both complement existing monitoring activities, and build on the targeted monitoring already in place.
There is already considerable environmental monitoring being undertaken at Living Murray icon sites (Barmah-Millewa Forest, Gunbower-Koondrook – Perricoota Forest, Hattah Lakes, Chowilla Floodplain and Lindsay Wallpolla Islands, Murray Mouth, Coorong and Lower Lakes) and at other sites such as the Macquarie Marshes.
Commonwealth Environmental Water may seek to put in place arrangements that complement the existing monitoring programs at these locations. Where this occurs, the focus would be on additional work to enable the monitoring and evaluation of Commonwealth environmental watering actions.
Areas where intensive monitoring may be implemented have not been settled but the following indicator sites are currently being considered. Feedback on the suitability of these sites is welcome.
- Gwydir Wetlands (wetlands and floodplains)
- Lower Lachlan river system (in-stream and on fringing wetlands)
- Murrumbidgee River (in-stream, on fringing wetlands and floodplains)
- Edward-Wakool river system (in-stream and on fringing wetlands)
- Goulburn-Broken river system (in-stream and on fringing wetlands)
- Murray River (in-stream and on fringing wetlands)
- Toorale Station (in-stream and floodplains, as well as an indicator of upstream unregulated rivers).
Establishment of monitoring in these areas is expected to be undertaken during 2012-13 and involve: scoping the monitoring needs for each area; running a competitive process to select the appropriate expertise to monitor in each area; and detailed design for monitoring for a period of up to 5 years. In the meantime, there remains the need to monitor Commonwealth environmental water delivered during this period. This will be achieved through monitoring of selected watering actions as noted above.
Program (broad-scale) monitoring across the entire Basin
This type of monitoring will be used to assess Basin-wide ecological responses to environmental watering over the medium to long term. It is anticipated that the Murray-Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) will take the lead on the program level monitoring although input from environmental water managers will be an important contribution to this work. We will link our intervention monitoring activities with program level monitoring undertaken by the MDBA to contribute to assessing the ecological outcomes and effectiveness of the Basin Plan (items 11 and 12 of Schedule 10 of the proposed Basin Plan).
The MDBA is currently co-ordinating a number of projects that contribute to program level monitoring of the Basin, including the Sustainable Rivers Audit, water quality and fish monitoring in the River Murray system and opportunistic waterbird monitoring.
Commonwealth Environmental Water will continue to:
- demonstrate the outcomes of the use of Commonwealth environmental water and how it has contributed to achieving the objectives of the Basin Plan
- support adaptive management and improvement in the management of Commonwealth environmental water to meet ecological objectives
- identify information gaps to help build new knowledge.
Commonwealth Environmental Water will continue to:
- publish results from all monitoring and evaluation work that we commission
- produce an annual environmental water outcomes report, which will summarise overall environmental outcomes.
The improvement process for the use of Commonwealth environmental water will be based on evaluation of the ecological outcomes from the use of water, and the watering actions undertaken. Improvement will be implemented through refinement of:
- future watering actions
- annual water use options and longer-term portfolio management plans
- the Basin Plan (to be undertaken by the MDBA through reviews, including as required under section 50 of the Water Act).