Brisbane River on the road to recovery

After almost two centuries of neglect, the Brisbane River is now in recovery mode as a result of a suite of water protection strategies implemented by Brisbane City Council.

For the first few decades of Brisbane’s settlement, the river was used for swimming and fishing, but by the end of the Second World War, after a century of factories, ships, meatworks and a growing metropolis pouring waste into it, the river and its tributaries were in a mess. In 1987, Brisbane City Council’s ‘Year of the River’ led to the introduction of a river management strategy. The strategy involved the redevelopment of the river as a recreational facility, with walkways, piazzas, open air dining areas, and ferry and boating facilities, and also looked to improve water quality.

Ten years later, in 1997, dredging for river gravel was stopped due to concerns about riverbank erosion and the constant stirring up and resuspension of sediment in the river, which was impacting on both the river and Moreton Bay, where the river eventually empties.

Current Council strategies, including the upgraded wastewater treatment plants, have further aided the health of the river and the Bay.

Today, the dolphins are back, sand is returning to the riverbanks and the mangroves are thriving.

Receiving the seventh annual Ecosystem Health Report Card in October, Brisbane Lord Mayor, Councillor Campbell Newman, said there had been some significant and encouraging improvements in the river system.

“A key finding of the report is that the river is in a better position to withstand the worst affects of the current drought, because of the stable riverbanks and improving water quality that now sustain it,” he said. “Our river is such a precious resource, which is why Council and the State Government have spent $237 million upgrading Brisbane’s wastewater treatment plants to improve water quality by reducing the unwanted high nitrogen loads. This has redirected 4.4 billion litres of recycled water, which is already having a major impact on the quality of Moreton Bay.”

The annual Ecosystem Health Monitoring Program Report Card provides ‘A to F’ health ratings for the waterways of southeast Queensland. It is the culmination of 12 months of scientific monitoring at 375 freshwater, estuarine and marine sites throughout the region.

Key findings of the report card were that the Brisbane River was improving, while the lower Brisbane River catchment was unchanged.

“It is clear that we still have some work to do, but it is reassuring that we are starting to see the rewards of Council’s commitment to reducing the pollution that ends up in our waterways,” Councillor Newman said. “Council is also investing in reducing pollutant loads associated with urban runoff and other sources of pollution, as part of the Integrated Water Cycle Strategy – ‘Water for Today and Tomorrow’ – which complements the sustainable city strategy, ‘City Smart’.”

The major causes of poor water quality include excess runoff of nutrients from farms and suburban gardens, petrol, oils and heavy metals from cars, occasional pesticide runoff, bacteria and rubbish, which all become concentrated in the river after flowing off surrounding lands.

Councillor Newman said Council has set up leading edge stormwater filtration in creeks and streets where flows lead into the river, but is encouraging people to not litter in the street or pour oils, chemicals or pesticides down their driveways or into the stormwater drains.