Western Australia's high value waterways
Western Australia's high value waterways have been identified through a number of different processes, and are recognised as having different levels of significance. It is acknowledged that in some areas of the state, the values of waterways have not been fully identified.
Internationally significant waterways and wetlands
The Ramsar Convention is an international treaty focused on the conservation of internationally important wetlands, including waterways. Twelve sites in Western Australia are recognised under the Ramsar convention. This means that they are protected for their biodiversity and ecological values, including breeding grounds and migration stopovers for birds, and their value to Australian communities, as well as humanity as a whole.
Four of the twelve Ramsar sites in WA are part of waterway systems:
- Lake Argyle and Lake Kununurra which are artificial reservoirs and wetlands formed by damming the Ord River in the Kimberley
- Ord River floodplain on the lower Ord River in the Kimberley
- Vasse-Wonnerup (estuarine) System in the south west of WA, and
- Peel-Harvey (estuarine) System in the south west of WA.
The Department of Parks and Wildlife is the key contact in Western Australia for advice about Western Australia's wetlands of international importance.
More information about the Ramsar convention is available from the federal government's Department of Environment.
Nationally significant waterways and wetlands
A Directory of Important Wetlands in Australia ('DIWA wetlands') was compiled jointly by state, territory and federal governments. It identifies wetlands and wetland systems, including waterways, with national significance. It describes what defines wetlands, their variety, and the many plants and animals that depend on them and includes information about their social and cultural values, and some of the benefits they provide to people. It is a valuable tool for managers and others interested in Australia's important wetlands.
Wetlands (or waterways) are identified as nationally important if they:
- provide a good example of a wetland type occurring within a biogeographical region in Australia
- play an important ecological or hydrological role in the major functioning of a major wetland system/complex
- provide important habitat for animals at a vulnerable stage in their life cycles, or a refuge when adverse conditions (such as drought) prevail
- support at least one per cent of the national populations of any native plant or animal species
- support nationally threatened plant or animal species, or ecological communities
- are of outstanding historical or cultural significance.
Western Australia has 120 nationally important wetlands and wetland systems, many of which include parts of waterways or are entirely river systems.
Many of these occur within existing or proposed reserves managed by the Department of Parks and Wildlife. Examples of listed waterways that are protected within conservation reserves for their biodiversity, ecosystem values and natural beauty include the Fitzgerald River National Park, Geikie Gorge National Park (Fitzroy River), Rudall River National Park and D'Entrecasteaux National Park (Warren River). Some occur on private property or pastoral lease, or lands for other purposes so their conservation depends on cooperative arrangements.
The Australian Wetlands Database provides up-to-date information on nationally important wetlands and waterways.
Wild rivers are largely unchanged natural systems where biological, ecological and hydrological processes continue without significant disturbance. These waterways and their catchments remain generally undisturbed due to their isolation, rugged topography or land tenure.
Through a project with the Australian Heritage Commission (Williams et al. 1999), the Department of Water originally recognised 49 wild rivers in Western Australia. The Upper Yule River was recently downgraded due to development in the catchment, bringing the state's total to 48, of which 37 are located in the Kimberley and Pilbara regions. They occur in a variety of landscapes, and may be permanent, seasonal or dry watercourses that flow or only flow occasionally.
Wild Rivers have important values including rarity, habitat, water quality and scientific value. The Department of Water advises on activities in the catchment that may adversely impact on the ecological values of wild rivers. For more information, see Water Note 37: Wild rivers.
State Assets Report – 'Waterscapes'
Chapter 6 of the State NRM Office's Agency statement of important natural resource management assets in Western Australia (State NRM Office, 2007), also call the State Assets Report, identifies waterways and wetland assets (described as 'waterscapes') based on a values-threats matrix. The assessment by the Department of Water's senior officer's group, took into account multiple values that were grouped as economic, social/cultural and environmental and a wide range of threats. Results are presented both for the whole state and by region. This report does not represent a finalised priority listing, but provides a starting point for further investigations and discussions when making natural resource management investment decisions.
All high value waterways are afforded a high level of protection. This includes high value waterways with high, medium and low threats to their physical condition and ecological health.