The Lake Eyre Basin (LEB) is the largest river basin in Australia covering around 1.2 million km2 in the arid region or 15% of the Australian landmass. The mean annual rainfall and runoff is the lowest of any major river basin in the world but periodic large and widespread flooding results in broad scale inundation of wetland habitats. This inundation drives some of the largest and most persistent wetlands in the country with slow moving floodwaters spreading across a low gradient catchment with extremely high floodplain to catchment area ratio.
Public concern about protection of the Basin’s water resources and aquatic ecosystems has risen with increasing pressure from development and tourism. Livestock grazing comprises approximately 80% of land-use, and around 10% of land is set aside for conservation. Extractive industries (e.g. gas and oil) and tourism are other significant industries in the LEB, although their land-use footprint is considerably less than livestock production. The LEB has a low population density with around half of the total population in the Basin (approx. 60,000) located in the urban centre of Alice Springs. There are a number of large iconic river systems within the LEB, notably Cooper Creek and the Diamantina River. The rivers within the LEB sub-catchments are largely unregulated, with minimal extraction and diversion of water bodies. Seasonal inundations and high variability in water flows are among the key features of the Basin. Disconnected waterholes play a critical ecological role during periods of no rainfall and have relatively high rates of primary production (mainly algae sustaining the food web). These waterholes are therefore important in supporting resident fauna and flora. Responsibility for assessing and on-going monitoring of the environmental condition of the LEB rivers lies with numerous agencies. These responsibilities include the monitoring of environmental indicators, monitoring and assessment of condition targets under regional natural resource management (NRM) plans, assessment of water affecting activities and the assessment and monitoring of water quality, biotic indicators and catchment condition under the SA EPA monitoring program.
The vastness and remoteness of the LEB region and the temporal response of flora and fauna to erratic environmental conditions make monitoring ecological condition in the region very difficult and expensive, which is borne out by the paucity of data for the region. This project explored a range of existing and novel techniques and approaches that could be considered to enhance the current monitoring programs in the region and that could be utilised to measure the connectivity and the adaptive diversity of organisms in the region.
Existing ecological and spatial datasets were combined and analysed to determine the best indicators to quantitatively assess environmental condition. The use of spatial analysis provided new research methods and knowledge about how to assess the spatial distribution of development impacts, land-use pressures and landscape vulnerabilities and their interactions with condition indicators and thresholds of potential concern.
Increasing concern about the protection of the LEB water resources and aquatic ecosystems led to the formation of the LEB Ministerial Forum under the LEB Intergovernmental Agreement. The LEB Rivers Assessment (LEBRA) was established in 2009-2010 to gain an understanding of the condition of the aquatic systems of the LEB. The LEBRA is central to the Ministerial Forum and aims to monitor and assess the environmental condition of the Basin’s waterways.
This project investigated a range of potential indicators of environmental condition including cultural, water and sediment quality parameters, genomic approaches and spatial data products and the findings are outlined below.
The project has provided research to underpin a world class approach and methodology for undertaking condition assessment that is based on well-defined and researched indicators and threshold values consistent with the Strategic Adaptive Management (SAM) approach endorsed by the LEB Ministerial Forum.
The project provided a platform for delivering targeted and highly applied research to progress the application of natural resource management evaluation in the LEB and provide a significant boost to the management and protection of a highly significant and vulnerable desert drainage system that is recognised on a global scale.
Chris Wright holds significant experience in public sector senior leadership, having led policy, scientific and operational business units over the last twelve years in both State and Commonwealth government agencies. Chris has excellent experiences in leading policy and strategy formulation. He is skilled in building and maintaining networks across the public and private sectors to facilitate business delivery; leading and negotiating with others to achieve outcomes; and in bridging the science-policy gap, drawing on earlier roles in geospatial information systems (GIS) consulting. Chris’s formal qualifications include a Bachelor of Social Science, a Masters of Spatial Information Science and graduation from the AICD Company Directors course in 2019.
Dr Ilka Wallis is a hydrogeologist with areas of expertise in quantitative hydrogeology and geochemistry. Ilka focuses on the development of reactive geochemical transport models which integrate fundamental processes that are normally studied in isolation (hydrogeological, mineralogical, geochemical and biochemical).
Ilka is also an Adjunct Professor, Department of Civil Engineering, University of Manitoba, Canada since 2017.
Peter Goonan is the Principal Aquatic Biologist in the Environmental Science Branch of the EPA. He has over 30 years’ experience monitoring the condition of aquatic ecosystems in SA and assessing the environmental effects caused by discharges, deposits and contaminants entering inland and coastal waters. He specialises in aquatic invertebrate identification and their responses to contaminants and water quality stressors. He also provides expert professional advice relating to water quality risks, regulation, policy, and strategic directions, and represents the EPA as an expert witness in court.
Dr Paul Monis is a technical expert within SA Water’s Business Services group, which provides scientific expertise to support the delivery of water and wastewater services to SA Water’s customers. He has specialist expertise in the areas of biotechnology and microbiology, with almost 20 years’ experience applying DNA-based and other technologies to address water quality challenges posed by microorganisms, especially enteric pathogens. Dr Monis also holds title of Adjunct Associate Professor at Flinders University, the University of Adelaide and UniSA.
Jennie’s role in the Department for Environment and Water (DEW) allows her to foster and strengthen opportunities for researchers to better connect with government to enable evidence-based decision making. Jennie has extensive experience working in both universities and government, allowing her to bridge the divide between the two sectors. She is focused on connecting natural resource researchers with natural resource decision makers, and facilitating fit for purpose partnerships.
Dr Tanya Doody is a Principal Research Scientist working on high impact spatial eco-hydrological projects within CSIRO’s Land and Water Business Unit. Dr Doody leads the Managing Water Ecosystems Group, based in Adelaide, Albury and Canberra and has significant experience in quantifying the water requirements of vegetation and at times, their impact on water resources. This involves ecophysiological field-based research to underpin remote sensing tools to scale regionally to improve our understanding of the effect of flood regimes on the health of water-dependent ecosystems on the Murray-Darling Basin floodplains. Additional research includes investigating the ecological response of vegetation to water availability and environmental water to inform integrated basin water planning and management.
Professor Lin Crase is Professor of Economics and Dean of Programs (Accounting & Finance) at UniSA. He joined UniSA in February 2016 as Head of School of Commerce. Prior to commencing at UniSA, Lin was Professor and Director of the Centre for Water Policy and Management at La Trobe University.
Lin’s research has focused on applied economics in the context of water. He has analysed water markets and the property rights that attend them, water pricing and numerous applications of water policy. Whilst his expertise includes the Murray-Darling Basin in Australia, he has also worked on projects in south Asia, Japan and Europe. Lin has published over 100 journal articles, numerous book chapters, four books and a range of other papers and opinion pieces.
Justin has broad research interests in limnology and water treatment with a primary focus on coupling between hydrodynamics, biology and water quality contaminants such as cyanobacteria and pathogens. He is a founding member of the management committee of the IWA Specialist Group on Lake and Reservoir Management and member of the Steering Committee for the Global Lakes Ecological Observatory Network.
Justin has a PhD and a Bachelor of Science degree with Honours from the University of Adelaide.
Daniel Flaherty is the Accountant for the Goyder Institute for Water Research.
Daniel has extensive experience in higher education having worked in senior financial management roles at the University of South Australia, Flinders University and the University of Adelaide over the past 26 years. Daniel has also been a Board Director on a number of university related entities. Prior to that, Daniel has worked in a range of agencies in the Commonwealth and State Governments.
Daniel is a Fellow of CPA Australia and has a Bachelor of Economics from the University of Adelaide.
Alec Rolston joined the Institute in 2021 as Research Program Manager of the Goyder Institute’s research projects in the Healthy Coorong, Healthy Basin program. He has extensive experience in integrated water resource management, integrated catchment management, drinking water source protection and wetland ecology, conservation and management across Europe and Australia.
Alec holds a PhD from the National University of Ireland Maynooth and has worked with An Fóram Uisce|The Water Forum and the Dundalk Institute of Technology in Ireland as well as the MANTEL Innovative Training Network across Europe.
Alec spent his early career in Adelaide working with Flinders University through the Coorong, Lower Lakes and Murray Mouth (CLLAMM) Ecology Research Cluster and within the Department for Environment and Water.
Daniel Pierce has managed research projects at the Goyder Institute for Water Research since November 2017 under both the second and third terms of the Institute.
Daniel brings experience in project management and knowledge transfer and application from 4 years working as a Senior Hydrogeologist in the Department for Environment and Water (DEW) in South Australia and from 13 years of private sector work in environmental management, science and engineering in Australia and the South Pacific. His work with DEW has included providing technical advice to the development and revision of Water Allocation Plans around South Australia in collaboration with researchers and policy makers, and managing a team of groundwater modellers and hydrogeologists involved in an assortment of water resource management issues.
Daniel has a Bachelor of Engineering (Hons, Environmental) and a Bachelor of Science (Geography) from the University of Western Australia.
Professor Lombi’s main contributions to environmental research cover various aspects of contaminant risk assessment, biogeochemistry, ecotoxicology and waste management. Furthermore, the methodological development he has pursued in his research has provided the basis for collaborative efforts in a variety of research areas ranging from soil fertility and plant physiology to human health issues related to contaminant uptake via occupational exposure and diet. In the last few years he has been increasingly focusing on the transformation and toxicity of manufactured nanomaterials in the environment.
Dr Carmel Pollino is a Research Director for Land and Water at CSIRO. She has 20 years of experience working on water issues in Australia and throughout Asia. Carmel has degrees in science and environmental law and works across the science and policy interface. Significant areas of research in Environmental Flows, Hydrology, Ecology and Integrated River Basin Planning. Carmel is the lead and also a contributor to global working groups on water and has published widely in this domain.
Professor Bronwyn Gillanders is interim Head of School of Biological Sciences at the University of Adelaide. Prof Gillanders completed her BSc at the University of Canterbury, MSc at the University of Otago and her PhD at the University of Sydney. She has a research background in environmental science focused predominantly on freshwater and marine ecology.
Her research interests include integrated marine management; coastal carbon opportunities; multiple use activities and cumulative impact assessment; biology, ecology and fisheries of cephalopods; stocking and provenance of fish; plastics in the marine environment including in seafood; use of fish bones (and other calcified structures) for assessing ecological and environmental change. She has trained and mentored ~70 Honours and Higher Degree Research students and shaped the future of 1000s of students through her undergraduate teaching. She is passionate about encouraging capable women to enter and remain in science careers.
Dan Jordan is the Director, Water Security, Policy and Planning, Department for Environment and Water (DEW). Dan is also the Basin Officials Committee Alternate Member for South Australia.
Professor Okke Batelaan is a graduate of the Free University of Amsterdam, Netherlands (MSc – Hydrogeology) and of the Free University Brussels, Belgium (PhD – Engineering). He worked for more than 20 years at the Free University Brussels and also led the hydrogeology group at the KU Leuven, Belgium since 2006. He was chairman of the Interuniversity Programme in Water Resources Engineering.
Since 2012 Okke Batelaan is Strategic Professor in Hydrogeology and currently Dean of the School of the Environment, Flinders University. Okke has broad experience in teaching groundwater hydrology, groundwater modelling, GIS and remote sensing for hydrological applications. He was supervisor of more than 140 MSc and 25 PhD students. He has extensive research experience and a publication record in shallow groundwater hydrology and modeling, recharge-discharge estimation and modeling, urban hydrology and distributed modelling, ecohydrology and impacts of land use and climate change on groundwater systems. He coordinated and participated in a large number of projects in Europe, Africa, South America, Asia and Australia. He is editor-in-chief of Journal of Hydrology: Regional Studies and of MDPI-Hydrology.