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LEB Rivers Assessment

LEBRA field scientists setting large fyke net at Big Ranken Waterhole. Upper Georgina River. Photo: A Duguid

The Lake Eyre Basin (LEB) Rivers Assessment (LEBRA) is a monitoring program designed to assess the condition of watercourses and catchments within the LEB 'Agreement Area'. The LEB Agreement requires the assessment to be completed as soon as possible after the commencement of the Agreement, and thereafter every ten years.

To enable this formal reporting every ten years, information needs to be collected routinely in the intervening years. The assessment is essential for giving a picture of how well we are using and managing the natural resources of the Basin.

Both high and low flows in the Basin have important ecological functions, and overall flow patterns, rather than just individual floods, are important to maintain the ecology of the Basin.

Methodologies for assessing rivers and catchments elsewhere in Australia and the world have limited application to the ephemeral rivers of a large, internal basin spanning multiple jurisdictions such as the LEB. In this regard, the Rivers Assessment is the first of its kind in the world, and designing a monitoring and assessment program for this purpose is a major challenge.

In April 2010 the LEB Ministerial Forum adopted the LEB Rivers Assessment Implementation Plan.

Since 2011, data about hydrology, water quality and fish has been collected from 53 waterholes across the Basin. Reports on this monitoring activity are published online every year. Over time hydrological and fish data can help determine, for example which waterholes retain water and are important ecological refuges during drought, and if fish have been able to repopulate areas following floods.

Siene netting at Snake Hole, Finke River. Photo: M Rodrigo

Strategic Adaptive Management

In April 2010, the LEB Ministerial Forum also endorsed a Strategic Adaptive Management (SAM) approach to the LEBRA, based on three key foundations:

  1. the long term nature of the LEBRA (requiring reporting every ten years);
  2. the conviction that monitoring should lead to real management decisions; and
  3. the clear need to partner with key stakeholders.

Strategic Adaptive Management (SAM) provides a way to recognise and further develop our instinct for learning-by-doing into a framework of shared values, experimental actions and observational change. The Lake Eyre Basin is so variable through time and across its geographic extent that a separation between our knowledge and management of such a system has the potential to be cumbersome, if not disastrous for such a fragile ecosystem. The SAM process allows us to recognise the uncertainties of this unpredictable ecosystem but also test these uncertainties to progressively improve our management.

Launching bathymetry device for mapping waterhole depth, Simpsons Gap Waterhole, March 2014. Photo: M Turner

In the LEB we have a legislative responsibility to report on watercourse and catchment condition across the Basin. In a first for Australia, at such a scale, we also have an agreement among governments to carry out this assessment within a SAM framework. This begins with negotiating and clearly expressing a widely shared vision for the future:

Lake Eyre Basin: Australia's unique, natural, desert river system - Healthy environments, sustainable industries, vibrant communities, adaptive cultures.

This vision has been developed over the past three years through consultation and negotiation among LEB stakeholders. Like all elements of the SAM approach it is contestable and open to change, yet it has been road-tested widely enough to get us started. Based on the vision, the SAM approach requires clear, shared objectives. Governmetns participating in the LEB Intergovernmental Agreement, together with the LEB Community Advisory Committee and Scientific Advisory Panel offer the following objectives: