Professor Leigh Sullivan and Richmond River County Council service manager Michael Wood discuss the deoxygenation problem in the river.
Professor Leigh Sullivan and Richmond River County Council service manager Michael Wood discuss the deoxygenation problem in the river. Jay Cronan

River study to focus on oxygen loss

FISH kills and deoxygenation of the Richmond River have had huge social and economic impacts on the Northern Rivers in recent years.

But Professor Leigh Sullivan, the director of Southern Cross GeoScience, a special research centre at Southern Cross University, is about to start on a pilot study to find “simple” ways to reduce the problem.

He said his team had already been involved in “lots of planning and discussions”.

“Deoxygenation is something that is going to keep on happening in the Richmond River,” Prof Sullivan said.

“When you get the river being closed for six months like it was in 2001 that really affects everyone.

“So, what we are looking at are some of the key factors that are causing deoxygenation in the Richmond River.

“In particular, we are focusing on the low-lying, back-swamp areas.”

Prof Sullivan said his research team would be looking closely at the types of vegetation in the “hot spots”.

Areas such as Tuckean Swamp, Bungawalbyn and Rocky Mouth Creek would be targeted.

“This pilot study would, hopefully, plug some information gaps, particularly in the upper-to-mid-catchment areas,” he said.

“We will look at what vegetation changes might be beneficial and practical.

“Some vegetation can resist inundation.”

For example, he said there are plants which are up to 10 times more effective at deoxygenation “but we don't quite know yet how long that effect lasts for”.

“Introduced pasture grasses deoxygenate really quickly. Rushes and sugar cane are pretty good in that they don't contribute a lot to deoxygenation.”

Prof Sullivan said looking at how fast, or how slow, the water came off the catchment would be another important part of the research.

He said the team would work closely with Richmond River County Council.

Ballina Shire Council has also agreed to help with funding and has set aside $15,000 in its 2011-12 budget.

“We are talking about some simple management strategies that could make a big difference,” Prof Sullivan said.

“Every flood event is different and we will never be able to completely eliminate the problems, but we may be able to limit the intensity. We just need some practical tools.

“The pilot study will run for six months, but what we're hoping for is for a much larger amount of funding (from the Federal Government) for a three-year project.”



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