The Queensland Department of Infrastructure, Local Government and Planning has recently released the draft ‘South East Queensland Regional Plan’ (ShapingSEQ), which represents a revision of the first statutory plan for SEQ released in 2009. ShapingSEQ provides a framework for managing the region’s growth over the next 25 years, and proposes policy directions and benchmarks for managing growth and protecting and enhancing economic, social, cultural and environmental values of the region. The plan aims to ensure that future generations of Queenslanders can enjoy all the benefits of a great SEQ lifestyle.
At the launch of the 2016 Healthy Waterways and Catchments Report Card it was reported that over two thirds of people in the region use waterways for leisure and relaxation, demonstrating the very high value of our waterways to our SEQ lifestyle. The economic value of our waterways is also very high, with nearly $12 million injected into the local economy by boat registrations; tourism, amongst other sectors, also receives very significant economic benefits from SEQ waterways. Clearly, planning for growth in the region requires careful management (protection and rehabilitation) of our waterways in order to realise the social and economic benefits anticipated by ShapingSEQ.
Furthermore, ShapingSEQ asserts that it is imperative that growth is sensible and sustainable, implying environmental best practice is needed to achieve the plan’s objective. Our waterways, including Moreton Bay, have very high ecological values, providing habitat for a high diversity of plants and animals, including fish, turtles, platypus, dugong, and birds amongst others, many of which are migratory and / or threatened. Past development in the region that was not up to today’s recognised best practice standards has resulted in considerable impacts to the habitat values of our waterways, with 50% of freshwater wetlands having been totally lost and nearly 60% of bays and estuaries having water quality impacted by low water clarity. These impacts to our waterways enable invasive (pest) species to flourish, and jeopardise local persistence of the native species that live in our waterways.
The 2016 Healthy Waterways and Catchment Report Card identified sediment pollution as the most significant pressure on waterways in SEQ, resulting in impacts to the ecological, economic and social values of waterways. Erosion from cleared areas (e.g. construction sites) in urban areas, and erosion of watercourses, especially where riparian vegetation has been cleared, in rural areas, were identified as the major sources of sediment pollution. While most (i.e. 60%) expansion of urban development is proposed for the existing urban footprint under ShapingSEQ, 40% of new urban development will be in areas that are currently rural within an expanded urban footprint. With this expansion of the urban footprint, sources of sediment from both exposed areas and cleared stream banks could act cumulatively to impact ecological, social and economic values of SEQ’s waterways.
To address sediment pollution of our waterways, the 2016 Healthy Waterways and Catchment Report Card identified the following actions:
- best-practice sediment and erosion control on construction sites
- water sensitive urban design, with various publications by Healthy Waterways providing best practice guidance for the design of urban spaces to protect water quality and the ecological, social and economic values of waterways
- best practice farming, such as the Hort360 program
- protection of existing native riparian vegetation and rehabilitation of riparian vegetation with appropriate native species, and
- rehabilitation of waterways, including bank stabilisation by rehabilitation of native riparian vegetation.
Protection and rehabilitation of fish passage, and protection of fish habitat, are also key actions for preserving and enhancing the ecological, social and economic benefits of our waterways. Infrastructure that crosses watercourses, such as pipes and roads, can create barriers to fish passage if poorly designed, as can poorly placed riprap and gabions. While new infrastructure is required to comply with fisheries codes to ensure fish passage is protected, strategic rehabilitation of existing infrastructure so that it meets current standards will contribute greatly to enhancing the values of our waterways. Infrastructure and development designs that destroy the values of waterways, such as straightening, concreting and piping natural waterways, should be considered unacceptable on environmental, social and economic grounds.
ShapingSEQ offers an opportunity for continued implementation of the actions recommended by our Healthy Waterways friends to protect and enhance the environmental, social and economic values of our waterways. The benefits are clear – upgrades of water treatment plants in the region have achieved very significant reductions in nutrient pollution of our waterways in recent years, and wetland rehabilitation in places like Bulimba Creek by the B4C has seen the return of fish and bird species after years when these species were absent due to poor habitat quality. Our SEQ waterways are integral to our lifestyle and to the region’s economic wellbeing. Protection and rehabilitation of our waterways are fundamental for achieving the social and economic benefits of growth in the region under the plan. Therefore the plan’s implementation, from design and approval stages to best-practice on-ground works, must explicitly recognise the importance of waterways for the great SEQ lifestyle that ShapingSEQ promises.