There are ongoing concerns about the Richmond River.
There are ongoing concerns about the Richmond River. Marc Stapelberg

26 reports in 30 years but the river is still dirty

IN THE past 30 years there have been at least 26 reports identifying the poor condition of the Richmond River and setting out plans to improve it - but the river system still has a D-grade rating and sits as one of the unhealthiest rivers in NSW.

This promoted The Greens to announced a $200 million, 15 year plan to restore the Richmond River to its former glory as a pillar of their campaign at next year's state election.

Almost half of its 21 river systems received a score of F for water quality in the University of New England Ecohealth report, including the Wilsons River, Leycester Creek, and the upper and lower estuarine areas below Woodburn.

Extensive water quality surveys of major rivers on the North Coast in June 1987 found the quality of Richmond River was poor in comparison.

There have also been three major fish kills and blackwater events since 2001, two of which have resulted in closure of the river to fishing. Fish kills of this scale in 2001 had not been previously documented in Australia.

In 2008 the second major fish kill occurred after prolonged rainfall and extensive flooding throughout the Richmond River catchment.

The result was the death of millions of aquatic animals in the lower Richmond, including at least two million fish. More than 30 tonnes of dead fish were removed and a temporary ban on fishing was put in place.

Richmond catchment health grade map from the 2014 Ecohealth report.
Richmond catchment health grade map from the 2014 Ecohealth report. Jasmine Burke

This year the NSW Government's Marine Estate Management Strategy found the catchment is "in worse ecological health than most estuaries in NSW."

Greens MPs say the issue is not a lack of knowledge or detailed action plans - but a lack of funding and coordination for these plans.

Greens MP and environment spokeswoman Cate Faehrmann said the "inaction on the Richmond River speaks volumes about the lack of genuine commitment to fixing the river by successive governments".

"In the past 30 years the government has produced numerous glossy brochures and action plans and yet the degradation of the catchment has gotten worse, the fishing industry has almost disappeared and the Wilsons River is unfit to swim in.

"The blame for this farce sits squarely with the National Party who have failed to secure the significant funding necessary to revive the river.

"We know the problem and we know the solutions; what we need now is money, coordination and on-ground action."

The $200 million Revive the Richmond River plan is expected to launch in early 2019 after Ms Faehrmann, Ballina MP Tamara Smith, and Greens candidate for Lismore Sue Higginson held a roundtable at SCU in Lismore on November 23 with about 30 key stakeholders including farmers, fishers, scientists and Landcarers to seek feedback on a draft.

Elements include:

  • Incentives to fence off river banks to stock and change to farming practices to reduce pollution and erosion.
  • Planting millions of trees in strategic locations along the catchment.
  • An independent Richmond River Commissioner to coordinate a whole-of-government and community response.
  • A revolving fund to acquire, restore and on sell strategically important land.
  • An end to native forest logging in the catchment.
  • Funding for estuary, wetland and mangrove rehabilitation.
  • Funding for Aboriginal Traditional Owners to revegetate and restore their Native Title Lands and identify and protect cultural sites.

Sue Higginson the Greens Candidate for Lismore said she has receieved "overwhelming support and excitement" from those in the Lismore Electorate about the plan.

"I am determined that the Greens in Lismore will turn around the long and tragic history of inaction over the River. We will Revive the River - I am certain that my Grandson who is one now, will be swimming safely when he is a teenager".

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