SOUTHERN Cross University (SCU) researchers report they have found nearly all local creeks with agriculture and urban land use have water quality issues.
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Water quality investigations were undertaken in response to increasing community concerns of the impacts growing intensive horticulture on water quality.
Eleven coastal catchments experiencing rapid land-use change, from Corindi in the north to Pine Creek in the south, were included.
Praktan Wadnekar, a PhD researcher at the University’s National Marine Science Centre (NMSC), was the lead author of one of the latest SCU reports.
“Hearnes Lake, Woolgoolga Creek and Coffs Creek are the main areas of concern,” said Mr Wadnerkar.
“About 50% of the nitrogen is sourced from fertilisers, and the rest from treated sewage in the Hearnes Lake catchment.”
“Management of both sources is necessary,” said Mr Shane White, also a PhD researcher at NMSC, and lead investigator for one of the reports.
“Treated sewage is released to the farms to irrigate the crops and is relatively easier to manage but fertilisers are more widespread and complicated to manage.”
There are some positives amongst the bad news for Coffs coast waterways however.
Whilst the waterways are bearing the brunt of the nitrogen double-whammy from fertilisers and recycled sewage in dry periods, remarkably they protect downstream habitats by removing much of the nitrogen naturally.
“The creeks can be extremely efficient at filtering out the nitrogen pollution from the upper catchment,” said Mr White.
“These waterways remove nearly all the nitrogen during dry conditions, but lose the ability during rain events when large amounts of nitrogen in creeks can escape to the coast.”
Hearnes Lake, between Coffs Harbour and Woolgoolga to the north, is the last naturally-occurring filtration defence before catchment run-off enters the iconic Solitary Islands Marine Park.
The NMSC team is working in partnership with Coffs Harbour City Council and North Coast Local Land Services to consider innovative solutions to improve creek water quality.
The Southern Cross researchers are also working in conjunction with the NSW government’s Clean Coastal Catchments initiative.
“Collaborating with NSW Department of Primary Industries as a part of the Clean Coastal Catchments project, we are investigating on-farm practices and fertiliser loss-pathways in blueberry and macadamia farms,” said Mr White.
By Sandra MOON