Report 16

Our Heritage and Our Future: Health of the Swan Canning River System

Auditor General’s Overview

The Swan Canning river system provides an iconic backdrop to our city. Many of us enjoy its beauty and spend time on the water or along its foreshore. The rivers are an integral part of our history. They form part of the cultural heritage of the Aboriginal people who have lived in this area for millennia and are where Europeans first settled the Swan River colony.

The river system is now significantly challenged by the effects of human activity in the last 170 years. Various state governments have recognised the need for coordinated action to address these challenges. As a consequence, the Swan River Trust was created in 1989 to simplify river management and to coordinate activities which impact the Riverpark.

A key value of the river system is water quality. If this is poor then the rivers’ social and economic values are reduced. Monitoring of the Swan and Canning rivers over almost 20 years shows that water quality in the middle and upper reaches is declining, while the lower estuary is in reasonable condition, but is still under threat.

To improve water quality, the Swan River Trust has been working with key stakeholders on a range of projects. For instance, the Swan River Trust works with local government and community groups to construct wetlands and drainage nutrient intervention works. These are designed to capture nutrients and pollutants before they enter the river system.

However, agency responsibilities for river management are complex and often overlap. The Swan River Trust must often negotiate and work with others to achieve results or change practices. This report identifies some key areas where more action is needed if the decline in river health is to be addressed. Appropriate fertiliser use, suitable disposal of chemicals and other contaminants, and better planning of urban developments are important strategies to improve river health.

Experience elsewhere shows that it is possible to improve the health of rivers in urban areas, but this requires concerted and coordinated effort by key stakeholders, and long-term action. More comprehensive and easily understood information about the river’s condition would help galvanise support and action to address these issues. Incorporating agency commitments into a River Protection Strategy would provide direction and outcomes that can be monitored by Parliament and the community.

Success will depend upon state agencies, local governments and the private sector being aware of and acknowledging what needs to be done. State government agencies will need to meet their mandated roles.

I would like to acknowledge the many committed volunteers who have given their time to help protect the river. With their continued commitment, as well as that of government and private businesses, we can continue to enjoy the rivers and their surrounds into the future.

Page last updated: August 13, 2014

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