Haughton River

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Subcatchments

Smaller subcatchments within the Haughton River Catchment include:

  • Haughton River
  • Reid River

Vegetation

Riparian Habitat

iTRARC analysis of Riparian Habitat indicates that this subcatchment has gone from good (A) condition in the 1970s to poor (C) condition in 2004. This change is largely due to floodplain clearing and an increased number of gaps in the headwater streams. The field surveys also indicate poor condition with 3 very poor sites, 7 poor sites and 6 good sites. The pervasiveness of weeds in this subcatchment is also cause for concern.

iTRARC Scores

Catchment Class 1 B
Maximum iTRARC Score 22 (A+)
1970s Score 15 (A)
2004 Score 8 (C)
Reduction in Ecosystem Services Large
Increase in Potential for Erosion No Change
Reasons for Change in Score
  • Increased number of gaps along headwater streams
  • Floodplain clearing including forest
  • Increased number of low cover hill slopes next to the channel network

TRARC (field survey) scores

Survey SiteScoreRegenerationWeeds
Horseshoe Lagoon39.2 (D)0 (D)1 sp: 100% cover (D)
Healeys Lagoon [#1]39.6 (D)0 (D)2 spp: 90% cover (D)
Healeys Lagoon [#2]62.3 (C)3 (A)4 spp: 90% cover (D)
Healeys Lagoon [#3]64.5 (B)2 (B)1 sp: 70% cove (C)
Pink Lily Lagoon [#1]41.3 (D)1 (C)3 spp: 60% cover (D)
Pink Lily Lagoon [#2]54.8 (C)2 (B)2 spp: 90% cover (D)
Major Ck [#1]51.5 (C)2 (B)2 spp: 15% cover (C)
Major Ck [#2]62 (C)1 (C)1 sp: 5% cover (B)
Haughton R [#1]60 (C)3 (A)2 sp: 4% cover (C)
Haughton R [#2]71.2 (B)3 (A)3 spp: 80% cover (D)
Reid R [#1]62.4 (C)1 (C)1 sp: 60% (D)
Reid R [#2]65.3 (B)3 (A)1 sp: 15% cover (B)
Reid R [#3]66.4 (B)2 (B)1 sp: 10% cover (B)
Double Ck71.4 (B)2 (B)0 (A)
Ironbark Ck71.8 (B)3 (A)1 sp: 1% cover (B)
Average 58.9 (C)

Reference:Assessing the condition of Riparian Vegetation in the Burdekin catchment

Wetlands

The Haughton floodplain contains one of the greatest concentrations of wetland habitat in the entire catchment. The conservation values of the sub-division include wetlands listed in the Directory of Important Wetlands in Australia, and as part of Bowling Green Bay National Park and Ramsar site (QDEH 1991). More is known of the creeks and wetlands on the coastal floodplain than in the upper catchment. The upper Haughton River itself has few permanent waterholes whereas the Reid River and Majors Creek sub-catchments contain several significant waterholes and wetlands. Although they are poorly known, the upper Reid River has many waterholes in gorge country of limited accessibility which limits the amount of disturbance to the area. The upper Haughton River itself has few (if any) permanent waterholes but its condition is considered to be typical of Burdekin grazing rangelands. The high rainfall, rainforest-covered Mt. Eliot produces many creeks that drain into the Haughton River, the largest of which is Majors Creek. Many of these are in very good condition in their elevated sections, although they are subject to various forms of degradation once they reach flatter land. Serpentine Lagoon is a major seasonal macrophyte wetland of considerable importance to waterbirds. It has great value and is considered to be in good condition, also recently being subject to rehabilitation grants to reduce surrounding chinee apple infestations (Dowe and Veitch 2007). Two weir pools in the lower Haughton catchment (Giru and Val Bird weirs) provide habitat greatly altered from natural but still quite functional except that they act as fish passage barriers, preventing fish from accessing the considerable habitat of the Haughton catchment (Burrows and Perna 2004).

Because of the intensive agricultural land uses of the lower Haughton catchment, many of the creeks and wetlands have been highly modified from their original state. Modified hydrology, loss of fish passage and riparian vegetation, and domination by aquatic weeds make many of the wetlands of poor quality (BBIFMAC 1999, Tait and Perna 2001, Burrows and Perna 2004). However, some retain significant values, including being listed in the Directory of Important Wetlands in Australia, and with some rehabilitation effort these systems can be healthy and productive ecological systems. This area is a high priority for such investments.

The limnology of four sites within this sub-division (Reid River at Croc Hole, Majors Creek at Rocky waterhole DNRW gauging station, Horseshoe Lagoon) were assessed by Loong et al. (2005) and an additional site (Healeys Lagoon) by Burrows et al. (2006). The condition of riparian vegetation at 17 sites in the lower floodplain reaches of the catchment were assessed by Dowe (2005) who found that condition was generally good except for floodplain sites where hymenachne or para grass had invaded. The fish diversity and fish habitat issues of the Haughton catchment was assessed by Burrows and Perna (2004) who made recommendations about rehabilitation priorities. Subsequent to that evaluation, the aquatic weed management and fish passage issues of Horseshoe and Healey’s Lagoons were investigated by Burrows et al. (2006) and Burrows and Veitch (2007). Healey’s Lagoon is one of the largest yet best condition lagoons on the Burdekin-Haughton floodplain. It has elevated water levels due to it being used to deliver irrigation water to downstream farms, but the extent and condition of its riparian zone is among the best of any lagoon in the region. Its fish diversity is less than expected, this being attributed by Burrows et al. (2006) to water quality-related fish passage issues during flow events. It also suffers from excessive growth of floating weeds, which has been the subject of recent rehabilitation efforts (Burrows et al. 2006). Similarly, Horseshoe Lagoon, a large, formerly seasonal lagoon that now has persistently high and turbid water levels due to input of irrigation tailwater (Tait and Perna 2001, Burrows and Perna 2004) has also been subject to recent aquatic weed control efforts, though the creek that connects this lagoon to its estuary still has significant aquatic weed ( salvinia and water hyacinth) infestations. Burrows and Veitch (2007) attributed the low fish diversity in this lagoon to restricted fish passage, partly from poor water quality during high flow events but more so to physical passage in the form of a road culvert.

Pink Lily is a large shallow, macrophyte-filled wetland that drains into Crooked Creek. Both wetlands have highly modified hydrology, including persistently elevated water levels associated with surrounding agriculture, and although fish diversity is high, habitat quality is considered to be impaired due to excessive weed growth and limiting water quality (Burrows and Perna 2004). Healey’s Lagoon and several creeks emanating from Mt. Elliot (eg, Palm Creek) drain into Reed Beds Lagoon, and then subsequently into Cromarty wetlands complex. Together, these are considered to be some of the best coastal floodplain wetlands in the entire catchment. Reed Beds Lagoon has elevated water levels due to irrigation water inflow and its margins are dominated by para grass and increasingly hymenachne. Despite this, it still retains a high fish diversity and is a major regional barramundi nursery (Burrows and Perna 2004). However, the increasing aquatic weed encroachment is likely to degrade these values. The main land use of the Cromarty wetlands, which is especially well known for its waterbird values, is grazing and despite various weed issues, these wetlands are considered to be in very good condition (Earthworks 2000).

Reference: Assessing the condition of Wetlands in the Burdekin catchment

For more information see Haughton River wetland condition summary

Water

SedNet Modelling of Water Quality

Model results for the Haughton River subcatchment are summarized as follows:

  • Subcatchment modelled area: 2,182 sq. km.
  • Source contributions: Hillslope = 63%; Gully = 6%; Streambank = 31%
  • Area of subcatchment with <50% ground cover: 192 sq. km or 9% of subcatchment
  • Hillslope sediment supply: 760 kg/ha/yr
  • Streambank sediment supply: 374 kg/ha/yr
  • Total suspended sediment (flow weighted) supply: 262 kt/yr
  • Total suspended sediment supply (flow weighted; normalized to area): 1201kg/ha/yr
  • Total suspended sediment end-of-subcatchment (flow weighted) yield: 233 kt/yr
  • Event Mean Concentration (EMC - flow weighted): 654 mg/l
  • Mean Annual Flow: 356,136 ML

Reference: Improved SedNet Modelling of Grazing Land in the Burdekin Catchment

Clearing of natural vegetation for agricultural use has resulted in the Haughton River sub-catchment supplying very high quantities of sediment on a per hectare basis to the River as a result of both hillslope and streambank erosion (760 kg/ha/yr and 374 kg/ha/yr respectively). Total suspended sediment supply from the Haughton subcatchment is considered high (one of the top ten of all 51 subcatchments). Clearing of native vegetation for agricultural land use is likely to have been the cause of these erosional processes and large amount of sediment supply. Only 9% of the sub-catchment shows less than 50% ground cover, however it is probably that this is accounted for by the high levels of non-native agricultural cultivation in this area. Both river flow and event mean concentration of sediments are moderate to high for the Haughton River subcatchment.

Water Quality Monitoring

The monitoring sites in the Haughton River:

  • Upper Haughton River is located next to the Flinders Highway and has been sampled by the ACTFR for 2 years. The catchment area for this monitoring site is 246 sq km, of which 100% is used for grazing.
  • Lower Haughton River is located downstream from the Bruce Highway and has been sampled by the ACTFR for 3 years. The catchment area for this monitoring site is 1,872 sq km, of which 84.9% is used for grazing.
  • Reid River is located at the Flinders Highway and has been sampled by the ACTFR for 3 years. The catchment area for this monitoring site is 519 sq km, of which 96.6% is used for grazing.

Suspended sediment concentrations have been relatively high at the upper Haughton River site (mean concentration of 790 mg/L), intermediate for the lower Haughton River site (mean concentration of 136 mg/L) and low for the Reid River site (mean concentration of 80 mg/L) compared to other catchments in the coastal plain of the Burdekin Region. Oxidised nitrogen concentrations (nitrate + nitrite) have also been relatively high at the upper Haughton site (mean concentration of 646 ug/L), intermediate for the lower Haughton site (mean concentration of 279 ug/L) and low for the Reid River site (115 ug/L). Flow-weighted average annual suspended sediment loads for the lower Haughton River have been calculated at 55,000 tonnes using the monitoring data from the 2004/05, 2005/06 and 2006/07 wet seasons which is considerably lower than the annual load predicted by the SedNet model of 233,000 tonnes. Flow-weighted average annual dissolved inorganic nitrogen loads for the Barratta Creek have been calculated at 120 tonnes using the monitoring data from these three wet seasons.

Several herbicide residues have been detected in the lower Haughton River site including atrazine and diuron which have been detected regularly in the waters while other herbicides including ametryn, hexazinone, 2,4-D, metolachlor and tebuthiuron have been detected with less regularity. All these herbicides, with the exception of tebuthiuron, are sourced to the sugar and horticultural industries. Tebuthiuron is sourced to the grazing industry and has been detected at a sampling site above the influence of sugar and horticulture. Of these herbicides, diuron and atrazine are considered to be of the most concern in the region due the higher concentrations measured compared to the other herbicides. In addition, diuron and atrazine also exceeded set ANZECC guidelines in some samples and have been traced into the adjacent marine environment (Bowling Green Bay). In general, concentrations of most herbicides at the lower Haughton River monitoring site were highest on the rising limb of the flow hydrograph. Loads of 72 kg of atrazine, 63 kg of diuron and 29 kg of 2,4-D were estimated to be exported from the Haughton River catchment in the 2005/06 wet season.


Relevant information of Water Quality Monitoring in the Lower Burdekin River Basin:

Environmental Values

Aquatic Ecosystems

Several areas of the Haughton River subcatchment have been identified as containing High Ecological Value (HEV) waters by the BWQIP ecological values technical panel. These include: (i) upper section of the Reid River catchment extending east to the Mingela State Forest; (ii) the southern and western slopes of the Mount Elliot Section of Bowling Green Bay National Park; (iii) the coastal freshwater and estuarine wetlands contained with the Bowling Green Bay National Park; and (iv) the coastal/marine waters of Bowling Green Bay. The aquatic ecosystems values of most other parts of the subcatchment are considered to be Slightly to Moderately Disturbed (SMD as a consequence of the surrounding land use or because of flow modification. Some freshwater wetlands at the lower end of the subcatchment are identified as Highly Disturbed (HD) due to flow modification and tailwater discharge.

Haughton River subcatchment draft HEV waters

Irrigation

Significant use of water for irrigation of sugar cane. Irrigation for horticulture.

Stock Watering

Water supply for production of healthy livestock.

Human Consumers of Aquatic Food

Fish and shellfish from recreational fishing. Subsistence hunting, fishing and collecting by Juru Traditional Owners.

Secondary Recreation

Recreational fishing and boating: A line delimits the upstream extent of professional fishing in the estuary. No commercial fishing in the river. GBRMPA zoning prevents netting in mouth of estuary.

Visual Recreation

Bird watching, flora, fauna viewing at Cromarty Wetlands

Industrial Use

Use of water for sugar mill.

Drinking Water

Suitability of raw drinking water supply.

Cultural and Spiritual

Traditional values and attributes of use of plant and animal resources by Juru Traditional Owners.

References:

Landuse

Principle land uses within the Haughton River subcatchment as a proportion of total area:

  • Grazing: 71.3%
  • Conservation & minimal use: 18.4%
  • Irrigated sugar: 5.3%
  • Water: 2.6%
  • Irrigated horticulture & cropping: 1.3%
  • Urban & semi urban: Limited urban & semi urban water activity use identified.
  • Dryland agriculture: Limited dryland agriculture water activity use identified.
  • Mining: Limited mining water activity use identified.

Land Condition

Definition of ABCD land condition framework

Results of a Rapid Land Condition Assessment (adopted from Hassett et al. 2000) are presented below. The assessment has been devised to subjectively characterise condition while traversing the BDT region by vehicle. The data are based on a total of 4666 observations across the Burdekin region between 2004 and 2007.

The data were collected to provide independent information on land condition and provide a regional perspective. Resource assessment data are most useful when interpreted with other sources of data e.g. time-series remote sensing, modelling and water quality monitoring.

The estimated condition of the Haughton River sub-catchment is proportioned as follows:

  • A Condition: 0%
  • B Condition: 30%
  • C Condition: 70%
  • D Condition: 0%

Data from the Haughton River sub-catchment is based on 10 observations.

On the basis of the rapid assessment, the Haughton River sub-catchment is estimated to have the largest proportion of land in fair (B) condition (30%), followed by poor (C) condition (70%). Data not available for Good (A) Condition and very poor (D) Condition land.

Ground Cover

Ground Cover in the Haughton River sub-catchment is proportioned as follows:

  • ( BC) Bare Cover: 0%
  • ( LC) Low Cover: 50%
  • ( MC) Moderate Cover: 20%
  • ( HC) High Cover: 30%
  • (VHC) Very High Cover: 0%

Data from the Haughton River sub-catchment are based on 10 observations.

On the basis of the rapid assessment (2004-2007), the Haughton River sub-catchment is estimated to have the highest proportion of land within the low (LC) ground cover category (50%), followed by high (HC) cover (30%). 20% of land was estimated to fall into the moderate cover (MC) category.

Resource Condition Summary

Haughton River is a small to medium sized subcatchment where the major land use is grazing on natural pastures. However, approximately 5% of the land is used for irrigated sugar and 1% for horticulture, while around 18% of the land is set aside for conservation and other minimal use. The riparian habitat of the subcatchment has deteriorated over the last 30 years, principally due to clearing along headwater streams and on the floodplains, and is currently assessed to be in poor (C) condition. The upper Haughton River itself is a dry, sandy watercourse with few (if any) permanent waterholes, whereas its major tributaries contain several significant waterholes and wetlands. Furthermore, the Haughton River floodplain contains one of the greatest concentrations of wetland habitat in the entire Burdekin region. More is known of the creeks and wetlands on the coastal floodplain than in the upper catchment. The condition of streams and wetlands varies greatly; some are in very good condition while others are highly modified and suffer from various forms of degradation.

Hillslope erosion is identified by models as the major source of sediment and particulate nutrients affecting water quality within the Haughton River subcatchment, while streambank erosion is also predicted to contribute substantially to the total sediment load. The rate of soil erosion is predicted to be very high, yet below the Basin average, while the total soil loss from the subcatchment to waterways is comparatively low. There are too few observations to make the rapid assessment of land condition reliable, but observations indicate that there are areas of grazing land in poor (C) condition. However, analysis of ground cover from satelite imagery (reference) shows that while the mean ground cover declined from 95% in 1999 to 77% in 2004, it had recovered again to 91% in 2006.

Water quality in the Haughton River subcatchment is predicted by models to be moderately impacted by suspended sediment during wet season event flows. However, while water quality monitoring data show similar concentrations of sediment leaving Haughton River subcatchment grazing lands, these are markedly reduced to relatively low concentrations in the lower Haughton River subcatchment. Sediment load calculations from monitoring data are much lower than predicted by models. However, disproportionately high dissolved inorganic nitrogen concentrations and loads have been recorded from the Haughton River subcatchment. Several herbicide residues have regularly been detected in the lower Haughton River, including atrazine, diuron and tebuthiuron. Only very few samples of atrazine and diuron exceeded ecosystem health guidelines.

The area of sugar production in the Haughton River subcatchment is identified as a priority focus for improved management practice to reduce fertilizer and herbicide loss to waterways on the basis of the disproportionately high dissolved inorganic nitrogen concentrations and loads, and elevated concentrations of several herbicides that are associated with sugar production.

Draft Environmental Values

Several areas of the Haughton River subcatchment have been identified as containing High Ecological Value (HEV) waters by the BWQIP ecological values technical panel. These include: (i) upper section of the Reid River catchment extending east to the Mingela State Forest; (ii) the southern and western slopes of the Mount Elliot Section of Bowling Green Bay National Park; (iii) the coastal freshwater and estuarine wetlands contained with the Bowling Green Bay National Park; and (iv) the coastal/marine waters of Bowling Green Bay. The aquatic ecosystems values of most other parts of the subcatchment are considered to be Slightly to Moderately Disturbed (SMD) as a consequence of the surrounding land use or because of flow modification. Some freshwater wetlands at the lower end of the subcatchment are identified as Highly Disturbed (HD) due to flow modification and tailwater discharge. The human use Environmental Values of the subcatchment waters are understood to include recreation (swimming, boating & visual appreciation), irrigation, industry, stock watering, human consumption of aquatic food, drinking, and the cultural and spiritual values of the Juru traditional owners

Maps


References

HaughtonRiver.jpg Download Catchment Layer as *.kml (http://earth.google.com/ requires Google Earth).

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