Sheep Station Creek - Burdekin Delta Catchment

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Overview

Sheep Station Creek is a floodplain tributary of the lower Burdekin River which has been highly modified due to its use as a distribution network for turbid Burdekin River water pumped into the creek system to provide shallow groundwater aquifer recharge and surface water resources for sugar cane irrigation. The coastal floodplain of Sheep Station Creek has also been historically used as cattle grazing country. To enhance grass growth for cattle production, large areas of tidally influenced coastal drainage depressions were bunded off during the 1950’s to form seasonally ponded pastures and to protect coastal freshwater resources including shallow groundwater aquifers, from tidal intrusion (Percy Jack, pers. comm.). Most of these bunded pondages are still in place today and are now more perennial due to the near continual discharge of regulated flow tailwater to the lower catchment.

Aquatic Ecosystem

Aquatic ecosystem impacts driven by altered hydrology and water quality associated with intensive use of the creek’s land and water resources include elevated sediment and nutrient loads, loss of dry season zero flow periods, lack of seasonal waterhole draw down, loss of riparian vegetation, eutrophication and proliferation of submerged, floating and emergent aquatic plants including both native (i.e. cumbungi) and exotic weed species. Agricultural expansion has also resulted in the removal of grazing from much of the stream’s riparian corridor, contributing to the uncontrolled growth of introduced pasture grasses and compounding other catchment management changes (Tait and Perna 2001).

Fish Habitat

Fish habitat and water quality in Sheep Station Creek has been studied for at least 7 years since a pilot project on water hyacinth removal in Payards Lagoon (Jones, 2001). Bohl et al. (2002) found that irrigation water flowing under a weed mat of mostly water hyacinth in Payards Lagoon suffered significant depletion of dissolved oxygen and Perna (2003a) detailed how such poor water quality impacted fish populations. Removal of weed biomass in Payards Lagoon resulted in almost immediate improvements in levels of dissolved oxygen in the water (Bohl et al., 2002; Perna and Burrows, 2005) and a gradual recruitment and expansion of native fish populations from adjacent remnant habitat (Perna, 2003). Similar studies on weed removal at other sites both in the Burdekin and other areas of coastal north Queensland (Veitch et al., 2007) have produced similar results. Wherever floating weeds such as water hyacinth have been removed, water quality improves rapidly and fish assemblages begin to recover if recruitment sources are available (Perna and Burrows, 2005; Burrows and Perna, 2004; Veitch and Burrows 2006; Veitch and Burrows, 2007).

Spatial Data

High resolution aerial photography was captured over the majority of Sheep Station Creek in August 2010.

References

Cumbungi on Sheepstation Creek.jpg
Typha on Sheep Station Creek 2007 © NQ Dry Tropics

Sheepstation ck fish ladder8.JPG
Fish Ladder on Sheep Station Creek 2009 © NQ Dry Tropics

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