Rivers of Carbon – Caterpillar

Restoring our Rivers – ‘After the Fire’

A completed project funded by The Caterpillar Foundation to enable Greening Australia, the Upper Murrumbidgee Demonstration Reach and the Australian River Restoration Centre to support landholders in the aftermath of the 2020 fires.

By Lucy Stuart

The Black Summer bushfires of 2019/2020 saw mass destruction of thousands of hectares of land in South-eastern Australia. Riparian zones were not exempt from the fall out. The Upper Murrumbidgee River sustained immense damage, with the rains in February 2020 washing large amounts of sediment into the waterway. Although the rain was a much-needed relief for exhausted fire-fighting communities, it created other problems for the environment.  

The consequences of the fires left fish habitat choked, water quality tainted and risking pre-existing river restoration works. The Rivers of Carbon program – Restoring our Rivers ‘After the Fire’ – set out to support local landholders through the installation of erosion structures, willow removal and revegetation, and provision of fish habitat. The area chosen to undertake these activities are known sites for Platypus and the endangered Macquarie Perch. This project was funded by the Caterpillar Foundation and the works were undertaken as a joint effort by Greening Australia, the Upper Murrumbidgee Demonstration Reach and the Australian River Restoration Centre.  

Check out our video detailing the project works and outcomes!

395 Downstream Road was severely fire affected and then a rain event washed out a tributary gully. Released sediment was held back upstream of a road crossing (shown in picture where the people are standing)and severe scouring occurred at the base of the gully below.
The stabilised site with the rock flume at the top and the rock mattress (foreground) that was installed to remediate the scoured gully floor.

The catchments suffered intense burning, changing the chemistry of the soil and becoming water resistant. This factor, along with the lack of remaining vegetation, left the infiltration capacity of the soil at an all-time low. This lack of ground cover and heavy rains saw the Upper Murrumbidgee river run black with ash and sediment.  

The project was unfortunately delayed by COVID-19 and wet weather events, leading to the extension of the project timeframe. Despite the delays, the project was a success. In total, six landholders worked on emergency erosion control and sixteen landholders in the Murrells Crossing area targeted the protecting and restoring riparian habitat with benefits to native species. 

The Murrumbidgee River downstream of Murrells Crossing prior to willow control.
The Murrumbidgee River downstream of Murrells Crossing post willow control.

Key project outcomes:

Emergency erosion control structures
● 21476 tonnes of sediment reduced
● 3 erosion control structures established

Strategic willow control
● 1 tonnes of sediment removed per willow – 100 willows = 100 tonnes
● 57 hectares of habitat protected along river and 303 ha adjoining land
● 30 hectares of willows removed (crown canopy)
● 4 kms of vegetation managed

Fish hotels and habitat structures
● One fish hotel created- fish hotel consists of 2 logs with rootballs to make up one habitat structure.

Logs and machinery for constructing fish habitat.
In stream habitat for fish.
(We) had just dealt with the fire but it seemed that the flood made a bigger mess of the landscape than the fire did in many regards… Then we had Antia from the Upper Murrumbidgee Demonstration Reach project, who recruited people from Local Land Services, Ashley from Soil Con (and also gained funding through the Caterpillar Foundation) which has come to our aid and done an extraordinary amount of work. We are so grateful to them…            – Lyn Sebo (395 Downstream Road)

Here at Rivers of Carbon, we feel extremely grateful to have worked together with the support of Caterpillar Foundation and are thankful for their contribution to the project.

All images are courtesy of Antia Brademann

More from Restoring our Rivers – ‘after the fire’:

Follow the full journey of the project in the links below.

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