Ecological and Indigenous values of south-western Australian rivers

Project start date: 01/03/2023
Project end date: 31/12/2026
NESP funding: $550,000 (GST-exclusive)

Protection of rivers is a priority for federal and state governments. River systems across Australia face multiple threats, including climate change, extreme events, water extraction, altered land use and invasive species. Rivers in south-western Western Australia have already been affected by dryland salinisation and a drying climate. As freshwater availability declines in the region, we need to understand the importance of key flows for animals and plants, at both catchment and regional scales. This project is undertaking targeted research on the environmental and Indigenous water needs of rivers in south-western Western Australia, resulting in improved water management that incorporates ecological and Indigenous values.

Donnelly River
The swimming dam in the upper Donnelly River. Photo: David Steele/Adobe Stock.

The Donnelly River catchment has been identified as a priority system by water managers from the Western Australian Department of Water and Environmental Regulation and will be the focus area for research. The catchment is a refuge for freshwater animals, including at least 5 threatened species of fish and shellfish.

A hydro-socio-ecological (HSE) model, developed in the Kimberley region of Western Australia, will be applied to the Donnelly River. Applying the HSE model to this catchment will provide a framework to support water managers to protect ecological and Indigenous values of the river.

The Donnelly catchment represents an ideal case study to assess the transferability of the HSE model to rivers in south-western Western Australia. Systematic consideration of ecological impacts and the engagement of the appropriate Indigenous people and organisations to guide inclusion of Indigenous values will result in holistic flow-ecology relationships, recommendations for water managers, targeted information for the conservation of threatened species and a HSE model specific to the rivers of south-western Western Australia.

Key research areas

To address these challenges and determine environmental and Indigenous water needs for rivers of south-western Western Australia, this project is:

  • reviewing published information on ecological and Indigenous values to develop a preliminary HSE model
  • targeting ecological research to address knowledge gaps
  • collaborating to identify key Indigenous values
  • producing management recommendations and a final model.
  • The swimming dam in the upper Donnelly River. Photo: David Steele/Adobe Stock.
  • Swimming dam in the upper Donnelly River. Photo: David Steele/Adobe Stock.
  • The Donnelly River in south-western Western Australia will be the focus of this project. Image: Resilient Landscapes Hub.