River assessments tailored to south-west WA


South-west rivers

The Healthy Rivers program covers the diverse range of rivers through the south-west of WA, from Jurien Bay in the north to Esperance in the south-east.

River assessments are typically focused on rivers that flow most years and retain permanent water in at least some parts of the system. This includes all of our regulated rivers (typically those dammed or diverted for drinking water or irrigation. For more information, go to our pages on water allocation planning).

The value of rivers

A properly functioning river ecosystem supporting native biodiversity, is a critical part of cultural and spiritual values for many people. It also ensures a healthy environment for recreation and provides water for social and economic uses.

Identifying and assessing 'values' of our rivers was a key component in designing Healthy Rivers' assessments.

The program focuses heavily on the intrinsic environmental values of rivers, particularly the diverse, unique and often rare biodiversity – which contributes to the south-west being listed as one of 35 world biodiversity hot-spots

Preserving biodiversity, including habitat requirements, helps protect the ecological health of our river ecosystems and the benefits that healthy rivers provide.

A properly functioning river ecosystem not only provides clean water for drinking and domestic use, but also water for agriculture and industry and for maintaining public spaces, such as sports grounds.

It also allows movement of water through the landscape for irrigation, drainage and flood management.

Other benefits of a properly functioning river ecosystem include:

  • opportunities for commercial fishing and aquaculture,
  • pathways for transport of goods and passengers,
  • recreation industries (for example, walking, boating, tourist attraction)
  • control of pests (for example, mosquito larvae eaten by native fish)
  • increased property values due to amenity and visual appeal
  • significant cultural and spiritual values
  • refuges for terrestrial animals in times of drought, and as corridors for dispersal

Waterways also provide places to relax surrounded by natural beauty and, for many people, a sense of place and identity.

South-west waterways have always been a focal point, with more than 80 per cent of our population living or working around waterways.


Our changing environment

With increasing development and associated demand for water, and reduced rainfall, higher temperatures and extreme weather events due our changing climate, plus people's desire to live close to waterways, our rivers are under considerable and growing threat.

The Healthy Rivers program was designed to target known pressures and associated stressors on our river systems, and to enable the detection of new issues.

Some key common threats to our waterways are:

  • altered flow regimes due to changing climate and human uses (both drying and loss of high flows)
  • reduced catchment and streamside vegetation
  • invasion of exotic species
  • degradation of aquatic habitat
  • poor water quality (particularly eutrophication, secondary salinisation, low dissolved oxygen and contaminants)
  • barriers to movement of aquatic fauna.

Without intervention, these threats can have significant consequences for the economic, social and environmental values of our waterways (see examples in the graphic provided).

To learn more about how our river health assessments were designed to capture the range of values and threats (including unforeseen ones), and the unique characteristics of south-west systems, go to our Assessments pages.