Beautiful Banrock Station was the location for an inspiring and positive meeting this week, the Nature Foundation SA Water For Nature Exchange. A group of wetland managers, NGO staff, agency staff, researchers and landholders tried not to be distracted by the magnetic view over the vibrant Banrock wetlands, while sharing information about how lessons learned on how environmental water is being delivered to many wetland sites in the South Australian River Murray Valley.
After the formal presentations, the group visited beautiful Riversleigh Lagoon just downstream of Weir & Lock No 2, to view the impressive environmental response to filling of the dry wetland in January 2016, with a top-up in May-June. This left the wetland still half-full this spring, and it is now filling naturally as a result of river levels being raised by water managers to increase the beneficial effect of currently rising flood flows. Hosts John & Bronwyn Burford proudly shared their story, of the concerns which led to them seeking environmental water, and the physical work they and their son Kristian did to get the first pumps in place last January. The waterbirds and frogs returned immediately, following the water into the wetland. After nine months, the stressed mature red gums and black box are slowly recovering, and the majestic ancient red gums lining the western cliff edge of the lagoon are promising a bumper flowering season in coming summer months.
Next day it was the turn of Roger and Raelene Schmitke and their grandson Luke Frost to show off the results from their watering efforts at Ramco River Terrace and near the Waikerie Ferry. Visitors were visibly impressed to hear just how many hours of physical effort has been involved, including the invaluable contributions of the Waikerie Mens’ Shed, repairing and maintaining irrigation equipment and helping to shift sprinklers to new sites. They stood at a photopoint where the background marker trees have almost disappeared behind the forest of strongly growing saplings, now more than 2 metres tall.
Liz and Clint Frankel were our hosts for tours of the Yarra Creek wetland, with Clint ferrying visitors across the river and guiding walks around the Yarra Creek watering site. Waikerie Rotary Club prepared a delicious lunch, and Regina gave a presentation how to access the frog-spotter app, so that we can all contribute to frog data, all in the beautiful setting of Liz & Clint’s art studio with its theme of sustainable river management, and looking out across the river valley. Liz & Clint, as well as landholder Kym Taylor, have put in a major effort to deliver and top up fuel in the pumps for three months in order to water a series of cascading lignum swamps through the summer. The current flood has now risen to meet the level of the watered swamps, so the whole floodplain complex will receive water within 12 months.
It is the passionate volunteers who make these environmental watering projects happen, taking care of the logistics of setting up and moving pumps, hoses and sprinklers, and keeping fuel up to the pumps — people like John, Bronwyn & Christian Burford at Riversleigh, Roger & Raelene Schmitke, Luke Frost and the Waikerie Mens’ Shed at Ramco and Waikerie Ferry, and Liz & Clint Frankel and Kym Taylor at Yarra Creek. All of these people have been nominated as Water For Nature Champions for 2016, the second year of these awards.
This Water For Nature Exchange was an amazingly positive meeting, covering two days with everyone enjoying themselves outdoors in the wetlands, exchanging stories and networking madly! Even the weather cooperated, after weeks of storms and rain. It was one of those events to lift the spirits of everyone who cares about the health of the River Murray!