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Merri Creek Stream Team Waterwatch Group

Merri Creek, about 30 m upstream from the St Georges Road bridge, Westgarth

Waterwatch is a program that turns Darebin community members into citizen scientists who monitor and report on the health of their waterways.

The Waterwatch Program in Darebin has been operating successfully in Darebin for over ten years and is run by the Merri Creek Management Committee (MCMC) in partnership with Darebin City Council.

It is a public program that welcomes community volunteers and provides them with training to be able to perform water quality monitoring at one of four creek monitoring sites. These sites cover the Darebin, Merri and Edgars creeks. Monthly water quality data is collected from each site by one of four different Waterwatch groups.

Waterwatch also runs regular community events, such as the Frogs on Wheels Bike Ride, Friends of Edwardes Lake Frog Walk and Talk, Robinson Reserve Planting Day and Merri’s Magical Morning.

The Merri Creek Stream Team Waterwatch Group currently has 11 community volunteer members who meet on the first Sunday of each month at 2pm a Merri Creek site about 30m upstream of the St Georges Road bridge in Westgarth.

Outcomes

  • Educated and engaged community
  • Better understanding of Darebin Creek and other local waterways
  • Long-term creek health data available to guide management of Darebin Creek
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Project details

WHAT DO VOLUNTEERS MONITOR?

Water temperature

The plants and animals in the creek have evolved to live within a certain range of temperatures. If the water becomes unusually warm or cool, many of them will die. If temperature change happens over a long period of time, the type of plants and animals living in the creek may change. If water becomes much warmer than usual, the risk of harmful nutrient overload is more likely, salinity is likely to get higher and oxygen levels lower (see below for more information).

pH

How acidic or basic water is (pH) affects the health of aquatic plants and animals. Creek water should be fairly neutral (not overly acidic or basic). If pH levels become unusually high or low, some aquatic animals will not develop or breed normally. If water becomes very acidic it can burn the skin of fishes.

Dissolved oxygen levels

Fish living in the creek need oxygen levels to remain within a certain range to survive. Too much oxygen in the water can affect their blood flow, whereas too little oxygen in the water can kill large numbers of fish in just a few hours.

Turbidity (murkiness or muddy-ness)

If creek water is too turbid (unclear), aquatic plants don’t receive the sunlight they need to grow.

Electrical conductivity

By testing how easily electricity can pass through water, we can tell how much salt is in the water (the water’s salinity). If there is too much salt in the water, fresh-water plants and animals find it hard to survive.

Phosphorus levels

Too much of the chemical phosphorus in water can lead to excessive growth of aquatic plants or algal blooms, which can choke waterways and starve them of oxygen. Some algal blooms can also be toxic to humans and other animals

Ammonia levels

Too much ammonia (a gas that easily dissolves in water) is toxic to fish and other aquatic wildlife. When ammonia is present in water at high enough levels, it is difficult for aquatic organisms to excrete it, this can lead to toxic buildup in their bodies, and potentially death.

Macroinvertebrates

Each month, the Merri Creek Stream Team Waterwatch Group also assess the types and numbers of aquatic macroinverterbrates present in the creek. Macroinvertebrates are animals that are big enough to be seen without a microscope and don’t have a spine, such as insects, crabs, snails and worms.

The group also photographs the creek monthly and assesses its habitat value (how well it provides homes for plants and animals) once each year.

PROGRAM DETAILS

Coordination of Waterwatch Volunteers

Waterwatch is a Melbourne-wide program funded by the Victorian State Government and local councils. The Darebin Waterwatch program is administered by the Merri Creek Management Committee. In Darebin, we have a Waterwatch Program Coordinator, who:

  • Works with Darebin City Council to plan and run community waterway education events
  • Works with Darebin City Council to promote conservation and protection of our waterways
  • Raises awareness and understanding of local waterway issues
  • Provides water quality monitoring training and equipment to Waterwatch volunteers
  • Helps to connect all levels of government, private business and the community to care for our waterways
  • Oversees Waterwatch monitoring on the Darebin, Merri and Edgars creeks

What else does Waterwatch do?

Waterwatch Community Events
A number of community events are put on by Waterwatch each year. The purpose of the events is to engage and educate the community and to recruit new volunteers. Recent events have included the Frogs on Wheels Bike Ride along Darebin Creek, the Frog Census nights at Edwardes Lake and Edgars Creek, Merri’s Magical Morning at the Merri Creek and a waterbug display at the Darebin Kite Festival at Edwardes Lake.

Training
New Waterwatch community volunteers attend free training days to learn how to use water monitoring equipment. Once trained the volunteers can join an existing Waterwatch group or form a new group.

Data Collection
Waterwatch groups meet once a month to conduct water quality testing. Data is always collected from the same sites so that monitoring results can be compared to previous results and changes and trends can be identified.

Data Sharing
Data collected by Waterwatch groups, including Merri Creek Stream Team Waterwatch Group, is uploaded to the Waterwatch online portal, where it is freely available for anyone to view, download and use.

How can I get involved with Waterwatch?

There are many different ways that you can volunteer your time, energy and enthusiasm with Waterwatch, and the program welcomes all new volunteers.

The Darebin Waterwatch program is administered by the Merri Creek Management Committee. Volunteer recruitment and a comprehensive water quality monitoring training session is run once a year for those wishing to get involved in the program. To find more information on getting involved and when the next training sessions will be hosted, get in touch with the Merri Creek Waterwatch Coordinator here.

 

If you would like to volunteer directly with the Merri Creek Stream Team, please email their primary contact Irene Baker.

You can also visit the Waterwatch website here to contact a Waterwatch coordinator outside of Darebin.

Some of the Darebin Waterwatch and ‘Friends of’ groups have their own websites too:

Funding

The Darebin Waterwatch program depends on financial support from Darebin City Council to enable the delivery of education and engagement activities in the catchments of the Darebin, Edgars and Merri creeks. In the year of 2016-17, Darebin City Council provided $14,645 to the Waterwatch program.

Melbourne Water also provides support for Waterwatch monitoring and training events.

WATERWATCH BENEFITS

How does Waterwatch benefit the community?

Waterwatch is a community education and engagement program connecting local communities with river health and sustainable water management issues. The program aims to improve the community’s understanding, participation and ownership of local river health issues. It involves schools and the community in water testing, water bug identification and other water monitoring activities.

Darebin’s creeks provide the community with natural, green spaces in an otherwise urban area. Studies have shown that public open space in urban areas can increase levels of physical activity in the community and have mental health benefits, which can help to reduce healthcare costs (Parks Victoria, 2017). They also provide the opportunity for people to see a variety of wildlife not usually found in urban areas, some of which are threatened or endangered.

The Waterwatch program brings people together to take part in monitoring and community events. Through Waterwatch, the community is supported and encouraged to become actively involved in the conservation and protection of local waterways.

Waterwatch Aims:

  • Increase community awareness and understanding of the importance of river health issues.
  • Increase community participation and involvement in river health activities.
  • Foster greater community engagement and ownership of local waterways.
  • Involve communities in the monitoring of their local waterways.
  • Establish partnerships and develop collaborative projects to conserve and protect waterway health.
  • Use information gathered by local Waterwatch groups to identify solutions to improve the health of local waterways.
  • Encourage local communities to become actively involved in the implementation of projects to improve the health of local waterways.

How does Waterwatch benefit the environment?

Many native animals call the creeks and lakes of Darebin home – such as platypus, rakali (native water rat), frogs, fish (such as the common galaxias) and birds (such as the sacred kingfisher). Some native animals found in our waterways are rare or endangered. Darebin waterways flow into the Yarra River and eventually into Port Phillip Bay, so the quality of water in our creeks can affect the health of wildlife far downstream and even in the ocean. Understanding, conserving and protecting our waterway environments is important for these reasons.

Waterwatch volunteers provide monthly monitoring data for five creek sites across Darebin.  This data allows us to better understand our creek environments and the conditions required for creek ecosystems (plants, animals and their habitats) to stay healthy. This knowledge helps guide us to manage our creeks and catchments sustainably.

Waterwatch monitoring also helps alert us to changes in our creeks that could have negative impacts on wildlife, such as water pollution. In the past, Waterwatch volunteers have found some areas of our creeks to be pollution ‘hot spots’ and have organised clean-ups to help improve these areas.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

Acknowledgements

Darebin City Council acknowledges the Wurundjeri people as the traditional owners and custodians of this land and pays respect to their Elders past and present.

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Copyright Darebin City Council 2017.
This project has been assisted by the Victorian Government through
Melbourne Water Corporation as part of the Living Rivers Stormwater Program.
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