PLANNED rehabilitation for Ballina Shire's creeks, estuaries and rivers could lead to improved health in the shire's polluted waterways within the next five years.
Ballina Shire Council's sustainable programs coordinator Suzanne Acret is heading up the Health Waterways program, which is partly funded by a temporary rate rise for the 2017/18 financial year and State Government grants totalling about $500,000.
Sustained damage from introduced carp, farming and urban stormwater run-off into the river means "a layered approach” with other councils and other stakeholders over many years would be needed to rehabilitate the Richmond catchment.
Earlier this week, Ms Acret was invited to embark on a boat trip along North Creek by owner of Steinhardt Oysters Geoff Lawler aimed at emphasising its poor condition.
Councillor Keith Williams and OzFish Ballina's John Larson were also on board for the trip, which Ms Acret described as a "recky” in preparation for upcoming research to help formulate a North Creek coastal management plan under the program.
Cr Williams said the trip "felt like the beginning” of a road to recovery for North Creek and the shire's waterways.
Ms Acret said the council wanted to implement a permanent program to systematically restore the health of the region's waterways over the next several years.
But she said on-going funding to run the program relied on a permanent special rate variation to be approved by the state's Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal (IPART).
The application to raise the shire's general rates will be discussed at this month's council meeting.
Meanwhile, Ms Acret said the program's focus is to revegetate areas upstream of the Richmond River catchment.
Under the initiative, she said revegetation works to start soon at Marom and Magurires Creek as well as the Chickiba Creek wetlands that connect onto North Creek would build on previous rehabilitation efforts.
She said if those upper catchments were fully revegetated now, improvements to water quality, riparian vegetation as well as bed and bank stability could be identified with 12-18 months.
Realistically, Ms Acret predicted those smaller catchments could be fully revegetated over the next five years. She said increasing the health of the 170km long Richmond River could take decades' of work.
"It's not going to be how it was pre-European (settlement), we've all come in and we all live here now,” she said.
"We can still have a healthy ecosystem with us all living here it can be productive from a farming point of view and have all urban development too.”
Mr Lawler, an oyster grower in Ballina for more than 20 years, said he was "disappointed that its taken this long to get something happening”.
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