Regional distribution and significance of stream turbidity in Victoria

Watson, D 2006, Regional distribution and significance of stream turbidity in Victoria, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), Mathematical and Geospatial Sciences, RMIT University.

Document type: Thesis
Collection: Theses

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Title Regional distribution and significance of stream turbidity in Victoria
Author(s) Watson, D
Year 2006
Abstract This thesis investigates the distribution and significance of stream turbidity in Victoria; specifically exploring the factors that may have influenced the pattern of regional variation in turbidity, and factors that give it significance in the regional, social, cultural and environmental context.

The limits to water availability are set, not only by the quantity of water in storages or streams but, more fundamentally, by acceptable levels of water quality and catchment health. To make effective judgements of water availability managers of water resources need to know the significance of measured natural resource condition in the regional context.

Stream turbidity can be considered by the agricultural community as a sign of soil erosion and a loss of agricultural potential, while from the ecological perspective it can be considered a sign of deteriorating river health. Fundamentally, levels of turbidity are closely bound with land use practice and, in the Australian context, turbidity can be considered a measure of the consequences of land management practices on soil erosion and run-off.

Measured levels of turbidity in Victoria should be interpreted within the context of a unique history and geography. The spread of European colonisation and the introduction of massive land use change to the Victorian landscape have meant that over most of Victoria current levels of turbidity reflect the effects of over a hundred and fifty years of large scale intervention with its controlling factors.

In Victoria current levels of turbidity are interpreted in a cultural context far different from that of early colonists or even of a few decades ago. The concept of Ecologically Sustainable Development which has dominated natural resource management in recent times brings new responsibilities to resource managers. Ecologically sustainable management means that resources must be considered in a more inclusive spatial and temporal context.

In the early stage of Victoria's history sustainable management of water meant having enough water left from winter rains to supplement summer supply. However, in recent years, it has begun to have more complex associations; sustainable water use is now, almost universally considered to include maintenance of the environmental health of waterways, and by implication, the environmental health of the whole catchment. In this context, stream turbidity can be considered a useful indicator of catchment health, in particular, because levels of turbidity bear a direct physical relationship to catchment processes.

New tools are needed to explore the relationship between land use and water quality at the regional scale. The results of this current research include a regional statistical model of stream turbidity, which is conceptually designed to offer useful predictions of stream turbidity and underpin sustainable resource management. The statistical model was used as input to the development of a unique map display using Geographic Information Systems (GIS). The GIS is used to display the distribution of model predictions over a large region of south-eastern Australia.

The practical advantage of this modelling approach is that it provides managers with the ability to identify locations in Victoria where measured water quality differs significantly from modelled water quality and flag them for further investigation.

The major project outputs are a map of Victorian Water Quality Monitoring Network (VWQMN) catchments showing catchments in Victoria where measured turbidity differs from model predictions and a raster representation of the state of Victoria in which cell values indicate predicted stream turbidity. Important to this project was the novel use of GIS technology to process large national and regional scale digital data sets using tools developed for catchment scale hydrological models.
Degree Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Institution RMIT University
School, Department or Centre Mathematical and Geospatial Sciences
Keyword(s) Stream ecology -- Victoria -- Management
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