Background research

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Water Quality

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The Parramatta River is one of the most modified waterways in Australia, due to a highly urbanised catchment and high population. Contamination of the river by chemical and microbial substances stretches back to European colonisation. Today, the river continues to be polluted from industry, municipal waste, urban stormwater and sewage systems.

When considering human contact with the water, there are varying risk levels, depending on the water quality. We have undertaken a series of technical studies to understand the:

  • Contaminants we need to monitor to assess suitability for recreational contact.
  • Condition of the river now and as it changes over time.
  • Potential water quality improvement from local and catchment scale intervention.

What should we monitor?

We have scoped a comprehensive Riverwatch monitoring program for the Parramatta River, which outlines what, how and when we need to monitor.

We recommend monitoring be undertaken in a staged approach:

  1. Screening of heavy metals, dioxins, PAHs, PCBs, surfactants and pesticides in sediments, ground water and surface water.
  2. On sites that pass stage 1, performance monitoring over at least 2-3 years, using current Beachwatch approach (enterococci) as well as source tracking monitoring (Bacteroides and faecal bacteriophages).
  3. Routine monitoring and public reporting.

Read our technical report on “How should water quality be assessed in the Parramatta River?“.

What is the river like now?

There are four current swim sites along the Parramatta River that are monitored and publicly reported by Beachwatch. There has been little to no monitoring at other proposed swimming sites. However, our modelling work suggests that water quality is likely already suitable for swimming at many of these sites.

Initial sediment screening is underway at six proposed swimming sites. Further monitoring of other contaminants will then be required prior to any new sites being considered feasible for swimming.

Find out more about the existing and proposed swimming sites.

Ecological Health

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A living river means many things. Our mission includes seeing the Parramatta River become a river that is packed with life and healthy ecosystems, where plants and animals can flourish in the water and surrounding environments.

We identified five iconic species from the Parramatta River catchment that were chosen by community, and whose presence and habitat requirements link to the goal to make the river swimmable.

These five iconic species represent the range of environmental domains in the catchment, terrestrial, riparian, freshwater and estuarine habitats, and the communities they are part of. These icons are the centre of ecological action in the Masterplan and will be used as indicators of the health of our local waterways and catchment and our progress to making more areas safe for natural swimming.

Learn more about our five iconic species.

Community Research

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We need to understand how the community feel about swimming in the Parramatta River and what it means to them, so we can establish active, well used swimming spots that meet community wants and needs.

We asked over 1100 residents from across the 11 local government areas in the Parramatta River catchment about their current behaviour around water, barriers to swimming in the river, preferences for swimming site activation and appetite for recreation in the Parramatta River.

The research confirmed that there is a high demand for a more convenient natural swimming location for people living in the catchment. Residents also highlight the importance of sites as more than places just to swim, but as recreational destinations.

Swim Site Activation

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Swim Site Framework

There are several characteristics that impact the feasibility and success of a location as an active swimming site. To understand the potential for activating swim sites along the river, and what options are available for each specific swim site, a decision framework has been developed.

This site activation framework provides guidance on the potential for activation and what type of activation can be achieved at a site.

Swim Site Feasibility

Feasibility criteria are used to determine what type of river site activation options are possible at different sites along the river. They include ecological restrictions, boat traffic, water quality, water depth and publicly available land.

Swim Site Vulnerability

Vulnerability criteria are used to determine the risk at a site when considering activation. They are broadly based on the Guidelines for Managing Risks in Recreational Waters and include water quality, water clarity, river dynamics, river bed physical hazards, river bed and edge characteristics and heritage. To explore this risk in more detail, Royal Life Saving has conducted detailed risk assessments at two representative swimming sites along the river – Little Coogee and Kissing Point Park.

Swim Site Desirability

Desirability relates to urban form elements which impact the overall swim site appeal and how often people are likely to visit and spend time at the site. Desirability characteristics include access and movement, adjacent open space, natural environment, built form and aesthetics, governance and implementation and community demand.

We have conducted community focus groups at each proposed new swimming site to have them assess each site for current and future desirability.

Waterway Governance

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To successfully implement the Masterplan actions and achieve our mission, we will all need to do our part.

To take the Masterplan forward, some of the key recommendations from this review were:

  • map existing governance structures around waterway management, ecological health and the management of swimming sites
  • identify gaps in the current structure; and
  • recommend key steps needed to progress the Masterplan forwards.