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What is ‘Our Living River’?

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Our Living River is a campaign to improve the Parramatta River. Our mission is to make it swimmable by 2025.

Who is behind ‘Our Living River’?

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The Our Living River initiative is being delivered by the Parramatta River Catchment Group (PRCG). The PRCG are a group of councils, government agencies and community groups who are working together to improve the Parramatta River and the creeks that flow into it.

Our financial members include:

  • Blacktown City Council
  • Burwood Council
  • City of Canterbury Bankstown Council
  • City of Canada Bay Council
  • City of Parramatta Council
  • City of Ryde Council
  • Cumberland Council
  • Hunters Hill Council
  • Inner West Council
  • Strathfield Council
  • The Hills Shire Council
  • NSW Environment Protection Authority
  • NSW Department of Planning & Environment
  • Sydney Water

Our associate (non-financial) members include:

  • NSW Department of Primary Industries
  • NSW Office of Environment and Heritage
  • NSW Transport Roads and Maritime Services
  • Greater Sydney Landcare Network
  • Parra Parents
  • Blacktown and District Environment Group
  • Parramatta Park Trust
  • Ryde Hunters Hill Flora and Fauna Preservation Society

What are the goals and targets of Our Living River?

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We have a variety of goals and targets to turn the Parramatta River into a world-class river. They span everything from biodiversity and infrastructure to improved trade and commerce for the catchment areas. Work has already begun on programs to achieve many of the targets.

Read more about our plan to make Parramatta River swimmable again by 2025.

Has this ever been done before?

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Yes, here in Sydney a very similar campaign started in the 1990s, which made all of Sydney’s major ocean beaches swimmable through clean-up initiatives. This included construction of the Northside Storage Tunnel, at a capital cost of $460 million.

There are also many examples internationally, where they are making their local waterways swimmable. For example, the Charles River in Boston and the Copenhagen Harbour are already swimmable, and there are similar plans underway for the River Thames in London.

Also, it is important to remember that up until recently (1950s) there were at least 22 swimming spots along the Parramatta River was swimmable and that it was a bustling hub for water recreation and community events.

Is it really possible?

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Yes it is. You already can swim in and recreationally enjoy parts of the Parramatta River and surrounding creek areas. But for the parts you can’t, 2025 is a target for us to reach for. What is exciting about this campaign is it will improve a lot more than just the river itself; it will also improve public amenities, infrastructure, wetlands and green spaces in and around the river to ensure cleaner water flowing into the river.

We are also already on the way to achieving it. The 11 demonstration sites developed across the catchment show how Water Sensitive Urban Design infrastructure can be integrated into the landscape to save drinking water and reduce pollutant run-off into the river.

Read more about examples of Water Sensitive Urban Design across the catchment.

We have also seen other major cities around the world achieve it, and are gaining insights from them on how they did it. Learn more about other living rivers around the world.

With the population of those living close to the Parramatta River or its catchment projected to increase by 36% over the next 20 years, providing additional facilities and opportunities for this rapidly growing area is essential. We need to be proactive to ensure that all new developments incorporate river-friendly designs and help support our living river and are working to have this incorporated into all Development Control Plans across the catchment.

Here is the range of other benefits:

  • Better public amenities: As the Parramatta River improves, the amenities in and around the river, plus the creeks that flow into it, will improve as well. Better infrastructure means better access and enjoyment for all.
  • Greater liveability: A healthier river means better air quality, biodiversity and improved access to enjoyable, healthy, recreational activities such as swimming and fishing.
  • Healthy living: If you can swim in a river you can introduce new forms of exercise to your life, making a community healthier. Also more time spent in and near nature can reduce stress and improve mental health.
  • Social connection: Swimming and other recreational water sports are a very popular pastime for many Australians, which can foster more community connectedness through fun and safe activities everyone can enjoy.
  • Biodiversity: A cleaner river and creeks that flow into it means more life – fish, platypus, and other marine animals and greenery will flourish.
  • Business opportunities: As an area becomes more desirable, so does having a business in that area. This means increased economic potential and more jobs.
  • Increased property value: Having a cleaner river and creeks with enjoyable and accessible open public spaces closer to where you live will increase the value and attractiveness of your property.

What is the benefit for Council areas and their residents that don’t have a river foreshore?

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The mission will have a different meaning and value for each Council. For those who have river foreshore, the benefits will likely be around being able to use the river to use for recreational activities and having a cleaner river. Within the broader catchment, the benefits could include cleaner creeks, improved cycleways and pathways providing access to the creeks and rivers, increased funding from other agencies and businesses to conduct catchment works, increased housing prices due to proximity to more naturalised creeks, wetlands and green spaces and improved access to natural swimming locations and other recreational activities.

Aren't there bull sharks in the river?

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As a keystone species, the presence of bull sharks in the river is an indication of improving water quality and a healthy ecosystem. We have developed a comprehensive Swim Site Activation Framework as part of the Parramatta River Masterplan where all risks are considered for each proposed swim site. The final design will differ for each site and may include shark nets and or a purpose-built swimming enclosure.

Why would you want to swim in a river when you could swim at an ocean beach?

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So many reasons! Swimming in the Parramatta River is a lot closer to home for many Western suburbs residents than the nearest ocean beach. Some people also enjoy the less sandy environment of river swimming, plus the fact that often river settings are more closely aligned with their natural environment and surrounded by greenery. Also, we know many people enjoy river swimming because it can be a bit quieter than some of the crowded ocean beaches and they can escape the crowds.

How much is it going to cost to make the river swimmable?

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The costs and also timeframes vary according to different projects. In the short term, we are prioritising key projects as outlined in the Coastal Zone Management Plan and Council Stormwater Management Plans.  We are working with a range of different councils and NSW State Government agencies in terms of funding for these projects.

The Our Living River campaign will require significant ongoing local government and community coordination. Part of that coordination will be prioritising areas that have the best chance of short-term improvements to take them to swimmable and aligning this closely with community demands. Longer term, many upstream areas will be more complicated to improve and require different strategies.

Installing water quality improvement systems during site developments is much cheaper than trying to build them into the landscape afterwards, hence we are working to ensure that all new developments are regulated to ensure that they have rainwater tanks and/or other water sensitive design features embedded.

What do you mean by a ‘living’ river?

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Living doesn’t just refer to biodiversity but also all the other activities on the river that positively add to our health, wellbeing and community engagement.

Can I swim and use the river now?

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Yes. There are a number of areas where you can already swim and enjoy recreationally. Go to where can I swim now for details on the four Parramatta River swimming sites and see our interactive map for information on other recreational opportunities around the river and the creeks that flow into.


How long will it take?

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You don’t have to wait as you can already swim right now! Currently, there are four sites where you can swim in the Parramatta River.

For the areas where you can’t yet swim, timeframes vary depending how difficult each site is to revitalise. Go to Our Plan for the River for more information.

Why are some areas swimmable and not all?

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For a variety of different reasons some parts of the Parramatta River are completely safe to swim in, but other places need some care and attention over coming years to make them swimmable again. This can be due to storm water run-off, sewer overflows, litter or other environmental issues.

The areas in and around the river are highly urbanised and unfortunately do mean that pollutants from our streets, homes and workplaces end up in our waterways. Working to ensure that growth in the Parramatta River catchment area is undertaken in a way that helps make our river more swimmable is a key focus for the PRCG.

Can you get sick from swimming in the river?

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Not if you swim in an area that is approved for swimming and check the Beachwatch website to confirm it is safe for swimming on that day. Like the beaches, river swimming sites are usually unsafe for swimming for several days after heavy rains. Check out our interactive map to see where you can safely swim right now.

What would happen if someone swam in an unswimmable part of the river right now?

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If you swim in a part of the river where it is advised that you don’t swim there is a chance of getting unwell (gastroenteritis), among other things (e.g. shark bites, injury from physical hazards).

How do you determine if it is swimmable or not? Who controls the ratings for health and safety?

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The National Health and Medical Research Council provides a tool for water safety ratings and, together with the NSW Government’s Beachwatch Program, this is what determines which areas are swimmable or not.  The approved swimming sites are regularly monitored by Beachwatch to ensure they adhere to the NH&MRC (2008) Guidelines for managing risks in recreational water.


What happens when it rains?

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Just as you shouldn’t swim in an ocean beach for approximately three days after a storm, due to poor water quality, it is the same for a river.

How are you going to manage the influx of people that will suddenly start using the swimmable parts of the river as a result of this campaign?

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The Western suburbs of Sydney are currently seeing massive growth, with the population of the Parramatta River catchment increasing by 36% over the next couple of decades. As this continues the need for improved infrastructure and amenities will be needed. The councils within the Parramatta River Catchment Group are prepared to monitor community usage of swimming areas on the river and put forward adaptation strategies to work with communities and to manage increased usage.

How can I get involved?

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Stay updated on progress by signing up to our e-newsletter, following us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, or joining the Riverkeeper Network.