River indicator project



The Otway Barham Catchment Landcare Group endorsed at its 2005 AGM held on January 15th 2006, to have as its primary goal, the ‘health of the Barham River from source to sea.’ All activities of the Landcare Group will be initiated and referenced to this goal. To this end, our Landcare Group is in the process of developing an innovative River Indicator Proposal that will facilitate collaboration and the re-alignment of all stakeholders towards a single aim.

Project Description

To underpin the capacity of community engagement, it is proposed to install an indicator, in Apollo Bay, that will publicly display the health of the Barham River. It would be located in a prominent position in the town. It will be visual, simple to read, and will display (in real time) both the changes in quality and flow rates of the river.

Current Situation

The Otways has a predominantly winter rainfall which drains to the sea via a series of small rivers. One of these is the Barham River, from which the town of Apollo Bay draws its water. Development pressure in the town and hinterland, along with increased tourism, have led to concerns about water shortages and the quality of the river water. This has resulted in an interim declaration of a Special Water Supply Catchment Area. However, the health of the Barham River and its catchment is central to the health of three communities of interest:

  1. those who live and work in the town, Apollo Bay, and consume its water.
  2. those that live, work, and visit the catchment area of the river.
  3. the native flora and fauna and endagered species that depend on the health of the river and its catchment for their survival.

Separate intitiatives address partial aspects of the health of the river but they are neither aligned with a clear goal, nor strongly integrated.

  • The Otway Barham Catchment Landcare Group now measures its achievments against the health of the river as a whole.
  • Barwon Water provide water to the town as a product and are concerned about its quality and quantity above the pump station.
  • The Corangamite Catchment Management Authority oversees the health of many rivers in the region through its River Health Strategy but does not include the Barham River in its Regional Catchment Strategy.
  • Colac Otway Shire makes planning and infrastructure decisions based on the health, sustainability, and amenity of Apollo Bay and its hinterland.
  • Tourism Victoria promotes the Great Ocean Road and Apollo Bay and its environs as a tourist destination.
  • Individuals are engaged in a range of private projects that include, tourism, agriculture, scientific study, or development projects that will impact on its health.


The primary and long-term goal of the indicator project is to reinstate and maintain a healthy Barham River from its source to the sea.

To achieve this, the indicator project will not just build public awareness of the reasons for fluctuations in quality and quantity, but align the goals of the various community groups and Government authorities towards a clear and measurable purpose that meets the needs of all communities of interest. The benefits that flow from having a single, measurale purpose are numerous:

  • A healthy river provides a benchmark measure of sustainability.
  • A collaborative culture will be facilitated between, individuals, community groups and Government authorities.
  • There will be clarity about the impact of rural, residential, commercial, and recreation activities.
  • Better understanding of what is required to rehabilitate the Barham River.
  • Ensure that the native ecology and endangered species fully recover.
  • Assist landholders in the catchment to better manage their landcare activities
  • Provide clean, fresh water to the town.
  • Pilot a collaborative model that could be applied to all rivers.


The indicator project needs to be deeply anchored in the community with a high degree of local ownership. To attract funding, technical expertise, and agency partners, it also requires a governance structure and the support of the various Government agencies with an interest in river, wildlife, forestry, agriculture, tourism, and community health.

The project is an initiative of the Otway Barham Catchment Landcare Group. This community group provides an open forum for all its members and is part of the Southern Otway Landcare Network (SOLN). The group has an existing governance structure for the management of funds.

Members of the Group have wide-ranging professional expertise and experience that will not only help in bringing the project to fruition but also maintain it. Local expertise includes: International standards for data management, metrics for digital display, networked communications, a deep understanding of ecology and riparian health, as well as expertise in numerous forestry and community health initiatives.

The Otway Barham Catchment Landcare Group will initially seek funding from both Government and private sources. Once established, and if successful, the infrastructure and maintenance supporting the indicator is expected to be low cost and become an important part of the overall community infrastructure, shared between the relevant agencies.

As a funded project with Government agency partners, this Group is well suited to working with and alongside experts in the fields of water quality and flow measurement and building a strong sense of community ownership.

Action Plan

Proposal phase

  1. Talk about the project, Promote the project through newsletters and organise and conduct public meetings to introduce the project and elicit support and project volunteers.
  2. Seek partnerships within Government Agencies to assist in development of full and detailed proposal.
  3. Draft interim specifications and costs.
  4. Apply for both Federal and State funding.
  5. Negotiate indicator location and submit planning application to Colac Otway Shire.

Research phase

  1. Conduct and collate research (some data already exists). This will include;
    • Benchmark study of community attitudes towards water use and the Barham River
    • Benchmark study of community attitudes towards water use and the Barham River
    • Detailed mapping of the river and its catchment from source to sea
    • Detailed mapping of past and present activities within the catchment from source to sea
  2. Develop functional specifications for data gathering equipment.
  3. Develop functional specifications for display equipment.
  4. Resolve locations of measurement stations with landholders and Authorities.
  5. Publish a detailed RFI and also approach appropriate vendors
  6. Develop detailed budget and implementation plan.

Deployment phase: To be collaboratively understood.


The key deliverable is the indicator display. However, there will be a number of secondary deliverables that necessarily accompany the display:

  • Report on the benchmark study of community attitudes towards water use and the Barham River
  • Report on the benchmark study of ecological health of the Barham River
  • Detailed mapping of the river and its catchment from source to sea
  • Detailed mapping of past and present activities within the catchment from source to sea
  • Data gathering stations along the river
  • Data gathering stations at the point of water supply and perhaps at the treatment works

In addition there will be a noticeable:

  • Re-alignment of goals between the community and the related Government agencies
  • Re-energised and refocused Otway Barham Catchment Landcare Group
  • Public interest in the indicator project and its impact

These deliverables will result not only in the creation of valuable intelligence that will provide a framework for the rehabilitation of the Barham River from source to sea but also result in a measurable increase in collaborative activities.


While costs are difficult to quantify at this stage of the project, indicative funding of between $55,000 - $150,000 will be sought in order to deploy the indicator and maintain it for 3 years. However, partners may be able to contribute ‘in kind’ and consequently some adjustments will be necessary. More details of possible costs will emerge from consultation with experts in the field the various authorities.

Project Management $10,000 - $50,000
Data gathering equipment $ 5,000 - $20,000
Indicator display equipment $10,000 - $15,000
Publishing and printing $ 5,000 - $10,000
Technical consultancies $ 5,000 - $25,000
Maintenance $10,000 - $20,000
Unforeseen $10,000 - $10,000
  $55,000 - $150,000


One of the key measures of environmental health and vitality is water quality and quantity. Besides the rehabilitation of the lower reaches of the Barham River and the sustainable delivery of clean fresh water to the town, long-term cultural, economic, and environmental health and vitality cannot be achieved without community support and participation, The role of prominent publicly accessible indicators in influencing community behaviour and awareness is emerging as an important component of sustainable development.

This is a project that impacts on everyone in the district and anyone can be involved in it. It will provide a model for the rest of Victoria and even the world, of how the health of a river can be connected to the health of the communities around it.

The indicators a society chooses to report to itself about itself are surprisingly powerful. They reflect values and inform collective decisions. A nation that keeps a watchful eye on its salmon runs or the safety of its streets makes different choices than does a nation that is only paying attention to its gross national product.
Donella Meadows


  • Sustainable Seattle - Civic Panel http://www.sustainer.org/dhm_archive/index.php?display_article=vn489seattleedAlso Sustainable Seattle - Indicator criteria http://www.sustainableseattle.org/Programs/RegionalIndicators/IndCriteria

    The Steering Committee adopted criteria for the development of indicators at its March 2005 meeting. Criteria will be used to evaluate and select indicators fitting within the principles and framework of sustainability indicators for this project.

  • Salmon cams http://wdfw.wa.gov/wildwatch/salmoncam/index.html A community group in Seattle defined 99 key indicators of sustainability. Sustainability was defined as ‘long-term cultural, economic, and environmental health and vitality, with emphasis on long-term.’ In response to the problem of how anyone would know whether Seattle or any other place was sustainable, or whether it was getting more or less so, the Panel looked at what could be measured and reported regularly. One of the key indicators was the health of the wild salmon. A series of web-enabled cams in a variety of settings to record different aspects of activities related to the life cycle of the salmon.
  • Public air quality indicator http://org-urb.dk/luft/uk/specifikationer.html Danish artist Nis Rømer has collaborated with Jørgen Brandt, senior scientist at the National Environmental Research Institute to develop a prototype for a Public Air Quality Indicator. The Indicator is to be placed in the city to make existing data on air quality and pollution levels accessible. He is a part of ‘Free Soil’ an international hybrid collaboration of artists, activists, researchers and gardeners who take a participatory role in environmental transformation.
  • The National River Health Program - Monitoring river health http://www.deh.gov.au/water/rivers/monitoring.html

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