By the end of June, the NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI) Wetlands on Farms team will complete 25 wetland management plans in the Murray-Darling Basin in NSW.
Some individual landowners who have wetlands also have their own plans in place to make the most of them.
The eWater Co-operative Research Centre recently warned of the potential for wetlands disasters as part of its overall concern for water quality in an era of climate change.
On 'Hillcrest', a 640 hectare mixed cropping and livestock production property 30 kilometres south west of Cowra, Ian McColl (pictured) has "huge long term concern for [environmental] issues and where we’re going".
He modelled and constructed his wetland five years ago, enlarging a small farm dam which had a permanent underground water supply.
"We changed tillage and grazing techniques and out of an original 22 dams pushed in all but two, one being the wetland," Mr McColl said.
"We increased the size of the wetland dam, put in shallows, a nesting island and other appropriate things.
"The district was heavily cleared many years ago and biodiversity had declined dramatically."
Along with the wetland plan, Mr McColl reserved some hectares for tree planting.
To the north at ‘Dappo’, outside Narromine, Robert Webb hosted a local World Wetlands Day event earlier this year, attended by about 30 people.
"The day provided an interesting insight into what one landholder had achieved," participant Libby McIntyre, from NSW DPI’s aquatic habitat rehabilitation program said.
A wetland in good shape can provide stock fodder during drought, reduce erosion and the risk of algal blooms, and increase the value of a property.
"Wetlands and their surrounding vegetation act like big kidneys, filtering nutrients and pollution from the surrounding environment," DPI’s conservation management officer for the Wetlands on Farms project, Charlie Carruthers, said.
"However, they are particularly susceptible to degradation and drought in our current agricultural climate.
"Even a minor alteration in the natural landscape can have serious consequences for a wetland ecosystem."
‘Dappo’ is the site of a unique wetland which Robert Webb has rehabilitated with help from a range of different resources, including his own, over the last 12 years.
Past land uses altered the bank structure and caused a loss of biodiversity and drained the water from the wetland.
Mr Webb restored the wetland and helped to re-establish natural flow to the area, recreating an environment that supports bird breeding and recruitment of native vegetation.
The wetland is part of what used to be a much larger one on Backwater Cowal.
The wetland is fenced, allowing some grazing when the site is drying, so stock do not degrade the banks or pollute the water.
Mr Webb revegetated the area with native grasses, shrubs and trees and planted old man saltbush along one boundary outside the wetland fence.
Wetlandcare Australia at www.wetlandcare.com.au and NSW DPI’s aquatic habitat rehabilitation program both offer help to work out best management plans.
Change threatens water quality
Potential water quality impacts that could arise from climate change are receiving far less attention than the impact on water supply for cities and irrigators, according to Professor Gary Jones.
"We are facing a major wetland catastrophe in the lower Murray River, and elsewhere, as low water levels expose acid soils to the atmosphere, turning normally healthy wetlands into lifeless, acidic swamps," Professor Jones, the Chief Executive of the eWater Co-operative Research Centre, said.
"We also know from years of research that toxic algal blooms are more likely during hot, dry conditions, which will be more likely in future," Professor Jones said.
Professor Jones said toxic algal blooms, fish kills, wetland acidity and salinity were all water quality threats posed by climate change.
"During prolonged low flow conditions in rivers, the oxygen dissolved in water is consumed by decaying plant material and this leads to anoxic conditions that kill fish and other aquatic animals," he said.
"Fish kills have already been seen in Australian rivers in recent years.
"But there is good news - if we act now, we can prevent many of these water quality problems occurring, and we can implement management practices to limit the worst of the impacts."
Professor Jones said if Australia was serious about sustainability, the environment must be considered when water was being allocated.
Contact Professor Gary Jones, eWater CRC, ACT, 0408 411 033.