East coast flood recovery program for water quality monitoring

A comprehensive water quality monitoring program for waterways in disaster-declared local government areas.

The program is funded under the joint Commonwealth-State Disaster Recovery Funding Arrangements.

Program location: flood affected catchments

Start date: 18 September 2022

Completion date: 30 June 2024

Water Quality Monitoring Project

Clarence River at Copmanhurst, September 2022

This project is being delivered by the Science, Economics and Insights Division of the NSW Department of Planning and Environment.

The project is delivering a water quality monitoring program across a number of flood-affected waterways listed under Australian Government Reference Number (AGRN) 1012 and 1025 to support environmental recovery through the provision of water quality data and information.

The project aims to facilitate government, local government and community understanding of flood affected water quality and recovery timeframes, identify sources of pollution, and drive evidence-based decisions on matters affecting waterways impacted by floods.

Key project activities

  • Consolidate data from existing water quality monitoring programs to generate water quality baselines for the focus regions.
  • Manage a supplementary water quality monitoring program that fills gaps in water quality understanding for key rivers, creeks, and estuaries.
  • Engage the community through citizen science projects that facilitate involvement in the monitoring and collection of water quality information for local waterways.
  • Provide access to real-time water quality monitoring results and consolidated reports that facilitate understanding of flood impacted water quality, including recovery timeframes, for state and local governments, stakeholders, and the community.

Infographic: 29 Local Government Areas, 72 Waterways monitored, 25 Water quality parameters assessed

Benefits of the project

The project will support long term environmental recovery from the February and July 2022  flood events by:

  • improving understanding of the longer-term impacts of floods on water quality
  • working with communities and waterway users to ensure local needs for information about water quality are met
  • promoting evidence-based decision making and management
  • improving stakeholder ability to identify and manage potential risk associated with natural disasters
  • facilitating coordination and collaboration across agencies and programs.

Monitoring methods

Water quality data is collected on a monthly, continuous, and periodic (event) basis to generate a comprehensive picture of pre-, during and post-flood water quality.

  • Monthly – Routine water quality monitoring to build a substantiative dataset for each waterway.
  • Continuous – Real-time loggers in the priority waterways to provide continuous water quality data
  • Event – Water quality data collected during and immediately after events in flooded waterways.

The project monitors a suite of water quality parameters that are known to respond to flood events using specialised probes (see table below).

The team also collect water samples that are sent to the laboratory to measure the amount of suspended matter, nutrients, algae, and faecal indicator bacteria, including E. coli





Dissolved oxygen


Specific conductivity



Suspended solids

Total suspended solids


Total nitrogen

Total dissolved nitrogen

Total phosphorous

Total dissolved phosphorous

Nitrogen oxides


Reactive phosphate

Algal biomass


Faecal indicator bacteria

Escherichia coli


North Coast waterways monitored by the project:



Tweed Shire

Tweed River

Cudgen Creek

Cudgera Creek

Mooball Creek

Byron Shire

Brunswick River

Kyogle, Richmond Valley,
Lismore City, Ballina Shire

Richmond River

Clarence Valley

Clarence River

Coffs Harbour City

Corindi River

Moonee Creek

Coffs Creek

Boambee Creek

Bonville Creek

Bellinger Shire

Bellinger River

Nambucca Valley

Nambucca River

Kempsey Shire

Macleay River

Port Macquarie-Hastings

Hastings River

Map: Tweed River water quality monitoring sites
Map: Tweed Coastal Creeks water monitoring sites
Map: Brunswick River water quality monitoring sites
Map: Richmond River water quality monitoring sites
Map: Clarence River water quality monitoring sites
Map: Coffs Coastal Creeks water quality monitoring sites
Map: Bellinger River water quality monitoring sites
Map: Nambucca River water quality monitoring sites
Map: Macleay River water quality monitoring sites
Map: Hastings River water quality monitoring sites

Mid Coast waterways monitored by the project.



Port Macquarie-Hastings

Camden Haven River

Mid Coast

Manning River

Newcastle, Cessnock, Maitland, Port Stephens, Singleton,
Muswellbrook Shire, Upper Hunter Shire, Dungog Shire

Hunter River

Map: Camden Haven River water quality monitoring sites
Map: Manning River water quality monitoring sites
Map: Hunter River water quality monitoring sites

Metropolitan Sydney waterways monitored by the project



Hawkesbury, Wollondilly, Camden, Penrith,
The Hills Shire, Hornsby Shire, Central Coast

Hawkesbury-Nepean River

Map: Hawkesbury-Nepean River water quality monitoring sites

Citizen science partnerships

A fundamental component of the project is the collaboration with community organisations to develop or expand citizen science projects that are centred around improving understanding of waterway health.

Shifts in water quality due to flooding events may have acute and chronic impacts on ecological communities. Citizen science provides a unique opportunity to improve our understanding of the current state of key ecological indicators, including macroinvertebrate assemblages and riparian vegetation condition. This information will allow us to explore whether areas that experienced water quality impacts during the 2022 floods are showing evidence of ecological impacts or recovery.

Currently, projects are being delivered in four of the priority waterways in the far North Coast:

Brunswick River

Partner: Positive Change for Marine Life
Project: Rewilding our Floodplains Monitoring Project

In partnership with our project, Positive Change for Marine Life are expanding their ecological monitoring program to include freshwater macroinvertebrate sampling and a wetland monitoring program to assess the condition of mangrove habitat in the estuary. The results of this work will contribute to an ArcGIS StoryMap for the Brunswick River and will help us to interpret our results regarding water quality recovery following floods in this waterway.

Clarence River

Partner: OzFish
Project: Clarence River Fisher Science Project

In partnership with our project, OzFish are launching a new project focused on assessing water quality during and after rainfall using turbidity and colour. Volunteers will collect water quality data over four months from August 2023 to December 2023. The data will help us to understand where sediment in the Clarence River may be coming from.

Richmond River

Partner: Richmond Riverkeepers
Project: Richmond River Ecological Health Program

In partnership with our project, Richmond Riverkeepers are expanding their recently developed monitoring program which assesses freshwater macroinvertebrate assemblages and riparian vegetation. Additional sites will be added to the next sampling round in October 2023, with health gradings calculated for each site and presented to the community via a report card. This partnership will enable comparisons between our water quality results and macroinvertebrate communities in the Richmond River.

Bellinger River

Partner: OzGreen
Project: Bellingen Riverwatch Program

In partnership with our project, OzGreen are expanding their water quality and freshwater macroinvertebrate monitoring program to involve more community members, improve volunteer training, and run a series of events to support the community to protect these rivers. This partnership will enable the impacts of floods on water quality to be interpreted alongside information on the ecological health of the Bellinger and Kalang Rivers.