Why Monitor Water Quality ?

There is much discussion and speculation about the future health of the Lakes, but much of this is based on hearsay and assumptions, rather than evidence based science. The only way to assess the true health of the Lakes system is to measure key indicators at a suitable number of locations, and on a regular basis. This allows for “early warning” of concerning trends or significant changes that may be impacting the ecosystems and appropriate action to be taken.

Who should be doing it ?

We maintain that comprehensive water quality monitoring across the Lakes system should be done by an independent and well resourced watchdog ( e.g. EPA ), with the data made publicly available. This should be part of a long overdue comprehensive environmental audit of the Lakes system as called for by Darren Chester M.P. in Federal Parliament recently. We will continue to lobby for this. In the meantime it is left to volunteer groups to perform the bulk of the work. There is some funding for the test equipment and consumables, but generally volunteers do it unpaid and at their own expense.

FoGL is now doing water quality monitoring at some sites around the Gippsland Lakes. We hope to expand this depending on funding and volunteer availability.

Waterwatch Monitoring Sites around Gippsland Lakes

Waterwatch Victoria is a Citizen Science based water monitoring program that has been running since 1993.

Around 10 to 15 years go there were, by our count, over 100 active Waterwatch sites around the Gippsland Lakes, and bordering wetlands and river mouths ( see map from Waterwatch below ).

The current Waterwatch database shows only around 20 sites as still being actively monitored ( around 10 in the La Trobe River / Heart Morass area, 7 sites along Forge Creek near Paynesville, and the three that FoGL has just re-activated around MacLeod Morass, Jones Bay and the Tambo River ). That means in our estimate, that only around 15% of the original sites are still being actively sampled. This is probably due to the lack of ongoing funding for the Waterwatch program, and the loss of volunteers due to the COVID lockdowns, volunteers ageing or moving, and economic pressures.

Active and Inactive WaterWatch sites around Gippsland Lakes. For full map with clickable links for each active site go to the Waterwatch Data Portal

Other Monitoring Sites and Agencies

The Department of Energy, Environment and Climate Action ( DEECA ) under previous guises as DELWP, DEPI and DSE used to operate many remote telemetry data sites gathering a wide range of parameters. However this appears to have now been reduced to a few sites ( about 10 around the Lakes ) as seen on the map below. These are confined mainly to the immediate catchments and wetlands ( e.g. MacLeod Morass and Heart Morass ) rather than the lakes themselves. The raw data and graphs from the sites is publicly available on the DEECA Water Measurement Information System web portal. Many of these sites appear to only collect water level data while others record a mixture of water quality parameters such as pH, EC ( salts ), Dissolved Oxygen, and Turbidity and Water Temperature. There appear to be little consistency in what is measured with some sites recording a wide range and others only recording one or two parameters. It appears the important nutrients ( e.g. Phosphates and Nitrates ) are no longer measured at all. The WMIS site also has a number of trend reports however the last of these appears to have been uploaded around 2016.

Active DEECA Water Monitoring Sites around Gippsland Lakes

The Environment Protection Authority ( EPA ) also has a few sites around the Lakes for monitoring water quality. Raw data from these sites is not available, nor are the exact monitoring site locations. Instead EPA produces an annual “report card” for all the catchments across Victoria.

EPA monitoring sites around the Lakes
EPA parameters measured for Gippsland Lakes.

Current FoGL Resources and Equipment

Specialised equipment and training is required to collect samples and obtain accurate measurements. A knowledge of the reasons to take the various measurements is also important. FoGL now has a limited amount of test equipment supplied by the East Gippsland Catchment Management Authority, and some other equipment we have recovered and refurbished. This gives us the ability to measure the following parameters at a limited number of sites :

  • Phosphates ( a nutrient that can be a key contributor to toxic algae blooms etc )
  • pH ( measure of acidity or alkalinity )
  • Electrical Conductivity ( EC ) ( a measure of different salts in the water )
  • Turbidity ( clarity of the water )
  • Dissolved Oxygen ( DO)
  • Water and Air Temperatures
Water Testing kit
Testing on site
Volunteers collecting samples from a bore
Collecting samples – Mitchell River

Data Entry and Verification

When the field results are gathered, they are entered onto the Waterwatch Data Portal by the volunteers. Information such as weather conditions, and other observations are also recorded. All entered results must be audited for quality by a Waterwatch Coordinator ( usually employed by a government agency such as a Catchment Management Authority ) before they are accepted for publication.

Any member of the public can retrieve the data and observe trends and graphs.

Typical site data graph from Waterwatch Data Portal

You can get involved

We hope to roll out the Waterwatch water testing to many more sites around the Gippsland Lakes. This is only really limited by available test kits and volunteers in the various locations to do the testing.

We will provide the necessary training required. If you are interested in becoming involved please contact us on contactfogl@gmail.com