Waterway Triage: Investment Strategies to Limit Pollution and Maximize Value

Waterway Triage: Investment Strategies to Limit Pollution and Maximize Value

Glenn Browning

Healthy Land and Water, Australia

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© 2021 IIETA. This article is published by IIETA and is licensed under the CC BY 4.0 license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/).



Triage, typically, is an approach to rapid assessment of a natural disaster or crisis and delivery of emergency aid when resources are limited. The same philosophy is also used in environmental conservation and can be applied to managing waterway health by recognizing the unique needs of each section of the waterway and matching it with the most appropriate treatment strategy. This strategic approach can improve the net gains when compared to the current approach in Queensland, Australia. In Queensland, all new development is required by legislation to reduce stormwater pollutant loads discharging to the creek (in Brisbane, for example, total suspended solids needs to be reduced by 80%, total phosphorus by 60% and total nitrogen by 45%). Whilst these simple targets have driven millions of dollars of investment throughout the state and are a much-needed step to limiting our ecological impact, recent research by Healthy Land and Water (HLW) suggests that there is room for improving the way we deal with risk and distribute resources to protect our waterway assets. The current approach places no incentive to avoid or minimize pollution and other waterway threats, it does not adjust pollution controls to match the downstream waterway condition and it provides no opportunity to invest in waterway restoration or conservation efforts. To address these issues HLW have created Strategic Waterways, a tool for categorizing and prioritizing waterway investments based on triage principles. The tool uses a risk-benefit model to assess, diagnose and then plan the treatment of various waterway ailments. It allows for nine unique strategies to managing waterway value where previously there has been only one or two. This paper discusses three applications of the Strategic Waterways tool to support decision-makers including: how GIS can be used to rapidly assess very large areas of catchment; a methodology (triage) for prioritizing project sites and setting initial project budgets and a methodology for monitoring the state of the waterway and catchment. This tool can empower waterway managers to build a balanced portfolio of waterway investments to create the biggest possible ecological return on investment.


management, pollution, prioritization, risk, stormwater, strategy, values, waterways


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