Clear call to action blasts across South East Queensland: Enviro Report Card 2022 released

It is time to sit up and take immediate action, is the clear message for South East Queensland as peak environmental group for the region, Healthy Land & Water delivers the results of its annual monitoring program of the health of the region’s waterways.

It will come as no surprise to most that grades are down across the board, following the disaster-scale floods which hit the region earlier this year. Healthy Land & Water’s network of scientists have been looking nervously at the parts of the SEQ landscape that are at high-risk, knowing that its lack of resilience would be impacted with heavy rainfall. This year it happened at record levels.

While there are always yearly variations in grades as we see swings between wetter and drier periods, Healthy Land & Water says that when a disaster like this year’s rainfall and flooding rips through the region, it exposes where the region is under too much pressure.

“We simply wouldn’t be seeing these kinds of drops if we had already got in and built the resilience of our landscapes. The grades we are seeing this year are a clear signal that we need to change-up what we are doing, and build our resilience as a matter of priority,” says Julie McLellan, CEO of Healthy Land & Water, the independent science-based group which has been conducting the robust monitoring program for the region for over 20 years.

This year’s results have steeled Healthy Land & Water and its extensive network of partners to go on the offensive to protect our beautiful and biodiverse region.

“The good news for SEQ is that we know what to do. The frustrating thing is that we’ve known what to do for a long time – but it is big, hard and expensive …but just because it is hard doesn’t make it any less important or urgent,” says Ms McLellan.

She points to the last disaster-scale flood in the region a decade ago in 2011, after which it was clearly identified what was needed to better protect the environment, communities and people against these types of events. “But 10 years on, those reports have largely sat on shelves, and here we are again,” says Ms McLellan.

“All the while, the longer we leave it to take action, the more damage is being caused during each event, and it is only going to get harder and more expensive to fix. It is simply not a good idea to delay any longer.”

Ms McLellan says the saving grace for South East Queensland is having over 20 years of data at decision-makers fingertips, which is only thanks to the leadership of a team of partners who band together to fund this vital data monitoring and reporting work for the region each year.

“This arms us with amazing baseline data to help inform good decisions. It informs best bang for buck spend to prioritise the regional investment needed across all our natural assets,” she says.

Importantly it also informs the community-led action, without which I dread to think about what our catchment would have looked like after the floods.”

Healthy Land & Water says lots of work by local governments, community groups, the water utilities and land holders to protect waterways has helped hold the line in terms of waterway condition, but it’s not across the board and needs scaling up to meet growing population and development pressures.

“We need to empower and fund more of that community-led work to make serious inroads into turning this situation around,” says Ms McLellan.

It’s not all bad news. Healthy Land & Water says there are a host of great examples across the region where the proactive work done across the catchments held up and protected against the severe damage seen elsewhere. There were clear examples of erosion hotspots higher up in the catchment which have now been vegetated, where the roots held valuable soil in place and the vegetation slowed the water down – both of which are critical steps in lowering flood heights to protect houses downstream and keeping soil on valuable food producing lands and out of the estuaries and bay where it causes untold damage.

“We know what needs to be done, we just need to scale it up,” says Ms McLellan, adding it is a lot more expensive to do repair works opposed to proactive investment in riparian health and sustainable urban development. She adds that proactive investment is nearly five times cheaper than cleaning up after the fact, and also reduces the impact on communities.

Ms McLellan says that urgent decisions need to be made as, while the long-term data shows our region has the potential to bounce back after extremes, the changing climate is impacting on the region’s capacity to recover between periods of drought and flood. “With more frequent and intense events on the cards, our landscapes will increasingly not have the time to recover in the same way they used to. Proactive investment is needed to build our region’s resilience to better withstand the extremes,” says Ms McLellan.

Urgent call for establishment of a Green Olympics Legacy Driver Plan (GOLD Plan)

Ms McLellan says if we are going to achieve genuine change and legacy for the region, we need to get a plan in place in the next six months.

“As we edge closer to the Brisbane 2032 Olympics and Paralympics Games, we have a unique chance to use this momentous event as the motivating force to come together so we can show the world how SEQ has become a world leader in resilient, sustainable, liveable region-making,” she says.

“When the eyes of the world are upon South East Queensland, there will be a unique opportunity to showcase how sustainability and resilience to disasters and climate change can be the centrepieces of making a region a great place to live, work, visit and play.”

Healthy Land & Water recently started an urgent call on all levels of government to establish a Green Olympics Legacy Driver (GOLD) Plan, saying that at least a decade of action is needed to create real change.

“This kind of work takes years of community-led action, and to really have an impact we have to get started in the next year. Getting an agreed plan is the best way to focus our actions and attention,” says Ms McLellan.


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