Twenty years ago, Brad Wedlock was desperate for the state of Queensland’s Mary River in Kenilworth, where each flood cut through thousands of cubic meters of farmland, releasing sediment to choke the southernmost part of the Great Barrier Reef.
Deforestation, sand and gravel extraction and the faulty practices of the past had turned what was once a shady, winding river into a barren waterway ravaged by erosion.
Fast forward to today and despite three floods this year, once eroded banks are strong and stable along a stretch of river being restored, thanks to the will of the community and the commitment of dozens of people.
“This site here looked terrible, there’s no two ways about it; it was a terrible, terrible site. There wasn’t a lot of habitat for aquatic species like the [endangered] Mary River cod,” Mr. Wedding said.
“It’s immensely different, the habitat values are there, the site is progressing.”
The environment in play
The Mary River is the fourth largest contributor of fine sediment out of 35 catchments that flow into the Great Barrier Reef.
But as a project officer with the Mary River Catchment Coordinating Committee (MRCCC), Wedlock has witnessed the transformative power that community will, funding and careful planning can bring.
In 2015, earth-moving machinery began to reshape eroded sand cliffs in sections of the Kenilworth riverbank, driving rows of 6-metre-long wooden piles which slowed the flow of flood waters.
ABC Rural last visited the project in 2019 and returning with Mr. Wedlock to see how the restoration project had coped with recent extremes in nature was uplifting.
Although the trees have been hit by debris, their roots have remained firm and fertile silt is accumulating around the fields of woodpiles that will eventually rot.
A ribbon-like aquatic plant called vallisneria, vital to the prehistoric lungfish that swim in these waters, had survived the third highest flood on record.
“After the 2013 floods, they were all washed away, so the lungfish had no habitat to spawn,” Wedlock said.
“Seeing Vallisneria still there means we may have slowed the system down enough for it to hang on, whereas after 2013 it took three years for it to come back.
Over 45,000 native riparian seedlings have been planted along the banks of Kenilworth.
Ruth and Stephen Carter worked hard to help water hundreds at Ubi station at the height of the drought.
As the native plants grow, the pile fields disappear and the 10-meter cliffs threatening their land and their livestock are just an unpleasant memory.
“With each flood, beautiful soil kept falling into the river,” Ms Carter said.
“We lost a good 10 acres [four hectares] in forty years, so that [project] certainly protected him beyond any dreams we’ve ever had.”
Seven sites have been remediated in Kenilworth with the help of federal funding, MRCCC, Seqwater, Burnett Mary Regional Group, Alluvium Consulting, Noosa and District Landcare and willing landowners.
Erosion Repair Wish List
The MRCCC would like to repair at least 35 more of the worst eroded areas along the 320 kilometer long river.
“If we had $50 million, we could probably fix them all,” Wedlock said.
“There is an investment strategy that we have prepared, so everything is doable, and we can’t do everything at once either, so the next 10, 20 or 50 years we have work ahead of us.”
Ms Carter said she and her husband would strongly encourage other landowners to get involved.
“This project has been a tremendous success and we are overwhelmed with the support we have received from all stakeholders. They have all worked together so well, it is a huge honor for all of them.”