Workshop brainstorms water quality ideas

More than 500 reef water quality ideas were gathered at the Wet Tropics Major Integrated Project (WTMIP) innovation workshops held in Innisfail and Tully on 2 and 3 March.

The Queensland Government is funding the WTMIP, which will be implemented in the Tully and Johnstone catchments, to reduce the level of nutrients and pesticides reaching the Great Barrier Reef.

The project is being coordinated by Terrain NRM and lead by a Project Panel. The panel is chaired by Joe Marano, Chair of Innisfail District Canegrowers. The banana industry is represented on the panel by ABGC Extension Officer Robert Mayers and Industry Strategy Manager Michelle McKinlay.

The WTMIP project will focus on improving water quality from a range of sources including cane and banana farms. Importantly it will look beyond just farm practices and combine water quality solutions across all activities in the catchment areas.

“This is a really big deal for the Wet Tropics,” said Ms McKinlay. “There is a share of $33million available to fund a range of projects to improve water quality entering the Great Barrier Reef.”

“And, it is not just focusing on agriculture. Government is recognising that there are many contributors to the Reef’s current water quality.”

The ideas generated at the recent workshops came from the local community. Common themes included soil health, new technologies including bioreactors and bioremediation, carbon and reef credit systems, systems repair and wetlands, incentives, extension, data and water monitoring, land use, and governance.

Mr Mayers said the workshops provided a forum for local knowledge and experience to be recognised.

“People who have lived and farmed for generations in this region know the land, the waterways and how they work together. It is vital that local input guides how this project is rolled out,” Mr Mayers said.

ABGC Reef Extension Officers Sarah Simpson and Dale Bennett also attended the workshops.

“It was great to see such a wide range of participants across communities, industries and universities,” Ms Bennett reflected.

Ms Simpson added; “The workshops had a really positive vibe and everyone was willing to listen and encourage participation. There was lots of optimism and good will in the room.”

Ms McKinlay commended Terrain for its work in steering the significant project in a practical and results-driven way.

“The team at Terrain have done a great job in linking ideas and opportunities and grouping similar activities,” Ms McKinlay said. “This will help with the implementation of the projects and the design of the overall WTMIP.”

In the next phase of the project, a diverse range of experts came together over two days to generate an enormous amount of knowledge that will be critical for the project panel in making design choices.

Over the coming weeks, concepts that show real potential for water quality outcomes and community benefits will be checked for feasibility and cost effectiveness, and further developed. Project implementation will start in July.

“In the early stages of such a massive project there can be a lot of effort, for what looks like a small return,” Ms McKinlay said.

“Growers need to be persistent and yet patient. Keep up your best management practices, look for ways to improve your farming and water quality improvements will start to be measured,” she said.

There will be two half-day solutions workshops in the Tully and Johnstone catchments on the 27 and 28 April to provide a WTMIP update to partners and the broader community. This is an opportunity for input and refinement of the draft program design and to enable the continued involvement of growers. Follow @WTMIP on Facebook for locations and times.

“Even though the first round of workshops has concluded, banana growers still have a great opportunity to be a part of the WTMIP implementation,” Mr Mayers said.

The WTMIP is funded by the Queensland Government Office of the Great Barrier Reef. Terrain NRM is coordinating the project on behalf of the Wet Tropics Sugar Industry Partnership, Australian Banana Growers’ Council, Local Government, community groups, consultants, investors and researchers.