City of Whittlesea’s stormwater harvesting coordinator Edmond Lascaris will lead an initiative setting up water turbidity sensors along the Merri Creek, which is home to several vulnerable species.

By Aleksandra Bliszczyk

The City of Whittlesea, RMIT and the Merri Creek Management Committee have launched a new joint initiative to ensure the Merri Creek continues to be a healthy and habitable environment for aquatic animals including the platypus.

The Water Quality Monitoring in Merri Creek project is part of council’s new Whittlesea Water For All water strategy, which was formally endorsed at the December council meeting.

The project comes after the State Government listed the platypus as a vulnerable species in January, and committed $300,000 to a long-term plan to restore key platypus habitat sites.

Although platypuses can be found in a range of climate regions across Australia, a 2020 study by the University of New South Wales found platypus habitat nationwide had declined by 22 per cent, or 199,919 square kilometres, in the past 30 years – an area three times the size of Tasmania.

As platypuses feed and breed in water, their lives depend on healthy waterways, which are most threatened by land-clearing, regulation of rivers and drought, according to the study.

Council’s stormwater harvesting coordinator Edmond Lascaris explained the project involved setting up sensors that would monitor the creek’s turbidity – how clear the water was – as an indicator of waterway health, and therefore animal health.

“The network of sensors in the Merri Creek will allow us to see the effects of runoff into the creek, which is particularly important for the Whittlesea municipality with our growth areas and high level of development,” he said.

“This will assist developers to better understand the issue of keeping waterways healthy and enable them to roll out more careful management of construction to minimise runoff into the creek.

“It will help us identify the extent of these kinds of issues and provide real time reporting.”

Beyond its platypus population, the creek is home to other vulnerable species including the growling grass frog and the golden sun moth.

The Whittlesea Water For All strategy aims to see council become a leader in the management of water – including stormwater, potable water, wastewater, rainwater and local waterways – by 2030.

It also addresses the growing risks of flood and drought, and the health of other waterways including Edgars Creek, Darebin Creek and the Plenty River.

Council chair administrator Lydia Wilson said the municipality’s high population growth provided opportunities to adopt innovative water management at crucial stages of development.

“Every year we have more homes and businesses being built. At the same time, science shows that our climate is becoming hotter and drier, and that this will have an impact on the availability of water,” she said.

“This strategy outlines the important step that council will be undertaking around water management for now and in the future.”