Environmental report cards synthesise complex environmental data from multiple sites and sources. Data is processed into easily understood formats to convey key messages about environmental health to diverse audiences, including scientists, students, community members and policy makers.
Report cards are used worldwide in a range of media forms but are increasingly web-based and interactive products that allow the user to control the level of detail they need.
Selected examples of web-based water quality report cards that have enjoyed long term success include:
A number of environmental scorecards have also been developed by agencies and organisations to assess Victoria's catchments in recent times. Links to these are provided below.
This Report Card
This Report Card, developed under Yarra and Bay Action Plan (2012-2017), uses water quality indicators to assess the health of Port Phillip Bay, Western Port, the Gippsland Lakes and their catchments. For information on recreational health of waterways see Yarra Watch and Beach Report programs.
The Port Phillip Bay, Western Port and Gippsland Lakes Report Card is unique in that it provides a report on the environmental health of the bays and lakes, and the rivers and streams that flow into them (i.e. the connected catchment-to-bay ecosystem) using water quality as the main indicator.
It allows users to compare selected water quality indicators, across geographical areas and over time, measured at routine monitoring sites. It shows how water quality relates to land use and the surrounding environment, and allows the user to better understand how water quality responds to changes in land use, catchment activities and environmental events such as storms, floods, fire and climate change.
Building the Report Card
To develop the Report Card, a series of stakeholder workshops were used to identify: the key values of Port Phillip Bay and its catchments, the key water quality challenges in these ecosystems, what indicators and assessment methods to use, and how information is best presented to a diverse audience. On recommendation of these initial workshops, the Report Card product was expanded in 2017 to include Western Port and the Gippsland Lakes regions.
The Report Card is designed to:
- raise awareness across the Victorian community about water quality and water quality issues in Port Phillip Bay, Western Port, Gippsland Lakes and their catchments.
- show how water quality in Port Phillip Bay, Western Port, Gippsland Lakes and their catchments compare with State environmental quality objectives using a robust water quality index that captures changes in time and displays the water quality changes from the upper catchment to the receiving bay or lakes system.
- help scientists and managers identify the relationships between human activities and natural processes and the water quality in Port Phillip and Western Port bays, Gippsland Lakes and their catchments.
- support the identification of waterways that are most at risk through better knowledge and community connection to waterways.
- provide a catalyst to drive actions and support for water quality improvement initiatives.
The Report Card will be updated annually.
Further development of the approach will occur and, in future years, the Report Card will look to incorporate agreed ecological indicators from community engagement and citizen science programs.
Water Quality Index categories
Scores of "Good" to "Very Good" mean the water quality parameters are at or above State Environment Protection Policy guidance limits. This means that the water is at or close to the quality we would expect from a natural environment that's relatively free from human impacts.
Scores of "Fair" to "Very Poor" indicate that the water quality has been changed from its natural condition, which usually means that it has been impacted by human activity (such as pollution, development and industry).
The overall water quality across the Bay and catchments vary greatly depending on local catchment use and development. However, there is a general trend of declining water quality from the most upstream, ‘pristine’ areas, to the more urbanised downstream areas.
A good way to make sense of the results is to follow the flow of water down the catchments into Port Phillip Bay.
The upper areas of the Port Phillip Bay catchments are well forested, and the waterways tend to have ‘Good’ to ‘Very Good’ water quality because there is very little development that could impact on water quality.
Moving downstream, the waterways flow though rural areas. Here, vegetation-clearing around waterways, stock access to waterways, sediment runoff and the use of agricultural chemicals can impact the waterways and reduce water quality. The water quality in these rural areas is usually ‘Fair’.
Towards the bottom of the catchment, waterways flow through a highly urbanised catchment before entering the bay. Water quality in these areas is often ‘Poor’ to ‘Very Poor’ due to the impacts of residential development and industry. Pollutants in urban areas include:
- oils and hydrocarbons (fuels) from vehicles
- zinc from rubber tyres
- metals from industrial estates
- soil from construction sites
- nutrients from garden fertilisers
- litter from our streets
Port Phillip Bay receives water from the rivers and drains across the Bellarine, Werribee, Maribyrnong, Yarra, Dandenong and Mornington catchments. Pollutants in this water have an impact on the Bay’s water quality where it enters. Areas of the Bay that are closer to mouths of rivers and drains have poorer water quality more often than areas that are further away.
We also know that weather can have a big impact on water quality, so it helps to look at what the climate was like over the reporting period for each Report Card.
The government, authorities and the community work together to protect and improve our bays, lakes and waterways. Initiatives can range from large capital projects, such as building wetlands, to smaller projects, such as planting streamside vegetation and installing rain gardens.
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