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Framework for Assessment of River and Wetland Health (FARWH)

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Developer

National Water Commission

Latest documentation

2011

Designed for use in

Australia

Ongoing

No

Assessment purpose

Management effectiveness, Prioritisation, Processes and components

Assessment criteria

Physical and chemical, Management and planning, Flora, Fauna

Method type

Desktop

Timescale

Medium-long term – The methodology primarily uses a desktop approach with pre-existing data where possible. Field data collection maybe required to supplement existing data in some cases. Depending on existing data availability.

Scale

Landscape/Catchment, Region

Wetland system

Lacustrine, Palustrine, Riverine

Description and method logic

Method purpose

The Framework for the Assessment of River and Wetland Health (FARWH) is a system that should allow comparable reporting of river and wetland health across all parts of Australia.

The FARWH built on more than a decade of river and wetland health assessments that had been conducted at a jurisdictional level.

Summary

The Framework for Assessment of River and Wetland Health (FARWH) was a federal government initiative that aimed to introduce a nation-wide river and wetland health assessment and reporting system. By using a consistent scoring methodology across Australia, it is possible to compare the degree of modification across various wetland and river systems. FARWH was originally developed to assess riverine health; however there are provisions for assessing riverine, palustrine and lacustrine wetland types at a surface water management area (SWMA) scale.

The initial development was followed by trials of the FARWH between 2005 and 2011. The trials were designed to test the framework across a variety of wetland and river types, climatic zones and jurisdictions. The trials assessed a number of technical and feasibility questions to guide the national framework’s future implementation. 

A review of the Framework and the trials demonstrated that an effective national approach to river and wetland assessments was possible with some modifications. The general themes (termed indices) for river and wetland health appear to be relatively consistent across the country for both river and wetland systems, although an additional theme of wetland extent was added (7 indices). The trials found that a two-tiered approach would be useful to identify specific areas (site assessment) for greater field sampling effort, based on an overall broad scale assessment (regional). The modified system arranged the themes in terms broad scale desktop assessment and a more detailed condition assessment. The modified system resolved that FARWH river and wetland condition assessment scores should not be combined into a single scores. It also determined that index-level integration to a single overall score should not be encouraged.

This page is based on and includes the recommendations of the final review report.

Method logic

FARWH assesses and scores seven main themes: wetland extent, catchment disturbance; hydrological disturbance; water quality and soils; physical form; fringing zone; and aquatic biota. Four of these (wetland extent, catchment and hydrological disturbance and fringing zone) are assessed under the broad scale desktop assessment whereas all 7 are assessment under the detailed condition assessment.  Sub-indicators are used to score each theme on a scale of 0-1 (in increments of 0.1.).  Wetland scores can range from "largely unmodified" to "severely modified". The sub-indicators used to inform each theme are highly dependent on site-specific characteristics, and are typically derived from the results of local jurisdictional assessment programs. No specific sub-indicators are prescribed within current FARWH technical documents. The FARWH depends on knowledge of the specific environment being monitored and the selection of system appropriate sub-indices. Importantly, the general themes (termed indices) for river and wetland health appear to be relatively consistent across the country for both river and wetland systems.

Criteria groupings of the method

Physiochemical and biological indicators, as well as hydrological and physical form assessments allow users to accurately assess the condition of wetland systems. Land-use and management criteria give insight into disturbance and modification of wetland systems. Seven themes are defined under FARWH under which metrics are categorised: Wetland extent, catchment disturbance; hydrological disturbance; water quality and soils; physical form; fringing zone; and aquatic biota. Four of these (wetland extent, catchment and hydrological disturbance and fringing zone) are assessed under the broad scale desktop assessment whereas all 7 are assessment under the detailed condition assessment.

Data required

  • Spatial datasets
  • Habitat extent
  • Hydrological data
  • Indicator scores
  • Physiochemical data
  • Biomonitoring data
  • Vegetation condition
  • Soil properties.

Resources required

Expertise required

High level expert knowledge of ecological systems. Expertise in spatial (GIS) and non-spatial data analysis and assessment. Expert panel experience. Field assessment and ground truthing expertise as required.

Materials required

A database platform for data storage, manipulation and values assessment, a Geographic Information System (GIS) platform for result presentation and interpretation. Field equipment as and if required.

Method outputs

Outputs

FARWH requires the assessment of seven main index themes scored 0-1: These are wetland extent, catchment disturbance; hydrological disturbance; water quality and soils; physical form; fringing zone; and aquatic biota. A FARWH assessment requires that a minimum of three of the seven themes be assessed. Each theme is scored from 0-1, and these scores are integrated into a final score using standardised Euclidean distance, producing an overall FARWH score from 0-1. Four of these (wetland extent, catchment and hydrological disturbance and fringing zone) are assessed under the broad scale desktop assessment whereas all 7 are assessment under the detailed condition assessment.  Sub-indicators are used to score each theme on a scale of 0-1 (in increments of 0.1.).  Wetland scores can range from "largely unmodified" to "severely modified".

Uses

  • National, State and Local Government reporting
  • Decision support
  • Action prioritisation.

Criteria by category

    Physical and chemical

    • Hydrological disturbance
      • Change in flow
      • Duration of no flow
      • Period between no flow
    • Physical form
      • % bank with snags
      • % bank with steps
      • % overhanging vegetation
      • % pugging by cattle
      • % pugging by pigs
      • Substrate heterogeneity
    • Water quality
      • Ammonia nitrogen
      • Dissolved Oxygen
      • Filter reactive phosphorus
      • Nitrogen oxides
      • Salinity
      • TSS
      • Temperature (daily max, min, spot)
      • Turbidity
      • PH
    • Wetland extent
      • Change in area

    Management and planning

    • Catchment disturbance
      • Infrastructure
      • Land cover change
      • Land use

    Flora

    • Fringing zone
      • % cover
      • % exotics

    Fauna

    • Aquatic biota
      • % native fish species
      • Fish richness
      • Macroinvertebrate richness
      • O/E fish
      • Plecoptera, Ephemeroptera, Trichoptera
      • Proportion alien fish
      • SIGNAL

Review

Recommended user

The method is to be used by those with GIS and analysis expertise.

Outputs relevant to natural resource managers including regional NRM bodies, Federal, State and local government agencies and water corporations.

Strengths

  • Standardised nationally
  • Locally relevant sub-indicators
  • Comparison of assessment sites across state
  • well trialled and tested
  • reviewed and updated method allows for broad scale assessment with finer scale in high risk areas.

Limitations

  • Sub-indicators not prescribed
  • High level of expertise and resources required.

Case studies

FARWH: New South Wales wetlands (NSW-FARWH)

Turak, E, Melrose, R, Imgraben, S & Blakey, R (2011), Testing the Framework for the Assessment of River and Wetland Health in New South Wales wetlands.. [online], NSW Office of Environment and Heritage, Sydney. Available at: https://datasets.seed.nsw.gov.au/dataset/testing-the-framework-for-the-assessment-of-river-and-wetland-health-in-nsw-wetlands.

FARWH: Queensland rivers (QLD – FARWH)

Senior, B, Holloway, D & Simpson, C (2011), Alignment of state and national river and wetland health assessment needs.. [online], Water Planning Ecology, Water Planning Sciences, Environment and Resource Sciences, Department of Environment and Resource Management, Brisbane. Available at: https://wetlandinfo.des.qld.gov.au/resources/static/pdf/ecology/river-conceptual-models/nwc_and_derm_water_sciences_farwh_report.pdf.

FARWH: South-west Western Australia rivers (SWWA-FARWH)

Storer, T, White, G, Galvin, L, O’Neill, K, van Looij, E & Kitsios, E (2010), The Framework for the Assessment of River and Wetland Health (FARWH) for flowing rivers of south-west Western Australia: method development, Final report.. [online], vol. Water Science Technical Series, No 40, Department of Water, Perth. Available at: https://www.water.wa.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0012/3108/100215.pdf.

FARWH: Tasmanian rivers (Tas-FARWH) and Victorian rivers (Vic-FARWH)

Norris, RH, Dyer, F, Hairsine, P, Kennard, M, Linke, S, Merrin, L, Read, A, Robinson, W, Ryan, C, Wilkinson, S & Williams, D (2007), Australian Water Resources 2005. A baseline assessment of water resources for the National Water Initiative. Level 2 Assessment: River and Wetland Health Theme. Assessment of River and Wetland Health: Testing the Framework., National Water Commission, Canberra.

FARWH: Wet/dry tropical rivers (Tropics-FARWH)

Dixon, I, Dobbs, R, Townsend, S, Close, P, Ligtermoet, E, Dostine, P, Duncan, R, Kennard, M & Tunbridge, D (2011), Trial of the Framework for the Assessment of River and Wetland Health (FARWH) in the Wet/Dry Tropics for the Daly and Fitzroy Rivers., Tropical Rivers and Coastal Knowledge (TRaCK) research consortium, Charles Darwin University, Darwin.

Links


References

  1. Alluvium Consulting (2011), Framework for the assessment of river and wetland health: findings from the trials and options for uptake.. [online], vol. Waterlines Report Series No. 58, National Water Commission, Canberra. Available at: https://bitre.gov.au/publications/2016/water_058.aspx.

Last updated: 7 February 2019

This page should be cited as:

Department of Environment and Science, Queensland (2019) Framework for Assessment of River and Wetland Health (FARWH), WetlandInfo website, accessed 13 May 2021. Available at: https://wetlandinfo.des.qld.gov.au/wetlands/resources/tools/assessment-search-tool/framework-for-assessment-of-river-and-wetland-health-farwh/

Queensland Government
WetlandInfo   —   Department of Environment and Science