Hawkesbury-Nepean Waterkeeper Alliance

Building a community voice for the River

A healthy, liveable, swimmable, fishable Hawkesbury-Nepean River.

The Hawkesbury-Nepean Waterkeeper Alliance (HNWA) achieved global recognition from the international Waterkeeper Alliance (opens in a new window), a global movement of community based organisation employing on-the-water advocates who patrol and protect of rivers, in 2011. This original initative has been renewed with a new collaborative working group since 2020 from Western Sydney University (comprising RCE Greater Western Sydney and School of Science), Greater Sydney Landcare Network (GSL) with Streamwatch and GSL member groups: Cattai Hills Environment Network, Hawkesbury-Nepean Landcare  and Hawkesbury Environment Network.

Some of  our key actions include:

  • Endorsement of a new Waterkeeper, Dr Michelle Ryan, river advocate and aquatic ecologist.
  • Hosting a number hands-on community citizen science training days on the River and community forums.
  • Refreshing this website to include updated river resources, thanks to a Western Sydney student intern.
  • Receiving a few grant from Sydney Water and Western Sydney University to extend our on-ground work.
  • Establishing a 'Friends of the Waterkeeper Alliance' network of likeminded water organisations.

Our current activities

Hawkesbury-Nepean Regional Forum: Building a community voice for our region

Our group hosted a virtual forum, bringing together community participants, academics, and local and state government representatives in September 2020 to elevate concerned conversations about the Hawkesbury-Nepean River system and revitalise a local Waterkeepers Alliance. The forum, held on 25th September 2020, was attended by over 55 stakeholders and individuals from 23 industry bodies and seven community groups. Sharing their knowledge were Yara River Waterkeeper Andrew Kelly, CHEN coordinator and community advocate Sue Martin, and Western Sydney University’s Dr Ian Wright. Discussion groups were supported by University science student volunteers.

The forum participants expressed a desire for a healthy, liveable, swimmable, fishable Hawkesbury-Nepean River.

As a result of this forum, the working group has produced a Hawkesbury-Nepean Waterkeeper Forum Summary Report (PDF, 2695.46 KB) (opens in a new window) which outlines our next steps to:

  • Seek funding opportunities.
  • Explore and identify a governance model that is fit for purpose.
  • Speak to stakeholders (local councils, Sydney Water, community groups, First Nations people) to strengthen relationships and build partnerships.
  • Participate in the Australian chapter of the International Waterkeeper Alliance.

Forum Materials:

Microplastics Community Training Day

Western Sydney University researchers and students, in collaboration with Streamwatch and Greater Sydney Landcare, joined community volunteers as part of a hands-on workshop (opens in a new window) to assess the number of microplastics present in the Hawkesbury-Nepean River. Our first community day event saw the group come together on World Environment Day, 5 June 2021, at Windsor Beach – a popular recreational area in the Hawkesbury region that was impacted by significant flooding. The data was used in our first River Report Card.

As part, Western trained four student faciliators to help run the workshop along side our Techincal Support Services staff. “It was a great experience to be back in the field and the lab and to help guide members of the community through sampling.  It also was lovely to connect with other students on the day that were helping out who were passionate about conserving the waterway." Catherine, Western Sydney University science student

Rapid Riparian Training Day

Streamwatch and Greater Sydney Landcare, in collaboration with Western Sydney University, joined community volunteers as part of a hands-on workshop to assess the riparian health to upskill citizen scientists in the latest assessment tool. Our second community day was held in December at Yarramundi (Nauva Reserve) – another popular recreational area in the Hawkesbury region that was recently impacted by significant flooding. Volunteers used the Rapid Appraisal of Riparian Condition (RARC) for the southern tablelands  of New South Wales as part of the training. The data was used in our first River Report Card.

Macroinverterbrates Training Day

Streamwatch and Greater Sydney Landcare, in collaboration with Cattai Hills Enviornment Network, join citizen scientists – local residents and Landcare volunteers for a waterbug (macroinverterbrates) workshop in May 2022. Volunteers were provided hands-on training on how to use and understand the ‘Stream Pollution Index’ (SPI) to monitor the water quality at Cattai Creek using apps. Through hands-on training, citizen sceintists learnt how to identify and score waterbugs (macroinvertebrates) using the Waterbug mobile app, and were also trained in uploading their data to the BioCollect mobile app for sharing and storage. They found 40 water bugs from 9 different species and calculated a SPI score of 3.74 (out of 5) which is rated as “In Good Condition”.

“I learnt so much. I had no idea that waterbugs could be used as an index. I think and look at creeks in a different way, full of life. It was fun and informative.” –  Workshop attendee

Hawkesbury-Nepean Regional Forum: Community report card

The Hawkesbury-Nepean Waterkeeper hosted our second virtual forum, bringing together community participants, academics, and local and state government representatives. The forum, held in May 2022, was attended by 44 attendees from 39 different organsations and local community groups. Sharing their knowledge was Paul Bennett, Manager Land Services at Greater Sydney Local Land Services, on the impacts of flooding on riparian zones along the Hawkesbury. The Alliance also officially introduced their new Waterkeeper, Dr Michelle Ryan (School of Science, WSU) and formally launched their Hawkesbury-Nepean River Report Card. The report card takes a different approach to water monitoring, and combines scientific, social, and cultural data collected by both scientists and citizen scientists.

Yellomundee Cultural Walk and Talk

Our Alliance hosted on Dharug Ngurra, in partnership with Local Land Services, a Yellomundee cultural walk and talk with Uncle Lex Dadd and Chris Tobin (local Dharug educators) and 25 invitees including local river advocates, local council and agencies and Western academic staff and student in May 2022. The aim of this event was to learn what it is to care for Country and be connected culturally to our waterways. The activities including a smoking cermony, a hand print ‘sign in’ to Country and a discussion of water values then and now. It is the intent that from the Waterkeeper Alliance will continue to work with a small group of river champions on an Indigenous voice for the River.

Planting For Platypus Workshop

Led by Cattai Hills Environment Network, community came together to learn how they can help look after our waterways to care for platypus in August 2022. After expert talks from Dr Michelle Ryan, Western Sydney University and the HNWA Waterkeeper, and Melissa, a bush regenerator from Ecotune, the community volunteers planted more than 800 native grass seedlings along Cattai Creek (the riparian zone). Grass species included Lomandra longifolia, Dianella caerulea, Gahnia sieberiana, Commelina cyanea.

This project received grant funding from WIRES through their annual National Grant Program. For more information go to WIRES website (opens in a new window).

Platypus eDNA Community Research

Research lead Dr Michelle Ryan, the Hawkebsury-Nepean Waterkeeper, has been working across the catchment on a project  focused on platypus Environmental DNA (eDNA) sampling, habitat assessment and restoration, student research, and community and school-based education programs.  The programs are run in conjunction with a number of community groups, including the Cattai Hills Environment Network. Most recently a platypus 'Bluey' been tagged and released back into Cattai Creek by the team, researching the health of the platypus population in the Hawkesbury-Nepean River Catchment (opens in a new window). This particular study will continue over the next three years.

Rights of Nature Community Forum

Earth centred governance and the Rights of Nature is a growing global movement that recognizes the living world – rivers, forests and entire ecosystems - as legal beings. Current western law treats nature as an object, as human property. A deeper understanding of the connection between the health of the living world and the health of human communities has led to innovative legal changes across the world. HNWA hosted A Slow Weave: River Talks in November 2022 as an interactive online session to understand more about this growing movement and to start exploring what this might mean for the Hawkesbury-Nepean River system. Led by the Australian Earth Laws Alliance, the workshop showcased examples from the global movement to recognize the rights of rivers and explore how new ways of recognizing and protecting our rivers might be achieved in Australia, by honouring First Nations’ Peoples’ laws and cultural practices, and weaving new ways forward for governance in Australia.

More workshops are planned for 2023!

River Snap

River Snap (opens in a new window) is a citizen science project dedicated to promoting awareness and advocating for a healthy freshwater ecosystem. Through the establishment of River Snap installations along key sites of the Hawkesbury-Nepean River and its tributaries, we provide a platform for individuals to actively participate in protecting their local environment. By gathering community observations, particularly in response to consecutive flooding events, we monitor changes in the Hawkesbury-Nepean River system. The valuable data collected by citizen scientists will be used to generate insights, identify trends, and address potential issues affecting the river's health. We also integrate this data into undergraduate curriculum. Stay updated on our River Snaps by following the HNWA Facebook  (opens in a new window) page. More sites will be rolled out on the next 12 months.

This project was inspired by Coastal Snap (opens in a new window) who mointor beaches in key parts of Sydney and beyond.

For more on the Hawkesbury-Nepean Waterkeeper, contact us.