RiverDialogue: Rivers on Fire

6-7 July 2020 |  Hopin

Be part of drafting a call for action in creating a better response to the environmental impacts caused by fire on our river systems.

What is RiverDialogue: Rivers on Fire?

The second event in our Rivers on Fire series, this RiverDialogue gives participants the opportunity to hear more and delve deeper into the effects of fire on our rivers, catchments and their communities.

The program will run across two half days (9:00 – 13:00 AEST) and will bring together experts from government, industry, science and community with the aim to raise awareness and create a call for action to address the effects of fire on waterways and their surrounding communities. With so much happening in the world right now, RiverDialogue will bring this critical topic back into focus.

Why attend?

International and Australian speakers - One keynote and four presentations each day.

At the end of the day, delegates will come together to synthesise the discussions from each session to create a Call for Action.

One-on-one networking sessions and chat with fellow delegates through the Hopin platform.

Discover more through the virtual Expo.

2

Days

2

Keynote Speakers

9

Presentations

RiverDialogue Program

The last 15 mins of each speaker session will be dedicated to a group discussion.

AEST 6 July – Impacts on People
9:00 Welcome
Keynote Speaker – Prof Stuart Khan
Cities without water – How bushfires impact Australia’s drinking water supplies
10:00 Break
10:05 Speaker Introduction
10:10 Laura Gannon
Integrated catchment management approaches to flood, fire and environmental resilience
10:40 Oliver Costello
Cultural Learning Pathways: Rivers and Fire
11:10 Break
11:15 Prof William C. Dennison
Developing river resilience report cards to assess and build resilience capacity
11:45 Isobel Davis
How losing a family home to the 2019 bushfires changed a WASH expert’s perspective on rivers
12:15 Break
12:20 Synthesis Session
13:00 Day Complete
AEST 7 July – Stream Health                
9:00 Welcome
Keynote Speaker – Dr Rebecca Flitcroft
Wildfire: Hitting the Aquatic Habitat Reset Button?
10:00 Break
10:05 Speaker Introduction
10:10 Prof Ross Thompson
Fire and water don’t mix: Time for a conversation on Australia’s Water Catchment
10:40 Dr Kathy Cinque
The mapping and modelling techniques that sustained Melbourne’s drinking water supplies in the 2011 bushfire crisis
11:10 Break
11:15 Dr Grahame Douglas
Bushfire Weather and Designing for Bushfire Protection
11:45 Luke Pearce
Macca’s on Fire (Bushfire impacts on Macquarie Perch in Mannus Creek)
12:15 Break
12:20 Gavin Rees
The effects of bushfire in the upper catchment of the Murray River
12:50 Synthesis Session
13:30 Day Complete

RiverDialogue Speakers

Click on photos for speaker bio. More speakers TBA

Stuart Khan

Keynote Speaker

Prof Stuart Khan

Professor, Water Research Centre, School of Civil and Environmental Engineering
University of New South Wales

Cities without water – How bushfires impact Australia’s drinking water supplies

During the summer of 2019/20 bushfires burned out of control across numerous parts of Australia. Many of the fires burned in forested areas that are also important drinking water catchments for urban centres, including some of Australia’s largest cities. Among the most severely damaged was the Warragamba Dam catchment, providing essential drinking water supply for 5 million residents of Sydney. Further damage to water catchments occurred just south of Sydney in the Shoalhaven region, with large areas burned in the catchment to the Shoalhaven River and its main water storage Tallowa Dam. Further south again, around the NSW/Victorian border, forests were destroyed in the catchments of Lake Dartmouth and Lake Hume, the two major storages in the upper-Murray River system that maintain water for towns and agriculture along the River Murray, from the Snowy Mountains to Adelaide. In terms of drinking water management, the most immediate impacts were to water treatment plants that lost the ability to continue to provide reliable safe drinking water. Furthermore, damage sustained to drinking water catchments presented risks of longer-term impacts to raw drinking water quality in the systems they serve. As forests burn, they produce ash, which accumulates on the forest floor. These impacts to water catchments will present long-term risks for drinking water management in many parts of Australia.

Laura Gannon

Laura Gannon

Principal
Meridian Urban

Integrated catchment management approaches to flood, fire and environmental resilience

The resilience of our environmental systems extends to varied and complex cumulative, cascading and compounding natural and built environment, social and economic issues. Part of our challenge to address our changing climate is transitioning from often siloed approaches to distinct matters, and moving towards the adoption of systems-based methodologies. This session will focus on integrated catchment and environmental systems resilience, and how fire management and bushfire resilience can be leveraged in these contexts. We will also unpack the policy, strategy and governance considerations needed to holistically address these matters over the longer-term.

Oliver Costello

Oliver Costello

Bundjalung Jagun
CEO
Firesticks Alliance Indigenous Corporation

Cultural Learning Pathways: Rivers and Fire

What is bad fire doing to our rivers and can we learn from Cultural burning to protect and enhance rivers and their catchments? It happens that many of our Firesticks cultural fire workshops are held along the banks of rivers. River country is some of the best Country to gather in, it provides a wealth of resources, stories and places to share knowledge and practice. Rivers and fire have kinship and their own diverse ways of teaching us to respect and understand their lores and how they continue to shape us and Country. As we have seen by the 2019-20 bushfires across Australia, if we do not apply the right fire for Country our rivers and the landscape will suffer. When we apply the right fire for Country, we can help heal and care for Country.

Bill Dennison

Prof William C. Dennison

Vice President, Intergration and Application Network
University of Maryland Center of Environmental Science

Developing river resilience report cards to assess and build resilience capacity

The Resilient Rivers Blueprint was recently established to create a new way of managing rivers in a world undergoing a dramatic acceleration of change. Events like the Australian bushfires accentuated by climate change provide unprecedented challenges for river managers. Integrated river management has become an important management tool, but the rapid rate of change leading to increasing frequency and intensity of disturbances means that a new management framework is needed. Therefore, we have been a) developing self-assessment tools for river managers, like the River Journey and River Personality tests, b) creating a River Resilience Report Card framework, and c) establishing River Resilience Attributes so that action plans can be formulated to enhance the ability of rivers and their associated communities to recover, adapt and transform to achieve resilience.

Isobel Davis

Isobel Davis

Water and Development Consultant

How losing a family home to the 2019 bushfires changed a WASH expert’s perspective on rivers

Water professional Isobel Davis will share her personal experience with the Currowan bushfire that took her parents’ house and left her and her family on the beach at Batehaven on New Year’s Eve 2019. She will discuss how her perspective of rivers has changed as a result of this crisis. Drawing parallels between this and her experience working in water, sanitation and hygiene in developing countries, Isobel will discuss the challenges ahead in navigating breakdowns in infrastructure and behaviour caused by bushfires.

Rebecca Flitcroft

Keynote Speaker

Dr Rebecca Flitcroft

Research Fish Biologist and Team Leader of the Landscape and Ecosystem Management Team
United States Forest Service at the Pacific Northwest Research Station, Oregon, USA

Wildfire: Hitting the Aquatic Habitat Reset Button?

Intense wildfire in either upland or aquatic systems is not always a catastrophe. Fishes native to the Pacific Northwest, USA, are adapted to natural disturbance regimes that create dynamic habitat patterns over space and time. Wildfire that occurs under historic wildfire return intervals and intensities is one of these disturbance processes. However, human land use, particularly long-term fire suppression, has altered the intensity and frequency of wildfire in forested upland and riparian areas in the Western USA. Climate change is further exacerbating the trend towards larger and more intense wildfire, while also altering recovery of upland forest stand composition. However, emerging research points to unexpected resilience mechanisms to even intense wildfire and associated debris flows that are present in native fish populations. A variety of adaptive strategies from movement, shifts in life stage development timelines, and use of alternative habitats allows many native fishes to thrive under dynamic landscape conditions. In some applications, wildfire may even be a useful habitat restoration tool. Recent modeling work has indicated that some life stages of Spring Chinook salmon in the Wenatchee River, USA, may benefit from allowing wildfire to occur. However, this story is complicated by the needs of local communities, and conflicting consequences of wildfire on vulnerable aquatic and terrestrial species. Our understanding of the effect of wildfire is enhanced by considering the natural patterns of wildfire disturbance, and the adaptive mechanisms that may already be present in native species.

Ross Thompson

Professor Ross Thompson

Director, Centre for Applied Water Science
University of Canberra

Fire and water don’t mix: Time for a conversation on Australia’s Water Catchment

The recent major fires across south eastern Australia have been exceptional in their scale and intensity, burning more than 46 million acres, an area a third the size of France. It is difficult to comprehend the scale of these fires and their impacts on water catchments. Warragamba Dam, which supplies 80% of Sydney’s water, had more than a third of its 905,000 hectare catchment burnt. Across the south east of Australia fires have led to millions of tonnes of burnt debris, ash and sediment entering waterways. The 2003 fires in and around Canberra provide a degree of insight into the impacts of fire on water catchments over decadal time scales. The Cotter catchment, Canberra’s main water supply was extensively burned during those fires. Heavy rainfall shortly afterwards resulted in large scale erosion of the catchment due to the loss of ground cover by plants and destabilisation of banks by fallen trees. Downstream in the Murrumbidgee River some pools were filled by over 5m of newly deposited sediment, with substantive loss of habitat for numerous species including the endangered Macquarie Perch. In the time since the 2019/2020 fires there has been active interventions across multiple parts of the fireground to manage erosion risks and prevent sediment entering water supplies.

The reality that emerges from the most recent fires is that the climate in south eastern Australia is changing. There is profound evidence for warmer average temperatures, but also more frequent, intense and prolonged heat waves. Rainfall has dramatically reduced, but timing of rainfall has also shifted, with repeated failure of spring and autumn rains, and increases in extreme summer rainstorms. These conditions generate high fuel loads and reduce the opportunity to manage these through hazard reduction burning. Even with fuel management fires are impacting more regularly and to a greater extent on water catchments. There is no doubt that with respect to water supplies we will need to diversify sources, both through the use of desalinisation and the inevitable shift to stormwater and wastewater harvesting and treatment for potable use. From a biodiversity perspective, there will need to be urgent efforts to manage non-fire stressors such as weeds and invasive animals to take pressure off recovering catchments and increase their resilience to future fire.

Kathy Cinque

Dr Kathy Cinque  

Principal Hydrodynamic Modeller, Applied Research
Melbourne Water

The mapping and modelling techniques that sustained Melbourne’s drinking water supplies in the 2011 bushfire crisis

Three-dimensional hydrodynamic reservoir models coupled with debris flow risk mapping provided invaluable decision support to ensure the quality of Melbourne’s drinking water was maintained throughout a bushfire that impacted one of the city’s major drinking water catchments.   By understanding the hydrodynamics of the reservoirs and the impact of debris flow inputs and quantifying the risks to water quality, short-term operational decisions could be made and water quality thresholds for different long-term transfer scenarios could be put in place.  Informed decisions around event mitigation and recovery planning ensured that throughout the bushfire event Melbourne was continually supplied with safe drinking water.

Dr Grahame Douglas

Dr Grahame Douglas

School of Built Environment
Western Sydney University

Bushfire Weather and Designing for Bushfire Protection

Bushfire weather and bushfire behaviour are an important aspect of ensuring planning and construction practice are effective in protecting homes and other buildings from bushfire attack. This presentation provides a brief overview of the bushfire design conditions for bushfire protection for a number of sites across NSW specifically and Australia more generally. These design conditions are based on a 1:50 year recurrence (or annual exceedance probability) and the differences between actual values and those in planning guidelines and building standards as well as impacts of climate change are considered.

Luke Pearce

Luke Pearce

Fisheries Manager for the Greater Murray region
Aquatic Ecosystems Unit, NSW DPI Fisheries

Macca’s on Fire (Bushfire impacts on Macquarie Perch in Mannus Creek)

Mannus Creek a tributary of the upper Murray river holds one of only 4 remaining population of Macquarie perch in NSW and the only remaining population within the NSW Murray. The entire range of this population was fiercely burnt, closely followed by severe storms that turned the Mannus Creek and the Murray River into a flowing river of black porridge, with subsequent fish kills following. A small number of Macquarie were rescued, what is the fate of these fish, the fate of the population and the species more generally.

Gavin Rees

Gavin Rees

Principal Research Scientist
CSIRO Land and Water

The effects of bushfire in the upper catchment of the Murray River

Gavin is part of a CSIRO strategic project that was formed to examine how the recent bush fires would affect rivers and streams in the upper catchment of the Murray River. This work is on-going and Gavin will share threads of results that have emerged so far.

RiverDialogue Partners and Sponsors

  • Institute for Land, Water, and Society

    A multi & trans-disciplinary Research Centre at Charles Sturt University, Australia's largest regional university.

  • Water Technology

    Water Technology provides expert insight and practical solutions for surface water, groundwater, coastal and environmental challenges.

  • NRMJobs

    NRMjobs advertises job vacancies and other opportunities in the environment, water and natural resource management field in Australia.

  • Queensland Reconstruction Authority

    Queensland's lead agency responsible for disaster recovery and resilience policy.

  • Stuart Khan is a professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of New South Wales. The research program he leads is focused on water quality and treatment and includes particular attention to water quality impacts of extreme weather events. Stuart has previously been involved in documenting and assessing impacts from events including bushfires, droughts, heatwaves, cyclones and heavy rainfall. These types of events have been shown to detrimentally impact water quality is surface water systems, as well as impede the ability of water utilities to effectively treat and manage municipal drinking water supplies.

  • Laura Gannon is a Principal with Meridian Urban and maintains over 15 years of experience in strategic land use planning, bushfire risk and community resilience across both the public and private sectors across Australia. Laura specialises in management consulting approaches to the integration of community resilience and natural hazard risk management into governance arrangements and urban policy and strategy, with a particular emphasis on bushfire risk and resilience, floodplain risk management and climate adaptation.

  • Oliver is a Bundjalung from the Northern Rivers of NSW and has been actively engaged in Cultural Land Management projects with many Aboriginal communities across Australia. He feels a powerful sense of responsibility to family, communities and country. He believes strongly in the role of Aboriginal culture as a keystone to maintaining livelihoods, supporting identity, connection to country and enabling healthy and regenerative communities to care for country. He is a founding Director and CEO of the Firesticks Alliance Indigenous Corporation and a visiting fellow at Jumbunna Institute for Indigenous Education and Research at the University of Technology Sydney. He has a broad range of experience in Cultural fire practices, Aboriginal Joint Management partnerships, Culturally significant and threatened species management and Natural Cultural Resource management. Oliver is also an advisor or director with several organisations and projects. He is passionate about Indigenous leadership, empowerment, partnerships and recognition of cultural knowledge and practice through community led mentorship on Country.

  • Bill leads the Integration and Application Network, a collection of scientists interested in solving, not just studying, environmental problems. He is actively involved in the Chesapeake Bay Program, USA and had an active role in the Healthy Waterways Campaign of South-East Queensland, Australia. Bill has a marine science background, and has published books and papers on a wide range of marine topics. In his current role as Vice-President for Science Application at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, his focus is on developing ways to effectively communicate science and to create credible and rigorous environmental report cards.

  • Isobel Davis is a water and development consultant focused on helping communities and organisations practice integrated water management in a changing climate.

    Isobel champions the importance of accessible drinking water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH). She spent nine years working for the United Nations on WASH in developing countries, with particular focus on the intersection of health, gender and behaviour change. Prior to working in the UN system, Isobel worked with global management consulting firm, Bain. & Company in Sydney and Boston.

    Originally from a farming community in south-west NSW, Isobel is based in Geneva, Switzerland. She holds a Masters in Integrated Water Management from the University of Queensland and degrees in communications and international studies from the University of Technology, Sydney.

  • Dr Rebecca Flitcroft is a Research Fish Biologist and team leader of the Landscape and Ecosystem Management Team with the United States Forest Service at the Pacific Northwest Research Station, Oregon, USA. Dr. Flitcroft is co-chair of the Freshwater Specialist Group for the World Commission on Protected Areas (WCPA) with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). She holds a Courtesy Faculty Appointment at Oregon State University in College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences. She received her PhD in Fisheries and MS in Natural Resource Geography from Oregon State University.

    Rebecca’s research explores holistic approaches to catchment analysis and management. She uses both statistical and physical representations of stream networks in analysis and monitoring to more realistically represent stream complexity and connectivity for aquatic species. She is particularly interested in the relationships between disturbance processes and aquatic habitat.

    USDA Forest Service website: https://www.fs.fed.us/research/people/profile.php?alias=rflitcroft

    You Tube video describing some of Flitcroft and Reeves’ work with wildfire and native fish: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=omUN7VsKxBo

  • Professor Ross Thompson is Director of the Centre for Applied Water Science and the institute for Applied Ecology at the University of Canberra. Ross’ research interests are biodiversity and restoration of landscapes, mainly in freshwater ecosystems. The fundamental part of his research program is in food-web ecology; seeking the rules that determine how natural communities assemble and persist. Ross’ applied research addresses the ways in which food webs can be influenced by anthropogenic factors including urbanisation, land clearance, pharmaceutical contamination, invasion and river flow management. He has an active research program on aquatic biodiversity and ecosystem function in urban and rural landscapes. Over his 15y academic career to date he has published >100 papers, 11 book chapters and >150 scientific reports. Ross sat on the Australian Research Council College of Experts and is immediate past President of the Australian Freshwater Sciences Society (formerly Australian Society for Limnology). His work has strong links to government and industry, and Ross sits on advisory panels for local, state and federal research programs.

  • Kathy has worked at Melbourne Water for 20-years, initially in the drinking water planning and research areas and now has an additional focus on receiving water modelling.  She completed her PhD in 2009, which investigated and quantified the effectiveness of buffer strips for the protection of drinking water quality.  This was followed by a secondment to a modelling consultancy where she evaluated different hydrodynamic water quality receiving models.  Her current role has an emphasis on hydrodynamic, hydrologic and water quality modelling in various environments including estuaries, bays, catchments and reservoirs.  Kathy has presented at many international conferences and published numerous articles in international peer reviewed journals.

  • Dr Grahame Douglas is an Academic Course Advisor of the Postgraduate Bush Fire Protection program within Western Sydney University. He has research interests in bushfire protection measures through planning and construction practice as well as in the impact of climate change on bushfire behaviour. Grahame has worked with the Department of Bush Fire Services and later with Rural Fire Service of the New South Wales state for more than 16 years and was responsible for developing the legislative provisions and policies relating to bushfire risk management planning, development control for bushfire prone areas, environmental impact of hazard reduction activities and assisted in initial changes to the state’s variations to the National Construction Code. He is the principal author of Planning for Bush Fire Protection (2001 and 2006) and co-authored many journal and conference publications in the relevant area.

    He is currently the Chair of the Technical Advisory Committee of the Fire Protection Association of Australia and a member of the committee of the Australian Standard AS3959 Construction in Bushfire Prone Areas. He has collaborated with State fire services, the Australian Building Codes Board, Australian Institute of Building Surveyors and other agencies in teaching and advancing the latest advances in bushfire construction practice, performance solutions and planning for bushfire protection.

  • Currently employed as a Fisheries Manager for the Greater Murray region with the Aquatic Ecosystems Unit within NSW DPI Fisheries based at Albury. Luke has been employed by DPI Fisheries since 2005 and has been in his current or a similar role since 2006. He has been employed in various natural resource management roles since 1999.

    Luke is currently an Adjunct Research Fellow with the Institute of Land Water and Society at Charles Sturt. He has a Masters of Philosophy, completed at Charles Sturt University in 2014, studying the conservation management of the Southern Pygmy Perch in NSW, in the context of climatic extremes and alien species. Luke completed his undergraduate degree in Environmental Science at the University of Canberra in 1999.

    Luke is married with three young boys 10, 8 and 5 years old. He grew up on a family farm in the Tumut region, and has a love for the outdoors, mountain biking, fishing and particularly hiking and fishing in remote areas. Luke has a deep passion for Australia’s threatened native fish and their recovery, particularly the smaller species of less notoriety.

  • Gavin trained as a microbiologist and has worked on diverse projects, from waster water treatment, using microbes to clean up hydrocarbon-contaminated soils and water, to the microbiology of high temperature oil fields. For the last 20 years, he has turned his work to understanding the many roles microbes play in rivers and wetlands. Part of this has been understanding carbon and nutrient dynamics in rivers and wetlands. The underlying thread in all his work is understanding how organisms respond to a variety of environmental conditions, whether natural or anthropogenic origin, and the consequences of those responses, which has led to his recent work on responses to fire.