Project goals and progress

Study goals

The Smart Catchments: Saltwater Creek study will deliver functional tools, and data in real-time, that will monitor urban run-off that can include high nutrient, sediment and chemical loads. This will assist Council make more informed decisions in relation to urban catchment water management along the Great Barrier Reef. 

The study will work with school students, educators and stakeholders in the catchment to develop engaging online tools for individuals and schools to understand the data that is generated through the project’s smart technology. Through this it is hoped communities will be encouraged to care for and assist in nurturing their local creek and river catchments, particularly those impacting on the Great Barrier Reef.

Project benefits

Gathering and interpreting water quality data in real-time will assist Council:

  • Better understand the quality of stormwater released to the Great Barrier Reef Lagoon from the urban Saltwater Creek catchment area; and
  • Investigate the contributions of sewer pump station wet weather overflows on Saltwater Creek nutrient loads.

The study will also inform a model that has the potential to deliver alternative implementation options in other Great Barrier Reef urban and non urban catchments.

Follow our progress

With funding announced in November 2017 the Smart Catchments study aims to deliver the infrastructure and online platform required to receive and share real data time of water quality in the Saltwater Creek by June 2019. Follow our progress here.

December 2018 - The Gauging Station opens its doors

Jurgen Zier – knownAn expert team as Baly – joined the Smart Catchments project team in May 2018. 

A qualified Environmental Engineer and highly experienced Instrumentation Technician, on paper Baly’s new role as Senior Technical Officer was straight forward; to establish both the gauging station and monitoring plan for the Smart Catchment pilot study. In reality everyone knew this was going to be a challenge, there was no manual, no protocol, no tried and tested way – “just do whatever is involved” he concluded in his first week with Council.

Eight months later, on schedule, all systems are go in the little blue hut by the edge of the creek, before the turnoff to the Yellow Arrow carpark. The Smart Catchments: Saltwater Creek gauging station is ready for business.

When asked about the challenges he faced through the building and installation process Baly was quick to respond with “sandflies”; but then just as quick to acknowledge the supportive colleagues and expert collaborators who he says were fundamental in reaching this exciting project milestone.

“While we might all have our specific roles to do, which at times can feel like you’re all alone, we rarely solve problems in our head,” he said. “Having an accessible expert team around you, to bounce ideas off and share challenges with has made all the difference."

Thanks go to all those at James Cook University, the Department of Environment & Science and Cairns Regional Council, who assisted in the building of the hut and installing of the technology which will now undergo testing before the live data is made available to the public in early 2019.

November 2018 - JCU IT students go back to school

A key output of the Smart Catchments project is to encourage community understanding of water quality monitoring, particularly from school students. In November Cairns Regional Council invited JCU Information Technology (IT) students to contribute to the Smart Catchments project through the university’s Work Integrated Learning (WIL) program.

Dr Jason Holdsworth is a lecturer in the College of Science & Engineering at JCU, as well as a CISRO STEM professional in Schools and Community Digital Champion. Jason also has research interests in mobile learning, e-learning and augmented reality and was excited for his IT students to work with the Smart Catchments project team.

JCU students had help from Trinity Bay School students to test their prototypes“As a researcher and educator working in an institute that fringes the Great Barrier Reef, the Smart Catchments challenge was one that I got very excited about and was keen for my students to be involved in,” said Dr Holdsworth.

“Delivering real-time data is in itself a benefit for the reef but will be more beneficial if it is continually read and understood by the communities that share the catchment. The question we were asked was ‘can game-based learning be used as an educational tool that will educate and encourage people to better manage river and creek catchments?’ and we’re exploring that option.”

Three 3rd year IT students John Buttigieg, Benjamin Newbould and Ankit Kumar, supported by volunteers from the 1st and 2nd year, signed up for the 100 hour WIL program and work placement with Council.

The placement included an introductory workshop in November with teachers from participating schools, and classroom time with Year 5 and 7 students at Edge Hill State School and Trinity Bay School in December.

Prototypes of online activities developed by the WIL students are now being developed further by JCU graduates Dr Adam Rehn and Aidan Possemiers for testing in schools from March 2019.

Dr Jason Holdsworth (pictured left) is supervising the delivery of the Smart Catchments online educational tools.

August 2018 - Walking the Saltwater Creek landscape

Walking The Landscape participantsTo ensure the Smart Catchments project has a thorough and current understanding of the Saltwater Creek catchment and its community and dependents, Council, in collaboration with the Queensland Wetlands Program (QWP) and the Department of Environment and Science (DES) conducted a ‘Walking the Landscape’ workshop that focused on the catchment’s hydrological aspects.

Over 30 invited participants spent the day sharing their knowledge of, and experiences in, the Saltwater Creek catchment. Attendees including geologists, geomorphologists, botanists, soil scientists, hydrogeologists, hydrologists and ecologists were joined by local residents and representatives from environmental and natural resource management groups.

Highlights from the Walking the Landscape summary document include:
  • Upper catchment up to approx. 365 metres above sea level.
  • Saltwater Creek main channel is permanent with salt water to Pease Street and  tidal influence to Jensen Street (concrete channel starts here),
  • Stormwater drains can run all year round in association with groundwater, related to metamorphic fracturing in upper catchment and pressure forcing water out of features (springs) lower in the landscape such as channels and drains
  • Saltwater Creek originally ran through Centenary Lakes,
  • Lily Creek is an important creek with some high value ecosystem services.
  • It is unusual to have freshwater so close to the coast and makes Lily Creek very different to other creeks in a saltwater catchment.
  • Areas of the mountain range are prone to slips and mudslides from fractured mudstone and sandstone.
  • On the low-lying areas there are lots of small aquifers, water comes to the surface all over the catchment following rain.
  • Historical fishing upstream of McManus Street (mud cod, tarpon, jungle perch).
  • Approx 6,000 year ago sea level was higher than now.

July 2018 - If we don't monitor, we don't know

Project leader, Dr Lynne Powell Dr Lynne Powell was appointed Project Manager for the Smart Cities, Smart Catchments, project in November 2017, adding the responsibility to her existing role at Council where she oversees local water quality monitoring program's associated with the region's wastewater treatment plants.

With an extensive career in water quality management Lynne's experience isn't all in tropical waters.

" I was extremely fortunate to spend a significant amount of time during my PhD in Antarctica studying the unique and fragile lakes of the Vestfold Hills," she said. "I am passionate about having healthy waterways that we can all enjoy, are inspiring for community and support healthy aquatic life. "My role within the Smart Catchments project is to lead a team of highly qualified people to achieve the project goals and improve water quality entering the Great Barrier Reef."

Presenting at the Australian Water Association North Queensland Regional Conference 2018, held in Cairns in July, Lynne shared with the national audience the goals of the project and the need to monitor water catchments.

“If we don’t monitor our catchments, we can’t measure any successes from improvements,” Dr Powell said.

“Collecting data in real time will be hugely beneficial for all councils. It will not only ensure we have the right infrastructure for managing our catchments but it will help in our negotiating with governments.  Also, having the ability to share this information with residents and schools will help bolster the community’s understanding of their local catchment and relay how all our actions can impact on the Great Barrier Reef lagoon,” Dr Powell said.

May 2018 - Project partners plan for an even greater barrier reef

In May representatives  from Cairns Regional Council, James Cook University, Wet Tropics Waterways, Itron Australasia and the Australian Government gathered at Council Chambers for the first Smart Catchments project progress meeting.

Federal Member for Leichhardt Warren Entsch said the pilot project would ultimately improve the quality of water entering the Saltwater Creek catchment of the reef. Deputy Mayor of the Cairns Regional Council Terry James said the city was proud to lead the way in adopting new technologies for environmental benefit, especially since 2018 is the International Year of the Reef.

“To be a smart city is to be continually ready to accept new technologies as they emerge and apply them to the challenges we are facing. For Cairns, protection of our environment is our top priority and it makes sense that our city should be setting the benchmark in environmental management,’ Cr James said.

JCU’s Acting Vice-Chancellor, Professor Chris Cocklin, said researchers from the University’s Internet of Things (IoT) program would bring both local knowledge and cutting-edge expertise to the project.

“JCU’s IoT engineers already use smart sensor networks to deliver real-time data from tropical field sites, enabling researchers to monitor marine and natural environments from anywhere in the world,” Professor Cocklin said. “We see great potential for this technology to help make Cairns a truly smart city.”

The Australian Government is committing 50 per cent of the funding for the $1.66 million project with Cairns Regional Council, James Cook University, Wet Tropics Healthy Waterways, Itron Australasia and FNQ NRM Ltd providing the remainder.

Last updated: 16 June 2020