Nutrient loss and water quality under extensive grazing in the upper Burdekin river catchment, North Queensland

O'Reagain, P.J., Brodie, J., Fraser, G., Bushell, J.J., Holloway, C.H., Faithful, J.W., and Haynes, D. (2005) Nutrient loss and water quality under extensive grazing in the upper Burdekin river catchment, North Queensland. Marine Pollution Bulletin, 51 (1). pp. 37-50.

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Increased sediment and nutrient losses resulting from unsustainable grazing management in the Burdekin River catchment are major threats to water quality in the Great Barrier Reef Lagoon. To test the effects of grazing management on soil and nutrient loss, five 1 ha mini-catchments were established in 1999 under different grazing strategies on a sedimentary landscape near Charters Towers. Reference samples were also collected from watercourses in the Burdekin catchment during major flow events. Soil and nutrient loss were relatively low across all grazing strategies due to a combination of good cover, low slope and low rainfall intensities. Total soil loss varied from 3 to 20 kg ha−1 per event while losses of N and P ranged from 10 to 1900 g ha−1 and from 1 to 71 g ha−1 per event respectively. Water quality of runoff was considered moderate across all strategies with relatively low levels of total suspended sediment (range: 8–1409 mg l−1), total N (range: 101–4000 μg l−1) and total P (range: 14–609 μg l−1). However, treatment differences are likely to emerge with time as the impacts of the different grazing strategies on land condition become more apparent. Samples collected opportunistically from rivers and creeks during flow events displayed significantly higher levels of total suspended sediment (range: 10–6010 mg l−1), total N (range: 650–6350 μg l−1) and total P (range: 50–1500 μg l−1) than those collected at the grazing trial. These differences can largely be attributed to variation in slope, geology and cover between the grazing trial and different catchments. In particular, watercourses draining hillier, grano-diorite landscapes with low cover had markedly higher sediment and nutrient loads compared to those draining flatter, sedimentary landscapes. These preliminary data suggest that on relatively flat, sedimentary landscapes, extensive cattle grazing is compatible with achieving water quality targets, provided high levels of ground cover are maintained. In contrast, sediment and nutrient loss under grazing on more erodable land types is cause for serious concern. Long-term empirical research and monitoring will be essential to quantify the impacts of changed land management on water quality in the spatially and temporally variable Burdekin River catchment.

Item ID: 6859
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 1879-3363
Keywords: extensive grazing; nitrogen; phosphorus
Date Deposited: 03 Mar 2010 03:06
FoR Codes: 04 EARTH SCIENCES > 0406 Physical Geography and Environmental Geoscience > 040608 Surfacewater Hydrology @ 100%
SEO Codes: 96 ENVIRONMENT > 9609 Land and Water Management > 960999 Land and Water Management of Environments not elsewhere classified @ 100%
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