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River Eco-status Monitoring Programme

Olifants River

History of the River Eco-status Monitoring Programme (REMP)

The River Eco-status Monitoring Programme (REMP) has evolved from the River Health Programme (RHP). The REMP replaced the RHP in 2016 and is a component of the National Aquatic Ecosystem Health Monitoring Programme (NAEHMP).

The original River Health Programme (RHP)

The Department of Water and Sanitation (DWAF) initiated the formal design of the RHP in 1994. The main purpose was that the programme should serve as a source of information regarding the overall ecological status of river ecosystems in South Africa. For this reason, the RHP primarily makes use of in-stream and riparian biological communities (e.g. fish, invertebrates, vegetation) to characterise the response of the aquatic environment to multiple disturbances. The rationale is that the integrity or health of the biota inhabiting the river ecosystems provides a direct and integrated measure of the health of the river as a whole.

 A phased approach was adopted for the design of the monitoring programme, to facilitate:

  • Formulation of a design framework: A needs analysis was done involving local resource managers and scientists as well as international benchmarking. This exercise allowed the setting of programme objectives as well as the scope and specifications for guiding the rest of the design phases.
  • Conceptual development of the programme within the design framework: This phase dealt with selecting and/or developing technical protocols, for example to select monitoring sites and ecological indices, deciding on monitoring frequency and creating systems for the management of data and information.
  • Small-scale implementation to test and demonstrate the programme: It was shown that information from the programme provides a substantial broadening of the conventional water quality monitoring and assessment focus. This monitoring tool is ideally geared to serve state-of-environment reporting (e.g. Brochure on State of the Crocodile River, 1998). The availability of qualitative and quantitative information on ecological reference conditions as well as the present ecological state of a river contributes to the process of determining an ecological reserve for rivers.
  • Anchor the RHP so that it becomes part of "the way we do things around here": This phase is to ensure that the RHP becomes part of the relevant water management institutions in terms of required expertise, skills and budgets. The overall goal of the Anchoring Phase was to help implementation agencies to go through the different steps of implementing the programme as well as to internalise the programme into their organisations.

How the RHP developed

The South African National Water Act (NWA) came into effect in 1998, four years after the initiation of the RHP. The Act acknowledges the importance of protecting aquatic ecosystems in maintaining the full suite of goods and services that people rely on for their livelihoods, and requires that a national aquatic ecosystem health monitoring system be established. To date, the implementation of the RHP has largely been driven by provincial implementation teams consisting of amongst others, DWAF Regional Offices, provincial departments of the environment, conservation agencies, universities and municipalities. Implementation in the provinces has largely been voluntary and is influenced by various factors such as the enthusiasm of provincial champions and provincial task teams, buy-in from their respective organisations, as well as the availability of financial and human resources. This makes the Programme very vulnerable and affects the long-term sustainability of the Programme.

DWAF as a result initiated the 'National Coverage Phase'. The main purpose of this phase was to formalize the Programme, to establish the RHP as a national programme and to align the design of the Programme with the requirements of the NWA.

The main components of this phase included:
  • Reviewing and revising the design of the programme to ensure that it was aligned with DWAF's
  • Strategic Framework for National Water Resource Quality Monitoring Programmes and the National Water Act (Act 36 of 1998);
  • Determining the Programme's operational requirements;
  • Refining the Rivers Database;
  • Further development and establishment of Quality Assurance procedures;
  • Revising the Biomonitoring short course;
  • Ongoing R&D (e.g. the development of a wetlands habitat integrity index, fish reference conditions, vegetation response assessment index).
  • Many State of Rivers reports were released.

The River Eco-status Monitoring Programme: Rationale (2016)

  1. The River Eco-status Monitoring Programme (REMP) has evolved from the River Health Programme (RHP). The REMP replaces the RHP and is a component of the National Aquatic Ecosystem Health Monitoring Programme (NAEHMP).
  2. The REMP focuses on the monitoring of the ecological conditions in River ecosystems as it is reflected by the system drivers and biological responses (instream and riparian).
  3. The basis of the REMP is the establishment of a relative reference condition, usually a natural or close to natural condition, derived from the best available information.
  4. In its formulation and characterization the relative reference condition considers:
    • The characteristics of the abiotic drivers of the system: the hydrology, geomorphology and physico-chemical conditions that determine the habitat template for instream and riparian biota.
    • The characteristics of the instream and riparian biota as a response to the system drivers.
  5. The determination of baseline conditions (current for the time they were established) (i.e. represented within a defined spatial and temporal context; this can refer to either a river reach or a specific site). Baseline conditions provide a fixed point against which future changes can be measured and compared.
  6. The Ecological Category (desired condition) of the reach (or site as representative of a reach) is determined by assessing the PESEIS information for the resource, or any more detailed information (i.e. species or assemblages of particular concern). This would include the Ecological Category that is required (or implied) to attain the status or integrity of instream biota and riparian components. The overall Ecological Category of the resource as well as the constituent Ecological Categories required for the abiotic and biotic components is viewed as targets (i.e. A-D) that is quantifiable in terms of the index values as well as specific indicators at a finer scale where relevant. It follows that Thresholds of Probable Concern (TPCs) can be defined as an early warning that resource quality be degrading (or if time series data are available, that there is a degrading trend).
  7. The level to which the specified Ecological Category is attained, is determined by monitoring on a scale and frequency determined by the abiotic and biotic components of the system. This relates to the ecological importance and sensitivity of the system, anthropogenic pressures on the system as well as its baseline condition.
  8. The REMP is built upon the use of particular models incorporating existing approved Eco-status models:
    • River Data Integration (RIVDINT): Assessment is done on a Quaternary Reach level and includes use of the Index of Habitat integrity model (Instream and Riparian), Fish Condition, Invertebrate condition, Vegetation (Riparian) condition. Based on the available and approved RQOs, Targets for the various components are set (as well as TPCs) for a Sub-Quaternary reach (or a subdivision of the SQR where necessary). Where RQOs for a SQR have not been set according to the EWR-site approach, it is still possible to set ecological targets based on specific ecological considerations. The eventual result of this process is the Fish, Invertebrate, Vegetation and integrated Ecostatus for a SQR. The RIVDINT has been developed as data storage and retrieval system that allows the comparison of various components over time. The model includes the development of relative reference conditions for all components. The first detailed assessment of a SQR will be considered the baseline against which future assessments will be evaluated.
    • Rapid Habitat Assessment Method and Model (RHAMM): Assessment is done on a site level where a site should be representative of a SQR or a subdivision thereof. Ecostatus models are incorporated into the RHAMM: IHI, FRAI, MIRAI, VEGRAI and the Integrated Ecostatus. Specific information for setting targets for indicator fish spp (in terms of FRAI) and invertebrate taxa (e.g. in terms of SASS5) are provided for. The formulation of relative reference conditions is provided for in the RHAMM. Targets and TPCs can be set for available and approved RQOs (i.e. at EWR sites) in terms of biota and habitat requirements (also including the use of cross sections and habitat measurements). Where EWR-site data is not available, biological targets and TPCs can still be set for the site. Only a very limited number of physico-chemical measurements are included in the RHAMM.
    • Fish Invertebrate Flow Habitat Assessment (FIFHA): This model originates from the Fish Flow Habitat Assessment (FFHA) model that was used in some applications of the HFSR. The primary aim of the FIFHA is not to do instream flow requirements per se, but to use the data generated by the HFSR model (e.g. Hydrology and HABFLO) and the categories and flows that were set during the HFSR process to establish a basis for rapid assessment of fish and invertebrate habitat conditions at a EWR cross section. It follows that the FIFHA can only be used where a EWR site with the necessary hydraulic and hydrology are available.
  9. It is evident from this explanation that the REMP logically includes the monitoring of ecological and specific biological components that have been established and approved (i.e. Gazetted) as Resource Quality Objectives or RQOs.

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Last update of this page 2016-04-13 09:59