River experts call on Trump to protect waterways


Dr Catherine Leigh

ACEMS Research Fellow Dr Catherine Leigh (QUT) is one of 17 science and management experts worldwide who are calling on President Donald Trump to ensure protection of temporary waterways across the United States.

In a letter published today in Science magazine, Dr Leigh and colleagues express fears the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) intends to rescind legal protection of rivers, streams and wetlands that have temporary rather than year round water flow.

“These water flows, while temporary, make a valuable contribution to permanent navigable waters and winding back their protection could severely damage the condition of many US waters,” Dr Leigh said.

“We implore the USEPA to uphold a 2015 decision to protect temporary waters that connect to navigable waters and provide these waterways with the same level of protection afforded to comparable waters in Australia and elsewhere.”

Minister for Environment and Science Leeanne Enoch said Queensland Government scientists Dr Jonathan Marshall, Dr Alisha Steward and Mr Peter Negus had also co-authored the letter.

“Living in one of the driest places on earth, we understand the importance of temporary waterways. In fact, most rivers in Queensland are temporary – that is, they sometimes stop flowing and can be completely dry,” Ms Enoch said.

“But despite their barren appearance, dry river and stream beds can be very important ecologically – from providing seed banks for plants which lie dormant in dry periods and germinate when water returns to providing important migration corridors and even refuges during drought for many animals.”


Unnamed Creek, Mt Coot-Tha, QLD

Dr Leigh said rescinding protection would set a poor and environmentally dangerous global precedent and one that could cause irreversible ecosystem harm.

She said the temporary waterways were important for:

  • Securing water quality and quantity
  • Feeding into the drinking water supply to more than one-third of the US’ population
  • Harbouring important biodiversity and imperilled species
  • Underpinning global carbon and nutrient cycles

“The assumption that only the streams and rivers that flow all year round provide ecological functions and services is unsound,” she said.

Media contact: Rose Trapnell, QUT Media team leader: 07 3138 2361 or 0407 585 901, rose.trapnell@qut.edu.au or media@qut.edu.au.

ACEMS contact: Tim Macuga, ACEMS Media & Communications Officer: 07 3138 6741, timothy.macuga@qut.edu.au