Saltwatch is an environmental monitoring program that helps communities better understand the salinity problem. It is Australia's longest running community monitoring programme.
During Saltwatch Week in May of each year, Schools and community groups from all over Victoria can learn about the effects of salinity on water quality in their local catchment.
Water samples are collected from local water sources (rivers, creeks, bores, channels, drains, dams, wetlands and salinity 'hot spots') and tested with a salinity meter to determine salt content.
Impact of salinitySalinity is still the Goliath of catchment management. Victorians have cleared more than half of all the deep-rooted native trees and shrubs that once grew here. As the land was cleared so the water balance was altered. Irrigation and rising groundwater levels have brought the killer salt ever closer to the surface. But the giant can be slain. The Landcare movement, education and awareness, and practical involvement in Saltwatch have made an impact.
Community involvementDEPI catchment education officer Tarnya Kruger is convinced that the community involvement in programs such as Saltwatch is a double blessing for catchment managers. "It not only serves to involve and develop awareness among the participating groups but it also has the potential to produce quality data. The magnitude of the monitoring effort is only possible using community groups and regular snapshot events such as Saltwatch and Waterwatch. Collaborative action between the community and resource managers develops a greater understanding of catchment issues and helps them work together to develop solutions".
School involvementSaltwatch began in 1987 and is Australia's longest runnning community monitoring programme. So far about 1,000 schools and community groups have responded to the call and become involved in regular monitoring and recording of salt levels in water across Victoria. Every year - in the second week of May - hundreds of students and teachers register to take part in Saltwatch. Saltwatch is now part of the Waterwatch 'Snapshot' events.
Many are drawn to the educational and research benefits of the program.
Groups have been able to up-load their data onto the Internet and then, using Geographic Information Systems (GIS) technology, view the data on a series of on-line maps. Anyone may view the Saltwatch data collected across Victoria's 10 catchment management regions or retrieve the details of the data submitted by clicking on areas of the map which are shown to have been sampled. A table of information for each site includes the location, type of water body , the salinity reading and the group that collected the sample.
Students can use Saltwatch activities to learn practical environmental monitoring, mapping, entering data, graphing, analysing and contrasting the local environment with other parts of the state. "A group collects about 20 samples from their local rivers, creeks, dams or bores and when all these samples are compiled - presto! - thousands of individual readings providing an instant picture or snapshot of salinity levels throughout Victoria."
DEPI staff visit groups to help test their samples and, while they are there, provide information about salinity and Landcare locally.