Pillar 2 – Planning:
Site Selection

Quick tips:

  • Site selection will strongly influence the likely success of the demonstration reach in achieving its ecological, recreational and community objectives.
  • Selection of an appropriate site should take into account six key criteria, as a minimum. Supplementary criteria should also be considered, based on the input of the local community, scientists and relevant catchment managers.

Selection of the appropriate site represents a key step since it will strongly influence the likely success of the demonstration reach in achieving its ecological, recreational and community objectives.

In most cases, some preliminary planning will have already been undertaken to identify a potentially suitable site for a demonstration reach. Ideally the project Steering Committee should be established at the same time as site selection, since it is very important to involve the local community as early as possible in the process. There may well be existing community and government action along a river reach which is addressing one or more known threats to the environment. Alternatively, there may be strong community interest to actually initiate some rehabilitation actions at a particular site. Existing activities can play an important impetus to establish a demonstration reach. A demonstration reach which is community driven, has a high profile and a range of interested stakeholders is the strongest chances of success.

When the demonstration reach concept was first developed, a suite of generic characteristics were identified to help guide selection of an appropriate site:

Demonstration reach length varies depending on the on-ground objectives and community support. Photo Finterest
Bredbo Gorge on the Murrumbidgee River, an important section of the Demonstrateion Reach. Photo Greta Von Gavel

Accessibility and Visibility

  • This characteristic is one of the most important. Without being closely linked to a local community, and ensuring sites are visible and accessible, the potential for the community to embrace and ultimately take ownership of the project may be limited.


  • The town of Dalby, which falls within the Dewfish demonstration reach, is an area with a wide range of business and agricultural activities which provided opportunity to increase awareness and knowledge of river management across diverse industries. Several locations are accessible which provided the opportunity to have interpretive signage to support education and awareness.
  • The Wangaratta township lies within Ovens River demonstration reach, and the reconstruction of a fishway, establishment of interpretive signs and field days maximised the opportunities to inform the community of the project.

Range of Threats and Species

  • Most rivers and streams in Australia have experienced significant degradation, and are affected by multiple threatening processes, including changes in flow regimes, loss of riparian and instream habitat, barriers to movement, predation and competition from introduced species, reduced water quality etc. Undertaking rehabilitation works which focus on only one threat is likely to constrain the potential benefits to the ecosystem. For example, providing fish passage to a stretch of river may achieve little if habitat conditions are not conducive to successful breeding and survival of the fish community. Alternately, a rehabilitation project may reestablish instream habitat, but if sufficient flows are not provided, this habitat will remain unavailable to fish within a river reach. Carrying out multiple interventions concurrently to address priority threats has the greatest potential to achieve effective rehabilitation goals.
  • Selection of a reach which has ‘treatable’ threats is most logical. If a reach is too degraded then successful rehabilitation may be unlikely in the long term, which raises questions of effective use of resources, limits the ability to demonstrate success as well as garner ongoing interest and support of the local community.

Rehabilitation Techniques

  • Establishing a demonstration reach represents a significant investment of time, resources and effort, so it is important to select a reach where it is feasible to implement a range of rehabilitation techniques, with cumulative benefits, to maximize value for money. If the site characteristics are similar to other areas and techniques and results are potentially transferable to other rehabilitation sites,  potential learnings are further maximsed.
  • Existing demonstration reaches have focused on providing examples of solutions to problems. The regular interactions between existing demonstration reach practitioners, through informal means as well as workshops and field days, meant that experiences from one site could be used to inform approaches at other sites.
  • Extensive promotion of rehabilitation techniques and results, through informal and formal networks increases their potential broader use within other rehabilitation programs, whether these include rigorous monitoring or not. This could include presentations at conferences or field days, publication of reports and journal articles, provision of information on websites and use of media. Taking up the techniques and approaches trialed within demonstration reaches does not need to be limited to government agencies, and can be relevant to community groups and large companies with an interest in habitat rehabilitation.
A planning exercise with stakeholders during a site visit (Photo – Fern Hames)
Inspecting a site affected by drought (Photo – Fern Hames)

Nearby Control Sites

  • It is often the case that inadequate time and resources are spent on evaluating rehabilitation projects.   This weakens scientific credibility, community support and future funding from partners, since outcomes can be hard to demonstrate.
  • While monitoring programs must always be tailored to a specific site, minimum standards have been identified for demonstration reach monitoring. These note that BACI type designs with replication of Before, After, Control and Impact components are amongst the best designs for separating with relatively high confidence, treatment effects from natural variation.
  • All existing demonstration reaches developed monitoring and evaluation plans which identified the most appropriate approaches to rigorous scientific monitoring for each intervention. All aimed to include control or ‘untreated’ sites. Plans identified monitoring methods and key indicators, the scope of which depended on the size of the project and funds available.


  • The Katarapko demonstration reach monitors an extensive suite of indicators including a variety of vegetation components as well as fish, frogs and waterbirds.

Linking to Existing Management Frameworks

  • Potential sites should be considered in the context of the broader environment, since those which link in well with existing land and water programs have a greater chance of long term survival. There can be more options to tap into government-assisted community programs, and greater funding can result in greater potential rehabilitation benefits. If collaborators have a proven track record in an area, this can also help gain initial good will with the community.
  • Implementation of rehabilitation interventions within a demonstration reach can contribute to achieving aims and targets of other programs such as catchment management, biodiversity and water quality plans. This represents multiple benefits and cost savings.


  • Both the Ovens and Hollands Creek demonstration reaches were classified as high priority reaches within the then Goulburn-Broken Regional River Health Strategy and the current conditions, values and required rehabilitation actions aligned well with the proposed demonstration reaches.
    • Given the connectivity of rivers, the quality of upstream and downstream environments can significantly influence a particular stretch of river. For example, if a significant barrier exists downstream which is not addressed, there may be a impoverished fish community within a demonstration reach which will limit rehabilitation benefits of interventions such as provision of fish passage.
    • If a site is within an area where significant works and scientific monitoring has already been undertaken, this provides a strong initial knowledge base.
  • Early planning for the Upper Murrumbidgee demonstration reach identified there had already been significant investment in fish and macroinvertebrate monitoring.
    • If there are significant areas of government owned and managed land within a proposed site, it can sometimes be easier to work on these tenures initially to get the ‘ball rolling’. This can then lead to greater participation of adjoining private landholders.
  • Much of the Katfish demonstration reach lies within the Murray River National Park (Katarapko) or on Crown Land, as well as land held by Gerard Aboriginal Reserve and a number of small private holdings.The Upper Murrumbidgee demonstration reach within the ACT is contained within the Murrumbidgee River Corridor reserve which has assisted with the undertakings of the UMDR and co-investment in projects.
    • The Whole of Life plans which all demonstration reaches should prepare at the start, include identification of links to relevant plans and strategies.
Inspecting rehabilitation works (Photo – Tony Townsend)
  • Identification of the appropriate size of a reach should take into account funding, scientific and community factors.
  • Funding – Adequate effort in implementation of rehabilitation interventions must be undertaken within available funding. If the reach is too large, the impacts of the rehabilitation measures may be too diluted. If a reach is too small, significant funds may be invested in limited environmental benefits.
  • Scientific – Determination of the most appropriate experimental design will consider the scale at which general trend analysis on key indicators can be measured. There needs to be an adequate number of sampling sites to account for the spatial patchiness between different sites. If rehabilitation projects focus on small areas, this can limit the benefits to a fish community, which may include species that move large distances.
  • Community – A sound understanding about the existing community and its relationship and interest in a stretch of river is needed to determine how big or small the reach needs to be. If a reach is small with few relevant interest groups and landholders, overall community participation is likely to be very limited. If there is a broad diversity of groups and organisations with responsibilities and interest in an area, this strengthens potential participation.


  • In Queensland, input from scientists and the local community was obtained to identify five priority sites, with possible intervention activities and costings considered for each, before the Dewfish demonstration reach was established. Community demand resulted in the final Dewfish site being expanded from 28km to 110km.

In addition to the characteristics listed above as being ideal for Demonstration Reaches, Peter Jackson has written an addendum  to provide further consideration of factors that may influence the choice of a demonstration reach site and, in particular, how the River Styles approach may provide a geomorphic framework for decision making. It does not provide a detailed description of the River Styles framework as this can readily be found by visiting the River Styles website (www.riverstyles.com)


These represent the minimum requirements, and input from the broad community, local catchment managers and scientists can provide supplementary criteria to consider. The ultimate decision must balance the varying interests of stakeholder groups and the potential impacts of restorative actions on some groups. For example, if there is likely to be significant conflict and opposition to actions, and it is believed that such obstacles are unlikely to be resolved, then a particular potential site may not be appropriate.

The existing demonstration reaches all considered the key criteria described above in depth prior to finalising selection of the most appropriate sites. The Whole of Life Plans provide the most effective summaries of the values and threats, linkages to relevant plans and strategies, priority actions for interventions and approaches to monitoring.