2003-2008 Masters Research Effect of Bushfires on Receiving Waters, Eastern Victoria

Monash University Water Studies Centre Scholarship/bursary student funded by Department of Sustainability and Environment to research

“Ash from the summer’s bushfires had befouled Dartmouth’s water supply...
Dartmouth resident, Val Foltyn, said the Mitta Mitta River and town’s water supply were putrid. 
‘On Saturday I couldn’t tell where the water finished and the ground started,’ she said.”[1]


The Victorian alpine bushfire of summer 2003 burned all of the mixed eucalyptus bushland of the catchments of Dartmouth Reservoir, and the upper catchment of the Tambo River, in eastern Victoria, Australia. This natural disaster provided a unique opportunity to measure the post-fire response of these two Australian aquatic systems. From February 2003 to April 2005, post-fire hydrologic, nutrient and algal concentrations were quantified for both systems using standard water quality assessment methods. Post-fire results revealed increases in nutrients and suspended solids, particularly during storm events, with maximum concentrations in excess of pre-fire measures. In Dartmouth Reservoir, nutrient increases were restricted to the low level outlet depth of the reservoir. The reservoir surface water did not respond to the bushfire and remained at conditions typically seen during the pre-fire periods, with unchanged euphotic depth, nutrient, suspended solids and algal concentrations which were all within acceptable water quality guidelines. With no pre-fire data available for the mouth of the Tambo River, this project provided an opportunity to characterised the post-fire environment. It did appear that in the wake of the bushfire and a subsequent storm event that a high concentrated pulse of suspended solids and nutrients occurred in the surface waters of the mouth of the Tambo River. Bushfire is an ongoing feature of the Australia landscape and this study has provided some indications of the more generic responses of Australian receiving waters in the months following a major bushfire. This information will assist with the ongoing development of catchment management strategies for aquatic systems effected by bushfire.


My Masters was with the Water Studies Centre, Department of Chemistry at Monash University. It focused on the impact of the 2003 Bushfires in north-east Victoria on receiving water bodies, namely Dartmouth Reservoir and the Tambo River. Not only was this study directly related to water, but my background in chemistry and biological science gave me a platform from which to pragmatically analyse water and environmental issues as well as understand any wider implications. By research: 100%

Specific Achievements

Presentations at several Fire Forums coordinated by Department of Sustainability and Environment (DSE) (Now known as Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning) and have produced two key interim reports. Data collection using a wide variety of sources including: Vic Water Data Database. 14 Field trips: sample collection and analysis. Working with a number of stakeholders including DSE, GMW, CMAs, Water Authorities and sampling contractors.

[1] UPE, R. (2003) When Rain Exacerbates Fire Pain in The Age: Melbourne 30/07/2003