The problem

“The area around Spring Creek was cleared for farming purposes decades ago,” says Wehr-Candler of just how the environmental situation got so bad adding that on-going residential and commercial development has also added to the problem.

“The land surrounding Spring Creek is overrun with non-native pine and willow species, which are water intensive trees, and also blackberry plants. Due to the lack of biodiversity surrounding the waterway many pollutants and fertilisers enter the water supply without natural filtration.”

All this poses a danger to local wildlife, he says. “We have two endangered duck species – blue billed duck and, freckled duck – that are known to frequent the dam, and we want the area to be able to remain a viable breeding ground for these species.

“Because we are in the middle of a terrible drought we just do not have enough water,” says Wehr-Candler, a significant factor given that the invasive trees around the creek drink up far more water than native species would. “At 70-100 per cent (water) capacity we have a 2.5km section to row on. At 30 per cent, where we currently are, we have 1.8km to row on. Every per cent we lose from here reduces our training distance by 50 metres.”

The future water quality of Spring Creek is another major concern. “Without intervention,” he says, “the water quality would decrease. As the water quality decreases, the possibility of algal blooms increases.”

The plan

“Late last year I – as head of the rowing programme – approached the local council to discuss an idea for regenerating the bush land around Spring Creek and getting our students and their families involved,” says Wehr-Candler.

“The council jumped on the idea and set up a meeting with a biodiversity expert and their contractors. We met out at the site and discussed our ideas, formulating a clear plan and dividing the roles and responsibilities between the Council and School.”

Even with a clear idea of how cleaning up the creek could help both the local environment and the rowers, it wasn’t going to be easy. Wehr-Candler and the Kinross Wolaroi rowers needed to look for an early success story to keep the project going.

By starting small, they have been able to do just that. “We've focused on the least overgrown section to commence our project, to establish a clear beach-head to fan out from and to take a quick win for building further momentum,” says Wehr-Candler.

The people

“Our mandate is to own the project, educate our students and to run regeneration days at the site with rowers and their families,” he says of the Kinross Wolaroi rowing team’s role within the initiative. “We incentivised them by offering everyone a BBQ and for parents a learn to row session at the end to jump in a boat and give rowing a go.”

“It's important to provide opportunities for our rowers to learn about the environment and to learn about this in a practical way with the support of friends and family. The rowers and their families have loved being a part of a project with a clear vision and goal that directly impacts them.”

The initiative has also meant greater recognition for the team within their local community beyond the boathouse as stewards of their shared water way.

“The entire Orange community including those from outside the rowing community have become aware of the project and are delighted to see this happening.”

“Rowing is in a unique position,” says Wehr-Candler. “We are reliant on a natural resource to train and race. The ecosystem that supports healthy waterways extends to our boathouses. It's critical that we not only understand the impact that we currently have on the environment but also what we can do to preserve our future.”

“Because of our unique position, it's imperative that rowers and rowing clubs be community leaders and custodians of the water.”

Advice for action

“Ultimately you cannot do everything by yourself,” says Wehr-Candler, “It's critical to paint a clear vision – start small with discernible groups. Find a partner who can help to share the roles and responsibilities (i.e. local council, environmental groups, local community). In our case we found a partner who was as equally enthusiastic when we explained what our vision was and what we needed from them to make it happen.”

About the World Rowing Sustainability Award

The Spring Creek Regeneration Project was recognised from among other notable environmental projects at the World Rowing Awards on 22 November 2019.

The World Rowing Sustainability Award goes to a national federation, club, event organising committee or other rowing organisation that has implemented an innovative project or initiative with a clear and positive sustainability impact or that is demonstrating sound sustainability practices on an ongoing basis.

The adjudication panel of this year’s award were impressed by the energy, leadership and community engagement demonstrated by the Kinross Wolaroi School Rowing Club, noting too that the educational aspect is significant. The panel commended the project for addressing a critical issue in the area of fresh water stewardship, being that of invasive species. It is also an excellent example of sport engaging with the broader ecosystem in which it is operating.

For more on the award as well as the other nominees for the 2019 Sustainability Award, here.