Water, Air, & Soil Pollution

, Volume 223, Issue 8, pp 5331–5344 | Cite as

Is Catchment Imperviousness a Keystone Factor Degrading Urban Waterways? A Case Study from a Partly Urbanised Catchment (Georges River, South-Eastern Australia)

  • Carl Tippler
  • Ian A. Wright
  • Alison Hanlon


The extent of catchment impervious surface is recognised to be an important factor associated with the condition of urban freshwater streams. We tested the hypothesis that the degree of catchment imperviousness predicted the relative ecological condition of freshwater reaches within the network of streams and rivers in the partly urbanised Georges River catchment in temperate south-eastern Australia. The 2-year study involved two spring and two autumn assessments of water quality (chemical and physical) and ecological condition, using benthic macroinvertebrates, riparian vegetation and calculation of catchment imperviousness. The study revealed that highly urbanised streams had strongly degraded water quality and macroinvertebrate communities, compared to clean non-urban reference streams. We found three clear groups of sites with varying degrees of ecological condition, being categorised according to the level of catchment effective imperviousness (low <5.0 %, moderate = 5.0–18.0 % and high >18.0 %). Water pollution also varied according to these categories. A combination of two water chemistry attributes (total nitrogen and calcium), along with catchment imperviousness and riparian vegetation condition, were identified as being the factors most strongly associated with variation of macroinvertebrate communities. Based on our results, we recommend that protection of the ecological condition of streams should focus on not only water quality but also include catchment imperviousness and riparian vegetation condition.


Urban stream syndrome Urban waterways Aquatic macroinvertebrates Water pollution Imperviousness 



This study was supported by the Georges River Combined Councils' Committee, the NSW Government and Commonwealth Government. Community volunteers generously assisted with field work. All sampling was undertaken with permission of landholders and the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Georges River Combined Councils’ Committee (GRCCC)Hurstville BCAustralia
  2. 2.School of Science and HealthUniversity of Western SydneySouth Penrith DCAustralia

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