Articles | Volume 18, issue 5
Research article
22 May 2014
Research article |  | 22 May 2014

A new stream and nested catchment framework for Australia

J. L. Stein, M. F. Hutchinson, and J. A. Stein

Abstract. Nationally framed assessment and planning assists coordination of resource management activities across jurisdictional boundaries and provides context for assessing the cumulative effects of impacts that can be underestimated by local or regional studies. However, there have been significant shortcomings in the existing spatial frameworks supporting national assessment and planning for Australia's rivers and streams.

We describe the development of a new national stream and nested catchment framework for Australia that includes a fully connected and directed stream network and a nested catchment hierarchy derived using a modified Pfafstetter scheme. The directed stream network with associated catchment boundaries and Pfafstetter coding respect all distributary junctions and topographically driven surface flow pathways, including those in the areas of low relief and internal drainage that make up over half of the Australian continent. The Pfafstetter coding facilitates multi-scale analyses and easy tracing and query of upstream/downstream attributes and tributary/main stem relationships. Accompanying the spatial layers are 13 lookup tables containing nearly 400 attributes describing the natural and anthropogenic environment of each of the 1.4 M stream segments at multiple spatial scales (segment, sub-catchment and catchment).

The database supplies key spatial layers to support national water information and accounting needs and assists a wide range of research, planning and assessment tasks at regional and continental scales. These include the delineation of reporting units for the Australian Water Resources Assessment, the development of an ecohydrological environment classification for Australian streams and the identification of high conservation value aquatic ecosystems for northern Australia.