Applications and impact

Applications and impact

The primary goal of the River Styles Framework is to support improvements in river management practice on the ground.

River Styles has had international and domestic impact on river management through application of the Framework. The following are a selection of applications that demonstrate successful uses of River Styles and the potential for River Styles to integrate with other management tools and provide a geomorphic basis for river management in a range of settings.

Using River Styles: Open Access databases

Open Access NSW River Styles Database

All 4 stages of the River Styles Framework have been applied to over 225,000 km of stream length across NSW by NSW Department of Planning and Environment – Water Division.

Access the NSW River Style database Read the open Access paper

Open Access NSW River Condition Index

Stage 2 of the River Styles Framework has been used to assess geomorphic river condition across all catchments of NSW by NSW Department of Planning and Environment – Water Division. This provides one input and layer to the NSW River Condition Index alongside other condition layers such as riparian vegetation, water quality, biodiversity and hydrological stress to derive an overall index.

Access the NSW River Condition Index Read the open Access paper

Open Access NSW Corridors of River Recovery database

The River Styles recovery potential and prioritisation framework has been used on the NSW River Styles database to develop a workflow for identifying and prioritising where corridors of river recovery can be built in all coastal catchments of NSW. This database, developed at Macquarie University, is available on the Open Access the NSW Government SEED portal. The GIS workflow is also provided at so end-users can run their own prioritisation scenarios.

Access the NSW Corridors of River Recovery databaseRead the open Access paper 1 Read the open Access paper 2

Using River Styles: Case studies

Prioritising river management actions based on the River Condition Index

The River Condition Index (RCI), NSW Government
New South Wales, Australia

Read case study

Monitoring and restoring valuable fish habitat

Columbia Habitat Monitoring Program (CHaMP)
United States

Read case study

Assessing hydromorphic quality in European rivers

REFORM Project
European Union

Read case study

Predicting distributions of fish communities and threatened species across NSW

NSW Department of primary Industries (Fisheries)

Read case study Link to database

Other uses and applications of the River Styles Framework

Setting baselines with understanding of river character and behaviour

NSW Fisheries (Department of Primary Industries) used River Styles data covering the state of NSW as part of their project to map known and predicted spatial distributions of fish communities and threatened fish species for the entire state. The model developed by NSW Fisheries combined biological data with physical data, which for which River Styles river character was a primary input. Reach-scale prediction of fish distributions will help to support environmental planning and decision making that better accounts for aquatic biodiversity. You can read more about the project here.

Alluvium Consulting Australia used the River Styles Framework to characterise complex arid zone catchment, and in conjunction with modelling, provided guidance on pre-mining operations and infrastructure placement along with guidance for post-mining watercourse rehabilitation. The flexible nature of the River Styles Framework allowed its use in complex arid-zone systems and the study identified previously unrecorded river types with unique character and behaviour. You can purchase the report commissioned by Iluka Resources here.

The Texas Water Development Board (USA) used the River Styles Framework as a geomorphic classification tool to characterise rivers of the Gulf Coastal Plain. They chose River Styles because it is “specifically intended to incorporate evolutionary pathways of the fluvial system, rather than static conditions”. The report by Professor Jonathan Phillips is available here.

Tasmania’s Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment produced a ‘Taswide’ database of river character to identify river regions and support river management throughout the state. Their approach for characterising rivers was based on the River Styles Framework. You can read more about their methods here.

Riparian Engineering have undertaken River Styles assessments of character and behaviour as part of consultancies for river restoration and engineering projects. You can find more information here.

Waringah Local Council (now Northern Beaches Council) commissioned a ‘Creek Management Study’ to establish baseline river condition for their local government area, assess river management issues and make recommendations for future management (including development controls). The report included analysis of River Styles character and behaviour in order to establish a baseline. You can read the report here.

Sunshine Coast Local Council combined River Styles analysis with land use analysis to define locations for sampling in their river health monitoring program. Their fact sheet provides more information.

The Molongo River Rescue Action Plan developed in 2010 incorporated River Styles analysis of character and behaviour in order to support river management, including for rare chain of ponds river type. You can read the plan here.


Assessing and monitoring changes in geomorphic river condition

The NSW Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) produces triennial ‘State of the Environment’ (SoE) reports, which track environmental quality and condition over time. From 2012, SoE reporting has used tools incorporating components of the River Styles Framework to monitor river condition. These tools include the Sustainable Rivers Audit (SoE 2012 and SoE 2015) and more recently the River Condition Index (RCI; SoE 2018). This has allowed development of statewide maps of river condition for ongoing monitoring and reporting. You can read more about use of River Styles in the RCI in our case study and the NSW Government’s RCI technical manual.

The EcoHealth program was developed to assess the health of waterways in coastal northern NSW and includes a number of physical, chemical and biological indicators. The physical component includes analysis of river type and geomorphic river condition using the River Styles Framework. Use of the River Styles Framework in the EcoHealth program was supported by the statewide River Styles geodatabase, developed by NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment. You can read more in the EcoHealth reports for MacleayCoffs Harbour and Clarence.

Designation of Wild Rivers under the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Act (1974) protects the State’s most pristine and least-disturbed rivers. Assessment of potential Wild Rivers is based on assessment of ecological condition using the AUSRIVAS framework and geomorphological condition using the River Styles Framework. Use of the River Styles Framework includes assessment of geomorphic condition and rates of geomorphic change for different river types. Wild Rivers are assessed by the NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment (incorporating the former Office of Environment and Heritage). You can read more about the Wild Rivers assessment process here.


Prioritising river rehabilitation actions

The Demonstration Reach Toolbox was developed for use in Australia’s Murray-Darling Basin as part of a coordinated approach to rehabilitation of native fish populations and habitat throughout the basin. The Toolbox supports strong collaboration between communities and Government on matters concerning native fish. The River Styles Framework has been identified as being highly compatible with the Toolbox by providing whole-of-catchment prioritisation to target application of the Demonstration Reach Toolbox. You can read more about compatibility between the two systems here. The Demonstration Reach approach has been applied along with the River Styles Framework in a number of locations throughout the Murray-Darling Basin, including by the ACT Natural Resource Management Council; more information can be found here.

The Australian National Water Initiative (NWI) is a comprehensive strategy to improve water management across Australia, establishing a ‘common language’ for management of aquatic ecosystems across all states and territories. Implementation of the NWI included development of the Aquatic Ecosystem Toolkit to identify, classify and evaluate condition of aquatic ecosystems. These tools include the Australian National Aquatic Ecosystem (ANAE) Classification Framework and the framework for identifying High Ecological Value Aquatic Ecosystems (HEVAE). The ANAE Classification Framework uses components of the River Styles Framework to understand river character. In implementing the HEVAE Framework guidelines, the NSW Government have applied the River Condition Index, which draws heavily on the River Styles Framework. These Frameworks have been used to guide river condition assessment and prioritisation of management. You can read more about the Aquatie Ecosystem Toolkit here.

Catchment Action Plans (CAPs) were developed by Catchment Management Authorities in NSW from 2003 to 2013 to provide strategic direction for natural resource management, ensuring better outcomes for native vegetation, biodiversity, land, rivers and coastal waterways. Targets for improvement of natural resource management were developed in consultation with communities, industry and government agencies. A number of CMAs used the River Styles Framework as a basis for prioritising reach-scale management and rehabilitation of rivers; examples can be seen in CAPs for the Central WestLachlan and Namoi CMAs (the Hawkesbury-Nepean, Hunter-Central Rivers, Northern Rivers, Murray and Sydney Metropolitan CMAs also used River Styles). CMAs also developed River Health Strategies to assess river reach structure and function, geomorphic condition, recovery potential and threats to recovery. This was used in conjunction with ecological indicators to set prioritisation strategies, following a decision framework similar to that used in the River Styles Framework. In 2013, CMAs transitioned to NSW Local Land Services, whose management of natural resources is guided by Local Strategic Plans (LSPs). Local Land Services continue to use River Styles to underpin prioritisation of investment for reach-based river rehabilitation.

The Mary River and Tributaries Rehabilitation Plan produced for the Mary River Catchment in Queensland prioritised river rehabilitation efforts following the procedures in Stage 4 of the River Styles Framework. The Plan’s focus on promoting natural recovery and and understanding of river processes is consistent with the River Styles Framework. You can read more about the plan’s objectives here.

The Lockyer Catchment Action Plan (Queensland, 2015-2018) adopted the River Styles Framework for assessing geomorphic river condition and identified priorities for management from a geomorphic and river health perspective. Other catchments in South East Queensland also have used a modified (albeit limited) version of the River Styles Framework for geomorphic descriptions of rivers. You can find the Lockyer Catchment Action Plan here.

The NSW Northern Rivers Regional Biodiversity Management Plan was developed in collaboration between the Northern Rivers Catchment Management Authority and the Commonwealth Government to support recovery of threatened species and ecological communities in that region. The River Styles Framework was used in the plan to assess geomorphic river condition and recovery potential of the major rivers. This information contributed to development of management priorities, recognising important links between the physical and biological components of the environment. You can see the plan here.

The NSW Department of Environment and Heritage used the River Styles Framework in an urban setting to map the natural blue grid elements of a catchment in south west Sydney. They used the style, condition, recovery potential and prioritisation layers alongside other available monitoring data to assess high ecological value waterways, riparian vegetation communities and other water dependent ecosystems. More information can be found here.

Recognition for the River Styles Framework and its uses


Australian Research Council (ARC) Engagement and Impact Assessment: In 2018, the River Styles Framework was assessed as a research impact case study for the Field of Research Code ’05: Environmental Science’. The River Styles Framework received scores of ‘Highly Effective’ for Engagement, ‘Significant Contribution’ for Impact and ‘Effective’ for Approach to Impact. More information about the assessment and results are available here.

Excellence in Research for Australia (ERA): In 2010, 2012, 2015 and 2018, Macquarie University’s Department of Environmental Sciences received the highest rating of 5 – “well above world standard”. Read more here.

Australian Institute of Policy and Science – Tall Poppy Awards: awarded in 2006 to Kirstie Fryirs for her work in developing the River Styles Framework along with outreach activities to communicate the research to river practitioners and community. Read more here.

Macquarie University Awards

Innovation in Research Award: awarded in 2007 for the River Styles Framework

Innovative Partnership Award: ‘highly commended’ in 2005 for the Upper Hunter River Rehabilitation Initiative


Assessments and appraisals

Land and Water Australia conducted cost-benefit analysis on their top performing research investments over the previous 20 years, identifying benefits based on social, environmental and economic value. River Styles was selected as one of the best performing research investments with a benefit:cost ratio of 28:1. Net present value (benefits less costs) in 2010 was estimated at AU$40 million. Source: Land and Water Australia (2010), ‘Measuring return on 20 years of investment in natural resource management research and development’.

The Sustainable Rivers Audit included review of geomorphic classification schemes for rivers and floodplains. This review recognised the River Styles Framework with the highest score of ‘8’ for useful geomorphic classification techniques because of its flexibility, capacity to incorporate all spatial scales and its multidisciplinary approach (geomorphology, hydrology and hydraulics). The Sustainable Rivers Audit is an assessment of the ecological health of rivers in Australia’s Murray-Darling Basin. More information can be found here.

The USA Department of Agriculture developed guidance for stream restoration and rehabilitation in 2016 in order to assist professionals in stream restoration and rehabilitation by identifying and evaluating the best approaches available. The River Styles Framework was noted for its benefits, including, working with the continuum of river diversity as an open-ended classification system, rather than ‘pigeon-holing’ rivers in rigid categories. The report can be found here.

The United Kingdom Environment Agency reviewed usefulness of incorporating hydrological, geomorphological and ecological attributes into a typology of rivers, in order to assess the impacts of climate change on the physical structure and condition of rivers. This was in response to the EU’s Water Framework Directive. The review noted that the River Styles Framework “has great potential for river management and has been used for problem-solving, application and participatory management” when assessing potential climate change impacts on rivers.

The Department of Watershed Sciences, Utah State University tested four stream classification frameworks to explore the degree to which each perform. A comparison was made between the River Styles Framework, Natural Channel Classification, Rosgen Classification System, and a channel form-based statistical classification. They found that the four frameworks consistently classified reach types into similar groups based on river form, but only the River Styles Framework was able to extend this analysis into interpretations of river process and behaviour. More information can be found here.