Applications and impact

Applications and impact of the River Styles framework

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

International applications

European REFORM (Restoring rivers FOR effective catchment management) – including the Morphological Quality Index (MQI)

Restoring river ecosystems in Europe: the REFORM project’s objectives were to provide tools to support cost-effective implementation of restoration measures and monitoring to reach the ecological objectives for rivers as required by the EU Water Framework Directive. REFORM aimed to improve existing tools and develop new ones to increase the success and cost-effectiveness of restoration measures and procedures to monitor the biological responses to hydromorphological changes with greater precision and sensitivity. For this, REFORM developed an open-ended hydromorphology framework incorporating multi-scale spatial and temporal aspects that builds heavily on the River Styles Framework. It aids users in developing understanding of the morphology and dynamics of river reaches and their causes. The Morphological Quality Index (MQI) is the method recommended by REFORM for assessing river condition. The MQI builds directly on Stage 2 of the River Styles Framework. The method is extremely useful for analysing and interpreting critical problems and causes of alteration.


United Kingdom – Climate change impacts on river typologies for the Water Framework Directive – Environment Agency UK (2006)

The Environment Agency reviewed the usefulness of incorporating hydrological, geomorphological and ecological attributes into a typology of rivers as a basis to assess the impacts of climate change on the physical structure and condition of rivers. In this review it noted that because of its process- and trajectory-based approach to analysis that 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.

USA – Columbia Habitat Monitoring Program (CHaMP)

The goal of CHaMP is to generate and implement a standard set of fish habitat monitoring (status and trend) methods in up to 26 watersheds across the Columbia River basin. The program undertakes larger salmonid population-level life cycle modelling and restoration activities and uses this to priortize habitat for salmonids listed in the Endangered Species Act. The application has been in the Interior Columbia River Basin in the Pacific Northwest. The River Styles Framework is used as the geomorphic template for identifying river types and associated geomorphic structure, to assess geomorphic condition and recovery potential. The Framework has also provided a basis for integrating a range of geospatial tools, and generating new tools for assessing the ecohydrology and geomorphology of rivers more generally.



Joe Wheaton’s website

Upscaling site-scale ecohydraulic models to inform salmonid population-level life cycle modeling and restoration actions – Lessons from the Columbia River Basin in Earth Surface Processes and Landforms (2018)

CHaMP website


USA – River Styles Report for the Middle Fork John Day Watershed, Oregon

As part of CHaMP (see above), the Middle Fork John Day Watershed was chosen as an exemplar demonstration catchment for which a full River Styles assessment was undertaken and used as a basis for developing a range of automated toolkits for analysis of River Styles. The initial report also undertook a full analysis of geomorphic condition, recovery potential, and management prioritisation. The mapping outputs are instrumental for communicating with key stakeholders.


USA – United States Department of Agriculture – Guidance for Stream Restoration and Rehabilitation

This guide was written to assist professionals in stream restoration and rehabilitation projects to identify and evaluate the best approaches available. River Styles is noted as a framework that works with the continuum of river diversity as an open-ended classification process rather than ‘pigeon-holing’ into rigid categories.


Yochum, Steven E. 2016.
Guidance for stream restoration and rehabilitation. Technical Note TN-102.2. Fort Collins, CO: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, National Stream & Aquatic Ecology Center.

USA – Texas Water Development Board

The River Styles Framework has been used in Texas (USA) as a geomorphic classification tool to characterise the rivers of the Gulf Coastal Plain. It was chosen as the appropriate tool as it is “specifically intended to incorporate evolutionary pathways of the fluvial system, rather than static conditions that are presumed to be related to stable equilibrium states”.


USA – Texas Water Development Board

The River Styles Framework has been used in Texas (USA) as a geomorphic classification tool to characterise the rivers of the Gulf Coastal Plain. It was chosen as the appropriate tool as it is “specifically intended to incorporate evolutionary pathways of the fluvial system, rather than static conditions that are presumed to be related to stable equilibrium states”.


Australian Federal, State and Local Government

Land & Water Australia – Measuring return on 20 years of investment in natiral resource management research & development

Land & Water Australia conducted cost:benefit analysis on their top performing research investments over the previous 15 years, identifying benefits based on social, environmental and economic value. River Styles was selected as one of the high performing research investments with a benefit to cost ratio of 28:1 and net present value (benefits less costs) in 2010 of over $40 million.


Commonwealth – National Water Initiative (NWI)

The National Water Initiative (NWI) is a comprehensive strategy to improve water management across Australia. The NWI has been signed by the Australian Government and all of the states and territories, and is Australia’s blueprint for national water reform. The River Styles Framework has been used as part of the Australian National Aquatic Ecosystem (ANAE) Classification Framework and the framework for identifying High Ecological Value Aquatic Ecosystems (HEVAE).


NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI)

NSW DPI has applied the River Styles Framework in mapping and assessing river types, river condition and recovery potential across the state of NSW since about 2000. Analyses of geomorphic condition are incorporated with other indices of hydrological stress, threatened species and vegetation condition to create the River Condition Index. State-wide overage of River Styles (all 4 stages) is soon to be available.

This significant investment has been used by many Departments, including NSW Local Land Services, DPI Fisheries, DPI Water and former Catchment Management Authorities to achieve savings through improved decision making and prioritisation of activities. The state wide assessment also provides a database to that illustrates the range of River Styles, reference reaches for practitioners to consult, and target conditions to guide management and rehabilitation approaches. The Framework is also used to inform Water Sharing Plans across NSW.


NSW Catchment Management Authorities (fmr) – Catchment Action Plans

Catchment Action Plans (CAP) provides the strategic direction of natural resource management to ensure better outcomes for native vegetation, biodiversity, land, rivers and coastal waterways. This is achieved through a range of targets that each Catchment Management Authority (CMA) developed in consultation with farmers, local groups, Aboriginal communities, local governments, industry, and other NSW and Commonwealth agencies. The River Styles Framework was utilised in prioritising reach-scale management and rehabilitation in CAPs for the Central West CMA, Lachlan CMA, Hawksbury-Nepean CMA, Hunter-Central Rivers CMA, Namoi CMA, Northern Rivers CMA, Murray CMA and Sydney Metropolitan CMA.


NSW Natural Resources Commission – Monitoring, Evaluation and Reporting Strategy (MER)

The MER Strategy supports regional delivery of Natural Resource Management (NRM) in NSW and informs the review, revision and ongoing implementation of Catchment Action Plans and other high-level strategic plans such as the NSW Biodiversity Strategy. The aim of NRM MER is for a seamless link between local, regional, State and Australian Government NRM data that truly informs and guides the whole community on how we care for the natural resources of the State and builds robust mechanisms that facilitate the acquisition, management and sharing of NRM data. The River Styles Framework is used as one of the key baseline datasets used in this strategy.

NSW Catchment Managament Authorities – River Health Strategies

NSW River Health Strategies used River Styles to assessing river reach structure and function, geomorphic condition, recovery potential and threats to recovery. This was used in conjunction with indicators of ecological health to set a strategy to:

  1. Maintain the condition of river reaches where they are in natural or near natural condition
  2. Maintain and improve river reaches where they are in good condition
  3. Improve the environmental condition of the remaining river reaches
  4. Achieve the highest environmental and community gain for the resources invested

NSW Local Land Services – Transition Catchment Action Plans and State Strategic Plans

River Styles, as part of the NSW River Condition Index, is incorporated into the long term strategic catchment planning of the NSW Local Land Services (LLS). Prior to the transition to LLS, the Catchment Management Authorities (CMA) used the River Styles Framework as a key dataset in their River Health Strategies and Catchment Action Plans. This work is ongoing as part of a strategic goal for healthy, diverse and connected natural environments in the LLS State Strategic Plan.

NSW State of the Environment Reports 2012 and 2015

NSW State of the Environment (SoE) reports on the status of key environmental issues facing New South Wales. The River Styles Framework was used to create a Statewide assessment of geomorphic condition, providing a more detailed analysis than previous work including the Murray-Darling Basin Sustainable Rivers Audit.


NSW Department of Primary Industries (Fisheries) – Fish communities and threatened species assessments

The NSW River Styles geodatabase is used to model the potential distribution of threatened species of fish. The nested hierarchy of criteria based on valley setting, channel planform, geomorphic units, and bed material allowed the incorporation of geomorphic information in the analysis. The dataset is used to spatially represent the status of fish communities at river reach scale across NSW and provide support to strategic planning frameworks to ensure they effectively integrate biodiversity considerations into planning and decision making processes. The River Styles Framework has also been used to select potential new stocking sites for fish rehabilitation programs.


Commonwealth Environmental Water Office and Murray-Darling Basin Authority – Murray-Darling Basin aquatic ecosystem classification

The NSW River Styles spatial database was used as a validation tool during large scale mapping of ecosystem classes in the Murray-Darling Basin, Australia. This shows an extended benefit provided by the whole-of-catchment approach and ground truthing using the River Styles Framework. Valley confinement was one of the primary attributes for defining large-scale ecosystem classes.


Brooks S., Cottingham P., Butcher R. and Hale J. (2014). Murray-Darling Basin aquatic ecosystem classification: Stage 2 report. Peter Cottingham & Associates report to the Commonwealth Environmental Water Office and Murray-Darling Basin Authority, Canberra

Sustainable Rivers Audit – A review of geomorphic classification schemes for rivers and floodplains

The Sustainable Rivers Audit is an assessment of the ecological health of rivers in the Murray-Darling Basin, Australia. The River Styles Framework was recognised with the highest score (8 points) for useful Geomorphic Classification techniques due to its flexibility, capacity to incorporate all spatial scales, and multi-disciplinary (geomorphology, hydrology and hydraulics) approach.


NSW Office of Environment and Heritage – Wild Rivers

Wild rivers are rivers that are in a substantially undisturbed condition that may be afforded additional protection under State legislation. Criteria for designation of wild rivers considers biological, hydrological and geomorphological processes. The River Styles Framework has been used to assign geomorphic condition and rates of geomorphic change for different river types for identification of Wild Rivers in NSW.


Queensland Department of Environment and Heritage Protection

The River Styles Framework is part of the Department’s Assessment Toolbox aimed at State and local Government agencies, natural resource managers, community groups and landowners to prioritise river conservation or restoration efforts.


Tasmania – Natural Resource Management (NRM) – South Region

NRM South use River Styles as part of property management planning to inform landholders about river types and their expected character and behaviour. This approach is used to provide guidance on what is expected and natural and the river forms and processes that are likely to occur in riparian areas in good and poor condition geomorphic condition.


Queensland – Mary River and Tributaries Rehabilitation Plan 2000

“The plan prioritises strategies based on the ‘Titanic’ philosophy which argues that protection of natural assets (keeping good ships afloat) is more cost effective than rehabilitating highlydegraded reaches (raising the Titanic). Reaches of relatively homogeneous character and behaviour are classified along the lines of the River Styles approach. Assets, problems and the recovery trajectory are identified, before each reach is categorised into a seven tier hierarchy. Categories range from protecting and restoring reaches of regional conservation significance through to stabilising highly degraded sites with little chance of natural recovery. The plan sets out a 50 year vision, and ten yeargoals. These aim to reverse current trends by motivating and empowering the community to adopt river rehabilitation techniques that are based on a solid understanding of riverprocesses.”


Queensland – Lockyer Catchment Action Plan 2015-2018

The River Styles Framework was used for assessing geomorphic condition and “identified priorities for management from a geomorphic and river health perspective”. Other South East Queensland catchments use a modified (albeit limited) version of the River Styles Framework for geomorphic descriptions of rivers.


Tasmania Natural Resource Management Associations – Tasmania’s River Geomorphology

The River Styles Framework has been widely applied in Tasmania. A Tas-wide styles database has been generated to describe the character of rivers found in Tasmania.


NSW Northern Rivers Regional Biodiversity Management Plan

The Northern Rivers Regional Biodiversity Management Plan is a recovery plan for threatened species and ecological communities using a regional approach. The River Styles Framework was used to assess the geomorphic condition and recovery potential of the major rivers in the region, enabling the prioritisation of rehabilitation strategies.


NSW Ecosystem Health Monitoring Program (Ecohealth)

As a partnership between the University of New England, Office of Environment and Heritage, Local Land Services, Department of Primary Industries and local councils, the Ecohealth program includes a number of physical, chemical and biological indicators to determine the health of waterways in coastal Northern NSW. River Styles has been incorporated into the program to provide an assessment of river type and geomorphic condition. This was aided by the extensive River Styles geodatabase created by the NSW Department of Primary Industries (Water).


Native Fish Strategy program of the Murray-Darling Basin Authority – Demonstration Reach Toolbox

This program is a coordinated approach to native fish rehabilitation on a broad scale, with an emphasis on strong, direct community involvement. The Rivers Styles Framework provided the geomorphological framework to enable understanding of river behaviour and develop a whole of catchment assessment of river condition. This is used to improve the identification of target reaches and demonstration sites for river rehabilitation.


Council and environmental groups

Many smaller councils and environmental groups have adopted the River Styles Framework, either through their own assessment or through assessments conducted by larger state funded departments (e.g. NSW DPI Water).


Warringah Council (NSW) – Creek Management Study

Sunshine Coast Council (QLD)

ACT Natural Resource Management Council

Molongo River Rescue Action Plan 2010 (NSW)

Blue Mountains City Council (NSW)

Consultancy groups

Landscape-scale assessment of watercourses in remote arid South Australia to inform mine planning and mine closure – Iluka Resources and Alluvium Consulting

The River Styles Framework was used to characterise complex arid zone catchments, and in conjunction with modelling provided guidance on pre-mining operations and infrastructure placement. It is also used to guide post-mining rehabilitation of complex watercourses. The flexible nature of the River Styles Framework allowed its use in a complex arid-zone system where the study identified previously unrecorded river types with unique character and behaviour.


Ferguson, C, White, K, Harding, M and Hardie, R, 2016. Landscape-scale assessment of watercourses in remote arid South Australia to inform mine planning to mine closure, in Proceedings Life-of-Mine 2016 Conference, pp 200-204 (The Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy: Melbourne).

Riparian Engineering

Riparian Engineering is an environmental consultancy specialising in fluvial and coastal processes. River Styles is used for the characterisation of rivers and river behaviour, for both current and future trajectories, which is incorporated into the design of river restoration and engineering projects.


Awards and recognition

Excellence in Research for Australia (ERA)

In 2010, 2012 and 2015, Macquarie University has received the highest rating of 5 (well above world standard) for environmental sciences, noting that “Macquarie’s expertise has contributed to the sustainable management of river catchments through eco-toxicological assessments and the River Styles initiative”.


Australian Institute of Policy and Science Tall Poppy Awards

Kirstie Fryirs received a NSW Tall Poppy award in 2006 for her work developing and implementing the River Styles Framework along with outreach activities to communicate the research to river practitioners and the community.


Macquarie University

Innovation in Research Award in 2007 for the River Styles Framework

Innovative Partnership – Highly Commended in 2005 for the Upper Hunter River Rehabilitation Initiative