River Torrens Recovery Project

Improving the River Torrens from the foothills to the sea

The River Torrens Recovery Project commenced in 2014, targeting priority sites to improve water quality and ecosystem function in the river and the coastal waters where it enters the sea. 

The lower River Torrens / Karrawirra Parri crosses the Adelaide Plains from the foothills to the sea and provides essential drainage and flood management to the Adelaide metropolitan area.

However, as it flows through the metropolitan area, the river is fed by stormwater runoff from the surrounding suburbs and is vulnerable to the contaminants that can flow in from urban areas, affecting water quality.

The river is also a community resource. The Torrens Linear Park, which runs alongside the river through Adelaide is a refuge for urban wildlife and pollinators, and offers peaceful recreation opportunities. The ancient river red gums and reed beds to be found in the park are often features that hold important cultural significance to the Kaurna people – the Aboriginal people of the Adelaide Plains.

Through the ongoing commitment of the eight councils along the linear park, and the former Adelaide and Mount Lofty Ranges NRM Board, now Green Adelaide, the River Torrens Recovery Project has pioneered a successful project of collaborative management involving the broader community. 

The stormwater issue

Before urbanisation, rainfall largely soaked into the ground, only running into creeks and rivers during heavy falls or when the ground was saturated. Today, rainfall runoff flows quickly across pavements, roads and carparks taking with it pollutants such as oil, cigarette butts, plastic litter, dust, leaves and dog poo.

Polluted stormwater flows directly to the nearest creek without being treated. It carries high levels of nutrients, which can cause algal blooms and smother seagrass and reef systems, and presents the most significant threat to water quality in the River Torrens.

How do gross pollutant traps and water sensitive urban design help?

Gross pollutant traps and water sensitive urban design structures, such as roadside raingardens, improve water quality by capturing leaf-litter, rubbish and sediment before they enter watercourses. Raingardens also filter pollutants from water as it percolates through the soil profile before it then enters drains and watercourses.

Dealing with exotic trees

The autumn leaf drop from exotic trees increases nutrients in the water and lowers dissolved oxygen needed by aquatic animals. This can result in poor health and even death of fish and invertebrates that live in these waterways.

The roots of some exotic tree species can also cause a loss of habitat and contribute to a loss of river bed and bank stability, leading to expensive erosion problems.

Removing invasive exotic trees and replacing them with locally indigenous plants improves water quality, bank stability, and the native habitat of the linear park. 

What else is being done?

Key actions include weed control, revegetation with native plants, stabilising river banks and reducing litter and pollutants from entering the river through the installation of pollutant traps. Large volumes of the destructive European Carp have also been removed from the Torrens Lake.

These works complement a number of other projects and programs in the catchment and the project continues to evolve as lessons are learnt and opportunities to increase collaboration are identified.

People and the park

The success of the project and local community support has seen it extended beyond its initial two years.

See what River Torrens Linear Park visitors had to say about this project. Read the report on the community survey.

Native Bee BnB project

The project now involves the community in construction of Native Bee ‘n’ Bug hotels along the river. Native bees are important pollinators for many of our native plant species. Learn more about the project

Be part of the solution

Everyone can help improve the water quality of our creeks, rivers and oceans.

Keep run-off surfaces free of pollutants – bin your cigarette butts, clean up oil leaks, cut down on plastic usage, wash your car at a car wash or on a grassy area – not on the street. Remember that the stormwater drain flows directly to the nearest creek and the water is not treated.

Want to do more?

Get rid of invasive exotic plants in your garden, manage pest plants or think about installing a raingarden.

Join a Friends of Parks or Bushcare volunteer group to help care for essential habitat for local native species.

Want to know more?

Green Adelaide – Caroline Dorr

City of Adelaide – Chris Butcher

City of Charles Sturt – Mark Hannan

City of Norwood Payneham & St Peters – Craig Taylor

City of Port Adelaide Enfield – Peter Gehling

City of Tea Tree Gully – Brad Mann or Mick Medic

Town of Walkerville – Ben Clark

Campbelltown City Council – Henry Haavisto

City of West Torrens – Amy Bruckman


Funding partners

City of Port Adelaide Enfield logo City of Charles Sturt logo City of Norwood, Payneham and St Peters logo Town of Walkerville logo City of West Torrens logo


Adelaide City Council logo City of Tea Tree Gully logo Campbelltown City Council logoSA Water logo