Richmond River

Our water quality monitoring program has shown the Richmond River estuary to have fair water quality. Find out more about the estuary and its unique features.

The Richmond River is one of the dominant rivers on the New South Wales north coast. It flows for 170 kilometres from the New South Wales/Queensland border and enters the sea at the township of Ballina.

The entrance to Richmond River estuary is trained using break walls and remains permanently open. It is classed as a barrier river. Wilsons River, which flows through the township of Lismore, is the main tributary into the Richmond River.

Richmond River is a focal point for local commerce, tourism and recreation. Despite its history of large-scale disturbance and development, this large estuary supports a diversity of seagrass, mangrove and saltmarsh communities, and provides important shorebird habitat.

Estuary health and features

Water quality

As part of our water quality monitoring program we assess the water quality and ecosystem health of an estuary using a range of relevant indicators. We sample a subset of the estuaries located between the Queensland border and Taree every 3 years. The most recent sampling in the Richmond River was completed over the 2018–19 summer when 24 sites were sampled on a monthly basis.

Richmond River water quality report card for algae and water clarity showing colour-coded ratings (red, orange, yellow, light green and dark green, which represent very poor, poor, fair, good and excellent, respectively). Algae is rated 'good' and water clarity is rated 'poor' giving an overall rating of 'fair' or 'C'.

This report card represents 2 water quality indicators that we routinely measure: the amount of algae present and water clarity. Low levels of these 2 indicators equate with good water quality.

The report card shows the condition of the estuary was fair with:

  • algae abundance graded poor (D)
  • water clarity graded good (B)
  • overall estuary health graded fair (C).

We currently collaborate with a number of local councils within the Richmond River catchment area to develop a comprehensive water quality monitoring program across the entire Richmond River estuary and some of the major inflowing rivers and streams as part of the NSW Marine Estate Management Strategy. Additionally, Rous County Council in collaboration with the University of New England’s EcoHealth program have carried out detailed ecosystem health monitoring in the Richmond River. The results of the monitoring program, including a detailed water quality report card, are available on the Rous County Council website.

Find out more about our estuary report cards and what each grade means. Read our sampling, data analysis and reporting protocols and find out how we calculate these grades.

We have monitored water quality in Richmond River since 2012. This table shows the water quality grades for this estuary over that time.

Richmond River historic water quality grades from 2012-13 for algae and water clarity. Colour-coded ratings (red, orange, yellow, light green and dark green represent very poor (E), poor (D), fair (C), good (B) and excellent (A), respectively).

Grades for algae, water clarity and overall are represented as:

  • A – excellent
  • B – good
  • C – fair
  • D – poor
  • E – very poor.

As part of our Beachwatch program we assess swimming suitability at 6 swimming sites in Richmond River using microbial indicators. Ballina Shire Council collect samples at each site weekly between November and March to calculate the suitability grade. Sampling is ongoing. Each grade reflects the most recent 100 water quality results to March 2022. Find out more about how we monitor beach water quality.

Local government area Swim site name Grade
Ballina Shire Shaws Bay North Poor
Shaws Bay East Good
Shaws Bay West Poor
Shaws Bay East Beach Good
The Serpentine Good
Shaws Bay East Arm Good

Estuarine, lake and lagoon water can sometimes be unsuitable for swimming, especially after rainfall when stormwater and wastewater can overflow into swimming areas. Learn more about what the grades mean and how we grade swimming sites on our beach classification webpage.

Water sampling and laboratory analysis was funded by Ballina Shire Council.

Physical characteristics

Estuary type: Barrier river

Latitude (ºS) –28.8
Longitude (ºE) 153.59
Catchment area (km2) 6861.8
Estuary area (km2) 38.4
Estuary volume (ML) 119,314.4
Average depth (m) 3.2

Tidal exchange volume

Tidal exchange volume or tidal prism data is available for this estuary. This tidal prism was measured in 1994.

Tide state Flow
(106 m3)
Local tidal
range (m)
Sydney Harbour
tidal range (m)
Ebb flow 21.9 1.53 1.67
Flood flow 24.99 1.56 1.61
Notes: km2 = square kilometres; m = metres; m3 = cubic metres; ML = megalitres.

Water depth and survey data

Bathymetric and coastal topography data for this estuary are available in our data portal.

Land use

The Richmond River has a highly disturbed catchment due to a long history of vegetation changes, hydrological modifications, agriculture and urban development. Much of the lower coastal plain has been cleared for agriculture whereas the upper catchment remains largely forested. Major towns within the catchment include Ballina and Lismore.

Water use

Find out about water use in the Richmond River, including information about major water users, real-time flow data, and environmental and water sharing plans.

Web cam

The Ballina bar crossing web camera, located at the mouth of the Richmond River, provides real-time video of conditions within the river entrance immediately offshore to help with bar crossings and boat safety.

National and marine parks

Community involvement

  • Richmond Landcare is an umbrella landcare organisation that supports other Landcare and environmental groups in the local area.
  • Richmond River Floodplain Management is a long-term project coordinated by North Coast Local Land Services and Conservation Volunteer Australia, in collaboration with Richmond River County Council and NSW Department of Primary Industries – Fishing. It involves working with local land holders to restore the health of floodplain wetlands and open swamps within the Richmond River catchment.
  •  is a volunteer community group working to improve river health.
  • Ballina Coastcare is an active community group involved in restoration and regeneration of the coastal environment around East Ballina.

Local government management

Local councils manage estuaries within their area unless the estuary is attached to a marine park. Ballina Shire Council manage this estuary.