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The Goulburn River flows for 570 km from the Great Dividing Range upstream of Woods Point to the River Murray east of Echuca.

The Goulburn River and its floodplain continue to be places of importance for Traditional Owners and their Nations including the Yorta Yorta and Taungurung Peoples. The Registered Aboriginal Parties (RAPs) in the Goulburn River catchment are the Yorta Yorta Nation Aboriginal Corporation and the Taungurung Clans Aboriginal Corporation. Both the Yorta Yorta Nation and Taungurung Clans Aboriginal Corporations were engaged during development of the Goulburn River seasonal watering proposal.

System map

Grey river reaches have been included for context. The numbered reaches indicate where relevant environmental flow studies have been undertaken. Coloured reaches can receive environmental water.

Environmental watering objectives in the Goulburn River

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Protect and boost populations of native fish (including golden perch) by increasing the availability of habitat and by encouraging fish to migrate and spawn
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Provide habitat and food for waterbugs, which break down organic matter and support the river’s food chain
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Maintain the form of the riverbank and channel, including a high diversity of river bed surfaces to support all stream life
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Increase aquatic and flood-tolerant plants in the river channel and on the lower banks, to provide shelter and food for animals and to stabilise the riverbank

Environmental values

The Goulburn River and its tributaries support a range of native fish species including golden perch, silver perch, Murray cod, trout cod, Macquarie perch and freshwater catfish. Its aquatic vegetation, scour holes and structural, woody debris provide high-quality habitat for adult and juvenile fish. The bank vegetation is dominated by river red gums, which provide stream shading and habitat for many species including the squirrel glider. Birds (such as egrets, herons and cormorants) use trees along the river to roost and feed, while frogs benefit from shallowly inundated vegetation along the river fringes and in adjacent wetlands.

The Goulburn River system is an important conservation area for threatened species. Mid-Goulburn River tributaries between Lake Eildon and Goulburn Weir host some of the last remaining Macquarie perch populations in the Murray–Darling Basin, while freshwater catfish can be found in lagoons connected to the Goulburn River in reach 3. Monitoring in the lower Goulburn River below the Goulburn Weir shows successful spawning in response to environmental flows of golden and silver perch and trout cod.

Social economic values

The Goulburn Broken catchment covers two percent of the area of the Murray–Darling Basin and contributes 11 percent of the total water for use in the basin, with the majority contributed from the Goulburn River. Most of the water taken from the Goulburn system is used to irrigate crops and pasture, with the rest providing water for towns and stock and domestic users. The Goulburn River is popular for recreation, fishing and boating. Fishing in particular provides substantial economic and social benefits to the region.

Conditions 2018

The Goulburn catchment has experienced mainly dry conditions over the last five years, except in 2016–17 when unregulated flows caused overbank flooding. Most of the flow variation in the lower Goulburn River in 2017–18 was due to releases of water for the environment rather than natural (unregulated) flows. The exceptions were two unregulated flow events in August (peaking at 6,400 ML per day at Shepparton) and December 2017 (peaking at 23,000 ML per day at Shepparton). The high flows in December caused an influx of organic matter that, coupled with warmer weather, lowered the dissolved oxygen concentration in the river. A similar, unregulated event in 2016–17 caused a hypoxic blackwater event, but water for the environment was successfully used during the December 2017 event to prevent the further decline of oxygen levels and avoid stress to aquatic animals.

Water for the environment was used to deliver a winter fresh in late-June to early-July 2017 to improve bank vegetation, water quality and waterbug and fish habitat. Improving the condition of bank vegetation early in the year increases the resilience of plant communities and enables them to better withstand the effects of high river flows due to irrigation deliveries in the following summer and autumn.

Water for the environment was used when necessary throughout the year to meet minimum low flow requirements in the lower Goulburn River, to maintain habitat for in-stream animals and to support bank vegetation. Low flows of 400 ML per day were also delivered for the first time in reach 1 of the Goulburn River between July and September 2017 to maintain riffle habitats that are often exposed at that time.

Managers of water for the environment provided advice to river operators about how to shape a summer intervalley transfer in a way that provided some environmental benefits. Inter-valley transfers can significantly exceed the recommended summer flows and compromise environmental outcomes. In this case, the transfers were shaped to produce two peak flows of 2,900 ML per day over 20 days in summer, to encourage juvenile golden perch and silver perch to move from the River Murray into the lower Goulburn River. Water for the environment is planned to be used to deliver a winter fresh event in June and July 2018 to maintain bank vegetation as well as waterbug and fish habitat in the lower Goulburn.

The vast majority of water for the environment delivered in the Goulburn River is reused at downstream sites along the River Murray. In 2017–18, Goulburn water was reused to meet native fish objectives in Gunbower Creek, to achieve large-scale floodplain inundation in Hattah Lakes, to fill Lake Wallawalla at Lindsay Island and to benefit native fish in the Lower Lakes, Coorong and Murray Mouth in South Australia.

Scope of environmental watering

Table 1 Potential environmental watering actions and objectives for the Goulburn River


Potential environmental watering1

Environmental objectives


Year-round low flows (500 ML/day in reach 4 and/or 540 ML/day in reach 5)

  • Maximise habitat and movement opportunities for large and smallbodied native fish 
  • Provide conditions that support habitat and food for waterbugs; these include maintaining suitable water quality, submerging snags and encouraging plankton production 
  • Maintain lower bank and emergent vegetation

Spring fresh (1 fresh of up to 10,000 ML/day with flows above 6,000 ML/ day for 14 days in reach 4 and 5 in September–November)

  • Maintain the bank vegetation by watering banks and benches to provide soil moisture to sustain growth and stimulate flowering and seed development 
  • Increase the vegetation extent by distributing seed to river banks and stimulating germination 
  • Maintain macrophyte, waterbug and fish habitat by mobilising fine sediments, submerging snags and replenishing slackwater habitat

Increased year-round low flows (830 ML/day in reach 4 and/or 940 ML/day in reach 5)

  • Maintain lower bank and emergent vegetation 
  • Provide conditions that support habitat and food for waterbugs including by maintaining suitable water quality, submerging additional snags, entraining leaf litter and disrupting biofilms

Winter/spring variable low flows (up to 1,500 ML/day in reach 4 in June– November)

  • Increase sediment and seed deposition on banks and benches 
  • Increase and improve habitat for waterbugs

Autumn fresh (1 fresh of up to 6,000 ML/day for two days in March–May)

  • Maintain vegetation established during the spring fresh and encourage new seed germination
  • Provide conditions that support waterbugs including improved water quality and increased biofilm availability by mobilising fine sediment

Winter fresh (1 fresh of up to 15,000 ML/day with flows above 6,600 ML/day for 14 days in June–July 2019)

  • Maintain macrophyte, waterbug and fish habitat by mobilising fine sediments, submerging snags and replenishing slackwater habitat

Autumn/winter/spring low flows (400 ML/day in reach 1 in April–September)

  • Maintain and improve habitat for small-bodied native fish, waterbugs and aquatic vegetation

Spring/summer fresh (1 fresh of up to 10,000 ML/day for 2 days in reach 4 and reach 5 in November–December

  • Initiate spawning and pre-spawning migrations and recruitment of golden perch 
  •  Maintain macrophyte, waterbug and fish habitat by mobilising fine sediments, submerging snags and replenishing slackwater habitat
82Summer fresh (1 fresh of up to 4,600 ML/day for 10 days in reach 4 and reach 5 in January–November)
  • Stimulate the migration of juvenile native fish into the Goulburn River from the River Murray

1 Environmental water may be used to slow the recession of unregulated flows or operational releases to reduce damage to banks and vegetation from rapid drops in water levels. This also helps prevent waterbugs and fish from being stranded in small pools on river banks or benches following higher flows.

2 These watering actions are included as contingency actions only and are not planned to be delivered under the expected scenarios in 2018–19.

Risk management

In preparing its seasonal watering proposal, Goulburn Broken CMA considered and assessed the risks of environmental watering and identified mitigation strategies. Program partners continually reassess risks and mitigation actions throughout the water year.


Table 2 shows the partners and stakeholder organisations that Goulburn Broken CMA engaged when preparing the Goulburn River and Goulburn wetlands seasonal watering proposal.

Seasonal watering proposals are informed by longer-term regional catchment strategies, regional waterway strategies, environmental flow studies, water management plans and other studies. These incorporate a range of environmental, cultural, social and economic perspectives and longerterm integrated catchment and waterway management objectives. For further details, refer to the Goulburn Broken Regional Catchment Strategy and Goulburn Broken Waterway Strategy.

Table 2 Partners and stakeholders engaged in developing the Goulburn system seasonal watering proposal

Partner and stakeholder engagement
  • Commonwealth Environmental Water Office 
  • Goulburn Environmental Water Advisory Group (includes recreational users, local environment groups and landholders) 
  • Goulburn-Murray Water 
  • Parks Victoria 
  • Taungurung Clans Aboriginal Corporation 
  • Victorian Environmental Water Holder 
  • Yorta Yorta Nation Aboriginal Corporation