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The central Murray wetlands are almost wholly contained within the Torrumbarry Irrigation Area and are all wetlands of regional or international significance. The area has experienced dramatic changes since European settlement with the construction of levees, roads and channels. Most of the wetlands are now cut off from natural flow paths and are rarely filled by natural floods. They rely on water for the environment to maintain their ecological character and health.

Eleven of the central Murray wetlands can receive water for the environment from permanent infrastructure: Hird Swamp, Johnson Swamp, Lake Cullen, Lake Elizabeth, Lake Murphy, McDonalds Swamp, Muringa wetlands, Richardson’s Lagoon, Round Lake, Third Reedy Lake, and the Wirra-Lo wetland complex. Temporary pumps may be used to deliver water for the environment from the Murray River to some semi-permanent wetlands in the Guttrum and Benwell forests.

Traditional Owners

System map

Environmental watering objectives in the Central Murray wetlands

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Maintain and improve populations of listed threatened species including critically endangered Murray hardyhead and southern purple spotted gudgeon Maintain or increase populations of common small-bodied native fish (such as carp gudgeon and flatheaded gudgeon)
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Maintain and improve populations of endangered growling grass frog Maintain populations of common native frogs (such as barking marsh frog, Peron’s tree frog and spotted grass frog)
Maintain populations of native turtle species (such as Murray River turtle and the common long necked turtle)
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Restore and maintain the health of streamside trees (such as river red gum and black box) Restore and maintain mudflat vegetation communities (such as tall marsh, herblands, rushes and sedges) Restore and maintain native aquatic vegetation species (such as tassel, milfoil and pondweed) Reduce the extent and density of invasive plant species Support a mosaic of wetland plant communities across the region
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Provide resting, feeding and breeding habitat for a variety of waterbird feeding guilds including threatened species (such as Australasian bittern, little bittern and brolga)
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Provide carbon and nutrients to Pyramid Creek to boost the riverine food web

Environmental values

The central Murray wetlands support numerous listed threatened species ranging from vulnerable to critically endangered including the Australasian bittern, Murray hardyhead, Australian painted snipe, growling grass frog and the southern purple spotted gudgeon, which was presumed extinct in Victoria until it was found at Third Reedy Lake in spring 2019. When the wetlands receive environmental water, they can attract prolific birdlife and provide feeding and breeding habitat for many threatened and endangered bird species (including the eastern great egret and white-bellied sea eagle) listed under legislation and international agreements. Lake Cullen, Hird Swamp, Third Reedy Lake and Johnson Swamp are internationally recognised under the Ramsar Convention, while the other wetlands in the central Murray system have bioregional significance.

Traditional Owner cultural values and uses

The wetlands and surrounding land in the central Murray area have rich cultural values belonging to the Traditional Owners, including the Barapa Barapa, Wemba Wamba and Yorta Yorta People. Their traditional knowledge is a living cultural evident throughout the landscape in tree markings, significant cultural sites, and cultural tools for cultural practices. The rivers and floodplains are a food and fibre source and contain many sites of significance (such as camp sites and meeting places).

Environmental watering supports values such as native fish, waterbirds and turtles, and it promotes the growth of culturally important plants that provide food, medicine and weaving materials for Traditional Owner groups. The presence of water itself can be a cultural value, as well as the quality of the water: healthy water promotes a healthy Country.

Barapa Barapa, Wemba Wamba and Yorta Yorta Traditional Owners have contributed to planning for water for the environment for wetlands important to them in the central Murray region in 2021-22. Focus areas include the following.

  • Barapa Barapa and Wemba Wamba Traditional Owners have highlighted maintaining or improving the health of wetland vegetation as a key priority across the wetlands. Watering activities in Guttrum Forest will again be a particular focus for Barapa Barapa and Wemba Wamba Traditional Owners in 2020-21, as described below.
  • North Central CMA and Barapa Barapa Traditional Owners have collaborated to deliver the DELWP-funded Decision Support Tool (DST) project, which is guiding vegetation works at McDonalds Swamp, as well as Lake Leaghur and Lake Yando – which are sites within the Boort wetlands (see subsection 5.7.2). This has allowed them to align watering actions in these wetlands with the watering requirements of the revegetation and enabled monitoring to be completed by the Barapa Barapa Traditional Owners.
  • Yorta Yorta Traditional Owners have considered watering priorities for 2021-22, with a particular focus on Richardsons Lagoon. The Yorta Yorta Traditional Owners support the proposed fill and top-ups at the lagoon. The watering can support the growth of cultural plants which enables a continuation of cultural practices (such as harvesting, medicine and weaving). Deliveries of water for the environment can be managed so the revegetated areas are provided with an appropriate water regime — plants are watered but are not drowned — to ensure their ongoing survival and to provide opportunities for natural recruitment.

Increasing the involvement of Traditional Owners in environmental water planning and management, and ultimately providing opportunities to progress towards self-determination within and beyond the environmental watering program, is a core commitment of the VEWH and its agency partners. This is reinforced by a range of legislation and policy commitments (for example the Water Act 1989, the Victorian Aboriginal Affairs Framework, Water for Victoria (2016)) and, in some cases, agreements under the Traditional Owner Settlement Act 2010. Where Traditional Owners are more deeply involved in the planning and/or delivery of environmental flows for a particular site, their contribution is acknowledged in Table 1 with an icon. The use of this icon is not intended to indicate that these activities are meeting all the needs of Traditional Owners but is incorporated in the spirit of valuing that contribution, and indicating progress towards this objective.

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Watering planned and/or delivered in partnership with Traditional Owners to support cultural values and uses

Barapa Barapa and Wemba Wamba input to watering actions for Guttrum Forest in 2021-22

The proposed delivery of water for the environment to Guttrum Forest during 2021-22 has been planned in conjunction with the Barapa Barapa and Wemba Wamba peoples, for whom the wetlands and surrounding forest are places of high cultural significance. The Traditional Owners have been an important part of Guttrum Forest planning and management from the outset and were directly involved in the delivery of environmental flows to Reed Bed Swamp in 2019-20.

Barapa Barapa and Wemba Wamba collaborate with waterway managers to ensure that during watering events their cultural heritage is protected and that the hydrological needs of important cultural values (such as food and medicinal plant species, scar trees and ring trees) are supported through the timing and duration of planned watering actions to the forest.

Social, recreational and economic values and uses

In planning the potential watering actions in Table 1, North Central CMA considered how environmental flows could support values and uses including:

  • water-based recreation (such as canoeing, fishing, kayaking, swimming and water sports)
  • riverside recreation and amenity (such as birdwatching, duck hunting, camping, cycling, running and walking)
  • community events and tourism (such as visitation during the hunting and fishing seasons, Breakfast with the Birds events (North Central CMA), supporting Aboriginal cultural heritage and history-based tours)
  • socio-economic benefits (such as ecosystem services like groundwater recharge, flood mitigation, nutrient treatment and carbon storage, stock and domestic users)

Recent conditions

Rainfall across the central Murray wetlands (based on records at Kerang) was slightly below the long-term average in 2020-21, but monthly temperatures were close to the long-term averages. Water for the environment used in the central Murray wetlands is supplied from entitlements held in the Murray system. Allocations against high-reliability water shares in the Murray system reached 100 percent in November 2020.

Seven central Murray wetlands received water for the environment in 2020-21 in line with planning under an average scenario. Hird Swamp was filled in spring, to provide feeding and breeding habitat for waterbirds, especially Australasian bittern.

Additional water was delivered through Hird Swamp in summer and discharged into Pyramid Creek to transport carbon and nutrients to the creek system to support native fish. Hird Swamp has similar habitat and environmental values to nearby Johnson Swamp, which can also receive environmental water, but Johnson Swamp was allowed to draw down in 2020-21 to support dry-phase ecosystem processes.

Round Lake and Lake Elizabeth were filled in spring and topped up over summer and autumn to maintain water levels and salinity within the target range for endangered Murray hardyhead. Brolga Swamp, Bunyip Swamp East and Bunyip Swamp West within the Wirra-Lo wetland complex were watered in spring, summer and autumn to support growling grass frogs, waterbirds and wetland vegetation communities. Red Gum Swamp, which is also within the Wirra-Lo wetland complex, could not be watered as planned due to access issues associated with a change in land ownership.

After completing its drying cycle, McDonalds Swamp received a partial fill in autumn 2020 to prime the wetland for a 2020 spring fill. Water for the environment was delivered to promote the growth of native aquatic plants and to support waterbird breeding and feeding. The fill inundated more of the wetland area than previous deliveries of water for the environment and provided more habitat for waterbirds to feed and breed. Monitoring undertaken at the wetland detected Australasian bitterns. Richardson’s Lagoon was filled in spring 2020, to provide feeding and breeding habitat for waterbirds, frogs and turtles.

Third Reedy Lake was watered over summer and autumn 2020-21, to maintain habitat for southern purple spotted gudgeon, while longer-term management plans to protect the species were being developed. Several larger populations of southern purple spotted gudgeon were recorded at other wetlands near Kerang during 2020-21, which means it is no longer essential to maintain a constant water level at Third Reedy Lake. A more variable water regime will be implemented at Third Reedy Lake from 2021-22, to support a wider range of environmental outcomes.

Water for the environment was delivered to Reed Bed Swamp and Little Reed Bed Swamp in Guttrum Forest during late autumn and winter 2021, to support the recovery and health of wetland vegetation and river red gums around the wetland complex. The inundation aimed to drown river red gum saplings that were encroaching into the wetlands and to provide feeding habitat for waterbirds, turtles and woodland birds in winter.

Scope of environmental watering

Table 1 Potential environmental watering actions, expected watering effects and associated environmental objectives for the central Murray wetlands

Potential environmental watering action

Expected watering effects

Environmental objective

Guttrum Forest (top-ups in winter/spring and further top-ups as required)

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  • Wet the fringing adult river red gums to support their growth and drown river red gum saplings within the wetland bed to maintain open-water habitat
  • Promote the growth and re-establishment of aquatic vegetation and tall marsh vegetation at the fringe of the wetland
  • Maintain the depth of the wetland to support frogs and waterbird feeding and breeding

Frog iconPlant iconHeron icon

Guttrum Forest (partial fill in autumn/winter 2022)

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  • Increase the water depth and extent to trigger wetland plants to germinate in late winter and early spring
  • Provide feeding and refuge habitat for waterbirds and frogs

Frog iconPlant iconHeron icon

Johnson Swamp (partial fill in autumn)

  • Drown terrestrial weeds to limit their growth and reduce their extent
  • Promote the germination and establishment of aquatic vegetation
  • Inundate the wetland fringe to provide habitat for waterbirds, frogs and turtles and provide conditions suitable for macroinvertebrates and small-bodied native fish that are food for waterbirds

Frog iconTurtle iconPlant iconHeron icon

Lake Elizabeth (fill in spring, top-ups as required)

  • Maintain salinity within 15,000-80,000 EC to support suitable habitat and breeding conditions for Murray hardyhead and growing conditions of salt-tolerant aquatic plants that provide habitat for Murray hardyhead
  • Provide permanent water habitat for waterbirds

Fish iconPlant iconHeron icon

Lake Murphy (fill in winter/spring, top-ups as required)

  • Create wet area habitat for native waterbirds, frogs and turtles
  • Stimulate the germination of aquatic vegetation
  • Inundate and increase soil moisture to support the growth of recently planted river red gums

Frog iconTurtle iconPlant iconHeron icon

McDonalds Swamp (partial fill in autumn)

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  • Drown terrestrial weeds to limit their growth and reduce their extent
  • Promote the germination and establishment of aquatic vegetation
  • Provide habitat for waterbirds, frogs and turtles
  • Support the growth of planted river red gums and other aquatic and herbland vegetation as part of the DST project

Frog iconTurtle iconPlant iconHeron icon

Muringa wetlands: north and south (fill in winter/ spring, top-ups as required)

  • Support the establishment and growth of reed beds to create feeding and nesting habitats for Australasian bitterns and growling grass frogs
  • Provide wetland habitat to support the occurrence of waterbirds and frogs

Frog iconPlant iconHeron icon

Richardson’s Lagoon (fill in winter/spring, top-ups as required)

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  • Inundate a mosaic of habitats for native waterbirds, frogs and turtles to use
  • Maintain the water level to support the condition of aquatic macrophytes and aquatic reeds and rushes around the deep lagoon channels
  • Support the growth of traditional plant species at a significant cultural site enabling continuation of cultural practices (e.g. harvesting, medicine, weaving).

Frog iconTurtle iconPlant iconHeron icon

Round Lake (fill in spring, top-ups as required)

  • Maintain salinity within 15,000-70,000 EC — it may go up to 80,000 EC — to support suitable habitat and breeding conditions for Murray hardyhead and growing conditions for submerged aquatic plants
  • Provide permanent water habitat for waterbirds

Fish iconPlant iconHeron icon

Wirra-Lo wetland complex: Bunyip Swamp East and Bunyip Swamp West (fill in spring, top- ups as required)

  • Inundate recently established reed beds to stimulate their growth to create feeding and nesting habitat for Australasian bittern

Plant iconHeron icon

Wirra-Lo wetland complex: Cattleyard Creek (fill in spring, top- ups as required)

  • Inundate river red gum woodland trees to promote their growth and improve their condition
  • Promote the germination and establishment of aquatic vegetation

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Wirra-Lo wetland complex: Duck Creek North (fill in spring, top- ups as required)
  • Improve soil moisture in the wetland fringe to promote the recruitment and increase the extent of river red gum trees
  • Inundate the aquatic and herbland vegetation to promote its growth and increase its extent
  • Maintain open-water and associated mudflat habitats for waterbirds to feed and breed

Plant iconHeron icon

Wirra-Lo Wetland complex: Emu Creek (fill in spring, top-ups as required)
  • Inundate black box trees and the lignum vegetation community along the creekline to improve their condition
  • Promote the germination and growth of aquatic vegetation in the deeper sections of the wetland to support frogs and freshwater turtles
  • Provide soil moisture along the perimeter to maintain the condition of trees for terrestrial fauna including resident grey crowned babblers

Frog iconTurtle iconPlant iconKangaroo icon

Wirra-Lo wetland complex: Lignum Swamp North (fill in spring, top- ups as required)
  • Promote the establishment and growth of submerged and emergent aquatic vegetation to provide feeding and breeding habitat for growling grass frogs
  • Inundate habitat to provide feeding and breeding opportunities for frogs, waterbirds and turtles

Frog iconTurtle iconPlant iconHeron icon

Wirra-Lo wetland complex: Red Gum Swamp (fill in spring, top- ups as required)
  • Inundate established river red gum trees to promote their growth and maintain their condition
  • Inundate habitat to provide feeding and breeding opportunities for frogs, waterbirds and turtles

Frog iconTurtle iconPlant iconHeron icon

Engagement

Table 2 shows the partners, stakeholder organisations and individuals with which North Central CMA engaged when preparing the central Murray 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 North Central Regional Catchment Strategy and the North Central Waterway Strategy.

Table 2 Partners and stakeholders engaged in developing the central Murray wetlands seasonal watering proposal

Partner and stakeholder engagement
  • Birdlife Australia
  • Commonwealth Environmental Water Office
  • Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning
  • Goulburn- Murray Water
  • Parks Victoria
  • Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (land manager)
  • Gannawarra Shire Council
  • Campaspe Shire Council
  • Swan Hill Rural City Council
  • Loddon Shire Council
  • Individual landholders and community members
  • Field and Game Australia
  • Gateway to Gannawarra Visitor centre
  • Arthur Rylah Institute (Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning)
  • Contracted ecologists
  • Dja Dja Wurrung Clans Aboriginal Corporation
  • Yorta Yorta Nation Aboriginal Corporation
  • Barapa Barapa Traditional Owners
  • Wemba Wemba Traditional Owners

Page last updated: 22/07/21