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There are several environmental water holders in the Goulburn system. The Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder (CEWH) holds the largest volume and use of Commonwealth Water Holdings is critical to achieving outcomes in the Goulburn River, as well as priority environmental sites further downstream. Water for the environment held on behalf of the Living Murray program may assist in meeting objectives in the Goulburn system en route to icon sites in the Murray system (see subsection 1.4.2). Water held by the VEWH in the Goulburn system is primarily used to meet environmental objectives in the Goulburn River and the Goulburn wetlands, but can also be used to support ecological objectives at downstream sites along the Murray River and in South Australia.

The construction and operation of Lake Eildon and Goulburn Weir have significantly altered the natural flow regime of the Goulburn River. Water-harvesting during wet periods, and releases to meet irrigation and other consumptive demands during dry periods, means that flow below these structures is typically low in winter/spring and high in summer/autumn. This effectively reverses the natural seasonal flow pattern. Land use changes and the construction of small dams and drainage schemes have further modified the Goulburn River’s flow regime. Levees and other structures prevent water from inundating the floodplain and filling many of the natural wetlands and billabongs. Several tributaries including the Acheron and Yea rivers and the Broken River below Lake Eildon add some flow variation on top of the Goulburn River’s regulated flow regime. Large floods that cause the Goulburn River’s storages to fill and spill are also important for the overall flow regime and its associated environmental values.

The priority environmental flow reaches in the Goulburn River are downstream of Goulburn Weir (reaches 4 and 5), which are collectively referred to as the lower Goulburn River. The mid-Goulburn River extends from Lake Eildon to Goulburn Weir (reaches 1 to 3). From early spring to late autumn, large volumes of water are delivered from Lake Eildon to Goulburn Weir to supply the irrigation system. During that period, flow in the mid-Goulburn River is usually well above the recommended environmental flow targets. Deliveries of water for the environment have the most benefit in the mid-Goulburn River (especially in reach 1 immediately downstream of Lake Eildon) outside the irrigation season when the flow is much lower than natural.

Environmental flow targets can sometimes be met by the coordinated delivery of operational water being transferred from Lake Eildon to the Murray River. These transfers are known as inter-valley transfers (IVTs). These transfers occur during the irrigation season between spring and autumn, and they may meet environmental flow objectives without the need to release water for the environment. In recent years, operational transfers in the Goulburn River have significantly exceeded the environmental flow recommendations for summer and early autumn and have damaged bank vegetation and eroded the riverbanks. Interim operating rules have been put in place to help minimise this damage, and a revised Goulburn to Murray trade rule and operating rule is expected to be introduced for 2021-22.

Traditional Owners
Storage manager
Environmental water holder

System map

Environmental watering objectives in the Goulburn River

Fish icon
Protect and boost populations of native fish
Landscape icon
Maintain the form of the riverbank and channel, and a high diversity of river bed surfaces to support all stream life
Platypus icon
Increase populations of platypus
Maintain populations of turtles
Connected icon
Provide sufficient rates of carbon and nutrient production and processing to support native fish and waterbug communities
Plant icon
Increase the abundance of 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
Insect icon
Maintain abundant and diverse waterbug communities, to support riverine food webs
Water icon
Minimise the risk of hypoxic blackwater

Environmental values

The Goulburn River and its tributaries support a range of native fish (including golden perch, silver perch, Murray cod, trout cod, Macquarie perch, freshwater catfish), turtles, platypus and rakali (water rats). Aquatic vegetation, scour holes and woody debris within the channel provide high- quality habitat for adult and juvenile fish. River red gums are a dominant feature of the streamside zone along the length of the Goulburn River. These trees shade the river and provide habitat for many species including the squirrel glider. Leaves that fall from the river red gums provide carbon that supports riverine food webs, and dead trees that fall into the river provide a surface for biofilms and waterbugs and habitat for fish. Birds (such as egrets, herons and cormorants) use trees along the river to roost and feed, while frogs benefit from shallowly- wetted vegetation at the edge of the river channel and in adjacent wetlands.

The Goulburn River system is an important conservation area for threatened species. Several wetlands in the Goulburn catchment are formally recognised for their conservation significance. Tributaries of the mid-Goulburn River between Lake Eildon and Goulburn Weir host some of the last remaining Macquarie perch populations in the Murray-Darling Basin, while freshwater catfish occur in lagoons connected to reach 3 of the Goulburn River. Citizen science monitoring programs indicate the mid-Goulburn River supports a strong population of platypus, which are now classified as vulnerable under Victoria’s Fauna and Flora Guarantee Act 1988. Monitoring in recent years shows that environmental flows in the lower Goulburn River trigger golden perch and silver perch to spawn. However, the extent to which these spawning events contribute to populations locally and in the wider southern basin is unknown. Self-sustaining populations of Murray cod have been confirmed, and trout cod are extending their range in the lower Goulburn River.

Traditional Owner cultural values and uses

Goulburn Broken CMA consulted with the Taungurung Land and Waters Council and the Yorta Yorta Nation Aboriginal Corporation during the planning of environmental flows in the Goulburn River. The environmental and ecological objectives of the proposals were supported and align with the broad values of these Traditional Owner groups.

The Taungurung Land and Waters Council indicated there is alignment between planned environmental flows in the mid-Goulburn River, Waring and healing Country. Reach 1 baseflows and the winter and spring freshes will help protect the landscape and health of the land. These flows will help support the health of cultural values and landscapes, protecting intangible cultural heritage, valued species, traditional food and medicine plants. The flows will also help fulfil Caring for Country responsibilities and support investigations into rehabilitating degraded significant sites.

Taungurung has a special interest in the rehabilitation of floodplain wetlands associated with Waring, which are now largely disconnected from the main river channel due to the impacts of river flow regulation. Taungurung is currently assessing habitat condition at six of the disconnected wetlands, and their findings will inform future seasonal watering proposals and planning for water for the environment. Currently, Taungurung is working to enhance habitat conditions for native species in the area, and healthy Country assessments will provide important information about cultural objectives and indicators.

Yorta Yorta Nation Aboriginal Corporation indicated there is alignment between planned watering actions in the lower Goulburn River (Kaiela) (reaches 4 and 5) and the cultural and ecological values of the Yorta Yorta Peoples. A Yorta Yorta representative contributed to the recent Kaiela (Lower Goulburn River) Environmental Flows Study 2020, which shaped planning for environmental flows in the lower Goulburn River during 2021-22 and beyond. Through this consultation, Yorta Yorta and Goulburn Broken CMA have identified that environmental flows are critical for culturally important species of both plants and animals. Flows encouraging spawning activity, recession flows to alleviate slumping of culturally important sites (such as middens and scar trees) and flows with a focus on reviving streamside vegetation are important to sustain food, fibre, and medicine.

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 5.4.1 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.

Traditional owners

Watering planned to support water angling activities

Social, recreational and economic values and uses

In planning the potential watering actions in Table 1, Goulburn Broken CMA considered how environmental flows could support values and uses such as:

  • water-based recreation (such as boating, canoeing, fishing, gaming hunting and kayaking)
  • riverside recreation and amenity (such as landholders and visitors)
  • community events and tourism (such as paddling and boating businesses)
  • socio-economic benefits (such as stock and domestic uses, irrigation diverters and water supply for settlements on the Goulburn River).

If the timing or management of planned environmental flows may be modified to align with a community benefit, this is acknowledged in Table 5.4.1 with the following icon.

Fishing icons

Watering planned to support water angling activities

The Goulburn River provides numerous recreational and economic benefits. Environmental flows support native fish populations by providing fish passage and habitat and by encouraging fish migration and spawning, which in turn provides benefits for recreational anglers. Following community feedback, the timing of a targeted environmental flow in November/December is planned to reduce impacts on river access around peak fishing periods, benefitting anglers and local businesses.

Recent conditions

Rainfall in the Goulburn catchment was above the long-term average in winter and early spring 2020, but slightly below average in late spring and through summer. The high rainfall at the start of the year resulted in significant inflows to catchment storages, and allocations against high-reliability water shares in the Goulburn system reached 100 percent by mid-November. Sufficient water was available for the environment through carryover and new allocation to meet high-priority environmental flow requirements throughout the year.

Waranga Basin filled in early winter, and natural flows caused Goulburn Weir to spill throughout winter and early spring. There were few operational or consumptive water releases from Lake Eildon during this period, and water for the environment was used to maintain habitat for native fish and waterbugs in the reach immediately downstream of the reservoir. Water for the environment was used to slow the recession of spills at Goulburn Weir on three occasions in April, May and August 2020, to minimise erosion and reduce the risk of mass bank slumping. The largest natural flow event in August transported sediment and seed from mid-Goulburn tributaries and helped prime the system for an early spring fresh. Water for the environment was used in combination with unregulated flows to deliver an early spring fresh between September and October 2020, providing increased habitat for fish and macroinvertebrates. A late spring fresh was delivered in November 2020 to stimulate the spawning of golden perch. IVTs met or exceeded the recommended environmental flow rates in the lower Goulburn River from late November 2020 to April 2021. Water for the environment was used to deliver a fresh in April 2021, to help maintain the bank vegetation.

Deliveries of water for the environment were managed between an average and wet climate scenario during 2020-21, and all planned watering actions were achieved through natural events, IVTs or managed releases of water for the environment. Water for the environment delivered in the Goulburn River is reused at downstream sites along the Murray River, after a deduction for losses. In 2020-21, environmental flows that passed through the Goulburn River were used to support native fish objectives in Gunbower Creek, inundate wetlands in Gunbower Forest and the Hattah Lakes system and support ecological objectives in South Australia.

Recent monitoring suggests that rules restricting IVT flows to a maximum of 40 GL per month in summer are reducing the impacts to lower-bank vegetation and the erosion seen in previous years. Field monitoring following winter and spring freshes has reinforced the ecological benefits of these watering actions, especially when they are delivered in conjunction with natural inflows from upstream tributaries. Tributary inflows carry sediment, seeds and plant propagules that help banks in the lower Goulburn River recover. Fish monitoring confirmed that the late-spring fresh triggered the highest rate of golden perch spawning recorded in the lower Goulburn River in several years. It will be important to deliver targeted spring freshes and high flows in 2021-22, to support the continued recovery of bank vegetation and provide opportunities for more fish spawning and migration.

Scope of environmental watering

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

Potential environmental watering action

Expected watering effects

Environmental objectives

Goulburn River reach 1

Year-round low flow (400- 1,000 ML/day in reach 1)

Traditional owners
  • Maintain habitat for small-bodied native fish
  • Scour fine sediment from the gravel bed and riffle substrate
  • Maintain adequate foraging habitat for platypus and reduce the risk of predation
  • Provide habitat and food for turtles
  • Maintain existing beds of in-channel vegetation
  • Wet and maintain riffles to provide habitat for biofilms and waterbugs
Fish iconMountain iconsPlatypus iconTurtle iconWater drop iconInsect icon

Winter/spring fresh (one fresh of more than 5,000 ML/day for two days in reach 1 during July to September)

Traditional owners

  • Encourage female platypus to select a nesting burrow higher up the bank, to reduce the risk of higher flow later in the year flooding the burrow when juveniles are present
Turtle icon
Goulburn River reaches 4 and 5

Year-round low flow (600- 800 ML/day in reach 4 and 600-1,000 ML/day in reach five)

  • Provide slow, shallow habitat required for the recruitment of larvae/ juvenile fish and habitat for adult small-bodied fish
  • Provide deep-water habitat for large-bodied fish
  • Submerge snags and littoral vegetation to provide habitat for fish and waterbugs and a substrate for biofilms to grow
  • Provide habitat and food for turtles
  • Maintain habitat for aquatic vegetation and water the root zone of low- bank vegetation
  • Vary flow within a specified range to encourage plankton production for food, disrupt biofilms and maintain water quality
  • Low, variable flow enables vegetation to establish to protect against notching and bank erosion
Fish iconJigsaw iconTurtle iconWater drop iconInsect iconWater drop icon

Winter/autumn fresh (one fresh of more than 7,300 ML/day for two days in reaches 4 and 5 during July to August 2021 and May to June 2022)

  • Provide organic matter and carbon (e.g. leaf litter) to the channel
  • Provide connectivity to off-channel habitats and through the river for fish dispersal and greater food resources
  • Scour bed sediments to maintain pools and change in-channel complexity to improve habitat
  • Provide cues for platypus to nest higher in the bank
  • Provide sediment and plant propagules from tributary inflows after large rain events, to encourage the establishment of new plants
  • Inundate and reduce terrestrial vegetation on low banks and trigger the recruitment of native, flood-tolerant streamside vegetation
  • Improve waterbug habitat and food availability by scouring fine sediments
cycleFish iconMountain iconsPlatypus iconPlant iconInsect icon

Pass a portion of natural tributary flows in the mid- Goulburn to reaches 4 and 5 when flows in reach 3 are above 4,000 ML/day (1,000- 5,000 ML/day in reaches 4 and 5 during May and October)

  • Provide organic matter and carbon (e.g. leaf litter) to the channel
  • Transport and deposit seed, sediment and plant propagules on the riverbank
cyclePlant icon

Early spring fresh (one fresh of up to 10,500 ML/ day with more than seven days above 7,300 ML/day during September and October in reaches 4 and 5)

  • Provide organic matter and carbon (e.g. leaf litter) to the channel
  • Provide connectivity to off-channel habitats and through the river for fish dispersal and greater food resources
  • Scour bed sediments to maintain pools and change in-channel complexity for improved habitat
  • Increase soil moisture in banks to improve the condition of existing native vegetation
  • Provide sediment and plant propagules from tributary inflows after large rain events to encourage the establishment of new plants
  • Inundate and reduce terrestrial vegetation on low banks and trigger the recruitment of native flood-tolerant streamside vegetation
  • Improve waterbug habitat and food availability by scouring fine sediments and biofilms from hard substrates
Jigsaw iconFish iconMountain iconsPlant iconInsect icon

Late spring fresh (one fresh of more than 6,000 ML/ day for two days during November and December in reaches 4 and 5)

Fishing icon

  • Stimulate spawning of golden and silver perch
  • Scour bed sediments to maintain pools and change in-channel complexity for improved habitat
  • Improve waterbug habitat and food availability by scouring fine sediments and biofilms from hard substrates
Fish iconMountain iconsInsect icon

Autumn fresh (one fresh of more than 5,700 ML/ day for two days during March and May in reaches 4 and 5)

  • Cue fish to move into and through the system to increase their abundance and dispersal
  • Scour bed sediments to maintain pools, and change in-channel complexity for improved habitat
  • Increase soil moisture in banks for existing vegetation maintenance
Fish iconMountain iconsInsect iconInsect icon

Slow recession of unregulated flows or releases from Goulburn Weir (3,000 ML/day and below in summer/autumn and from 6,000 ML/ day in winter/spring in reaches 4 and 5)

  • Minimise the risk of bank erosion associated with a rapid reduction in the water level
  • Transport and deposit seed, plant propagules and sediment on the riverbank
  • Minimise the risk of hypoxic blackwater after natural events
Mountain iconsPlant iconWater drop icon

Flows should not exceed 1,000 ML/day for six to eight weeks after an early spring fresh in reaches 4 and 5

  • Protect littoral vegetation as habitat for small-bodied fish and macroinvertebrates
  • Allow recently germinated littoral, lower bank and semi-aquatic vegetation to become established
Fish iconPlant iconInsect icon

Engagement

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
  • Goulburn Valley Environment Group
  • Common- wealth Environmental Water Office
  • Goulburn- Murray Water
  • Murray- Darling Basin Authority
  • Parks Victoria
  • Individual landholders who are on the Goulburn Environmental Water Advisory Group
  • Local ecotourism operator
  • Trelly’s Outdoor
  • Staff from the Monitoring, Evaluation and Research Program, Goulburn River (Com- monwealth Environmental Water Office program)
  • Taungurung Land and Waters Council
  • Yorta Yorta Nation Aboriginal Corporation

Page last updated: 22/01/21