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Regulation and diversion of Murray River flows have substantially reduced the frequency and duration of the high river flows that would naturally water the lower Murray wetlands. This change to the water regime has been exacerbated by climate change and has reduced the variety and condition of environmental values associated with billabongs and other floodplain habitats.

Water for the environment can be delivered to some wetlands in the region through direct pumping from the Murray River and/ or use of irrigation supply infrastructure. Most wetlands that receive environmental flows can be managed independently of each other.

Traditional Owners

System map

Environmental watering objectives in the Lower Murray wetlands

Fish icon
Maintain and/or increase populations of native fish in permanent wetlands
Frog icon
Maintain and/or grow populations of native frogs including the endangered growling grass frog
Plant icon
Increase the diversity, extent and abundance of wetland plants Improve the condition of river red gums, black box and lignum
bird icon
Provide feeding and breeding habitat for a range of waterbird species including threatened and migratory species and colonial nesting species (such as egrets)

Environmental values

The lower Murray wetlands are comprised of multiple wetlands, creeks and billabongs. Depending on their location in the landscape, interactions with groundwater and their management history, the wetlands may be permanent or temporary, freshwater or saline. Differences in water regime and water quality between the wetlands provide a range of habitats for plants and animals. For example, permanent, saline wetlands (such as Koorlong Lake) provide vital habitat for the endangered Murray hardyhead fish. Ephemeral wetlands support different ecological processes in their wet and dry phases. During the wet phase, they provide short-term boom periods when river red gum trees and wetland plants grow, spread and provide habitat for aquatic animals (such as waterbugs, birds, frogs and in some cases fish). During the dry phase, sediments are exposed to the air (which is important for carbon and nutrient cycles), and terrestrial plants grow and complete life cycles.

Traditional Owner cultural values and uses

Watering of the lower Murray wetlands supports values such as traditional food sources and medicines and important species, and provides opportunities for teaching, learning and storytelling.

Mallee CMA has actively sought engagement, involvement and contributions on the proposed watering program for 2020-21 from the following Traditional Owners and Aboriginal Victorians:

  • First People of the Millewa-Mallee Aboriginal Corporation, comprised of Latji Latji and Ngintait (Traditional Owners from Hattah to the South Australia border)
  • other Aboriginal groups who have expressed an interest in the landscapes of the lower Murray wetlands including but not limited to Wemba Wamba, Wadi Wadi, Tati Tati, Weki Weki, Munatunga Elders and the Pearce family.

Discussions covered a range of options for how environmental flows can be delivered in 2021-2022 and what the traditional ecological needs were in the current climate. Elders participated in planning and prioritisation processes on Country important to them and relationships with the Mallee CMA were strengthened. The values, knowledge and concerns raised through these discussions have supported Mallee CMA’s planning for wetland watering across the lower Murray region.

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.

Billabong icons

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

Robertson Creek is an area of high cultural significance that is being degraded as vegetation dies from lack of water and wind erodes the landscape. The First People of the Millewa-Mallee Aboriginal Corporation are undertaking a program of restoration and protection work at the site.

An environmental flow was delivered to the creek in spring 2020-21 to complement the protection and restoration objectives, which was the first time the creek had received water since flooding in 2016. This has resulted in an improvement in the condition of trees and nearby shrubs and helped return and protect cultural values which can be used by community for learning, teaching and increasing overall wellbeing.

An environmental flow is planned for 2021-22 in all scenarios except drought. This will build on the outcomes from the previous watering event by further improving the condition of established vegetation and increasing protection against wind erosion by supporting the revegetation of native trees, shrubs and grasses. The event will be delivered in partnership with First People of the Millewa-Mallee Aboriginal Corporation as part of the continued work to protect this significant area.

Social, recreational and economic values and uses

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

  • water-based recreation (such as canoeing, fishing and kayaking)
  • riverside recreation and amenity (such as bike riding, birdwatching, bushwalking, camping, geocaching, photography and running)
  • community events and tourism (such as day trips and sight-seeing; education programs for school, TAFE and university students; citizen science projects about birds, frogs and bats; and sporting events)
  • socio-economic benefits (such as economic benefits for businesses in the accommodation, beekeeping, food and beverage, ecotourism, hospitality and retail sectors; creating a focal point for socialising; and providing natural, green spaces for the local community).

Recent conditions

After several years of very dry conditions, rainfall and temperatures in the lower Murray region were closer to the long-term average during 2020-21. Large rain events in late winter, spring and summer helped to water some floodplain vegetation but did not lead to much surface run-off or contribute significant inflows to floodplain wetlands. Flows in the Murray River were also not sufficient to naturally connect any wetlands on the lower Murray floodplain, so all the wetland watering described below was provided with water for the environment. Water availability was met through a combination of carryover and Murray allocations (100 percent of high-reliability water shares), which provided sufficient water for the environment to meet the planned watering actions.

In 2020-21, water for the environment was delivered to seven lower Murray wetlands that were identified as a high priority under an average climate scenario. Most deliveries occurred in late spring, to maintain native vegetation and provide habitat for fish and waterbirds. Environmental flows were delivered for the first time to Margooya floodplain wetland and Bidgee Lagoons. Inundation at Bidgee Lagoons was less than planned, so outcomes for that site were only partially achieved.

Robertson Creek was filled in spring 2020 to water black box, lignum and nitre goosefoot. It was the first time the site had received significant water since 2016, and further watering will be required to improve the condition of native vegetation communities, which are still recovering from prolonged drying through the Millennium Drought.

A slow through-flow was provided at Woolshed Creek in spring 2020, to consolidate the benefits of a similar watering event in 2019-20. The consecutive watering events have improved the condition of streamside vegetation along the creekline, and many species flowered in 2020-21. Growling grass frogs and waterbirds were also observed along the creekline during the watering event.

Top-ups were provided to three permanent wetland systems — Brickworks Billabong, Koorlong Lake and Lake Hawthorn — during summer and autumn, to protect habitat for endangered Murray hardyhead. The wetted margins of these wetlands also provide important foraging habitat for shorebirds.

Nyah Floodplain, Vinifera Floodplain, Burra Creek North and Burra Creek South have all been dry since 2019, and the river red gum communities at these sites are reaching the end of their optimal dry period. Burra Creek South Proper has been dry for the last seven years, and its vegetation community is in relatively poor condition.

Scope of environmental watering

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

Potential environmental watering action

Expected watering effects

Environmental objectives

Bidgee Lagoons (fill in spring)

  • Inundate adjacent river red gum and black box communities to stimulate growth and flowering to improve their condition and extent
  • Provide conditions and water levels to support the growth of annual aquatic and emergent vegetation and promote the diversity of emergent vegetation communities
  • Provide feeding and breeding opportunities for frogs
  • Mobilise leaf litter to promote carbon and nutrient cycling

Connected iconFrog iconPlant iconHeron icon

Brickworks Billabong (top-up in spring, top- ups as required over summer/autumn) (target water level between 33 m Australian Height Datum [AHD] and 34 m AHD)

  • Maintain water levels to inundate benthic herblands including ruppia beds to provide nursery habitat for Murray hardyhead and provide high levels of aquatic productivity
  • Maintain water quality suitable for Murray hardyhead
  • Provide shallow-water habitat and exposed mudflats to support foraging and resting of waterbirds including migratory waterbirds
Fish iconPlant iconHeron icon

Bullock Swamp (partial fill in spring)

  • Inundate adjacent black box and lignum to improve their condition
  • Provide feeding opportunities for waterbirds
  • Provide lateral spread of freshwater to refresh local groundwater which will support the condition of black box trees not directly inundated

Plant iconHeron icon

Burra Creek North (fill in autumn)

  • Inundate the main creekline and adjacent red gum, lignum and black box vegetation communities to improve their condition
  • Provide habitat through improved vegetation communities and water resources for waterbirds and frogs
  • Mobilise leaf litter to promote carbon and nutrient cycling

Connected iconFrog iconPlant iconHeron icon

Burra Creek South (fill in autumn)

  • Inundate the main creekline and adjacent red gum, lignum and black box vegetation communities to improve their condition
  • Provide habitat through improved vegetation communities and water resources for waterbirds and frogs
  • Mobilise leaf litter to promote carbon and nutrient cycling

Connected iconFrog iconPlant iconHeron icon

Burra Creek South Proper (fill in autumn)

  • Inundate the main creekline and adjacent red gum, lignum and black box vegetation communities
  • Provide habitat through improved vegetation communities and water resources for birds and frogs
  • Mobilise leaf litter to promote carbon and nutrient cycling

Connected iconFrog iconPlant iconHeron icon

Fishers Lagoon (fill in spring) (target 54.2 m AHD)

  • Promote the growth of aquatic vegetation and provide soil moisture for terrestrial vegetation communities
  • Provide temporary habitats for frogs and waterbirds
  • Inundate water-dependent Floodplain Grassy Wetland Ecological Vegetation Class (classified as endangered in the Murray Fans bioregion)

Frog iconPlant iconHeron icon

Koorlong Lake (fill in spring, top-ups as required) (target between  36.7 m AHD and 38.0 m AHD)

  • Increase and maintain the water level to support the growth of saline aquatic vegetation including ruppia to provide nursery habitat for Murray hardyhead and provide high levels of aquatic productivity
  • Maintain water levels within a 30 cm range to provide feeding resources for shorebirds and to maintain the Murray hardyhead population

Fish iconPlant iconHeron icon

Lake Carpul (fill in spring)

  • Provide a range of open-water, shallow-water and emergent-vegetation habitats for water-dependent birds to support breeding and feeding opportunities
  • Inundate and wet outer fringing river red gum, black box, lignum and vegetation communities to improve their condition
  • Mobilise carbon and nutrients within the wetland to support wetland processes

Connected iconPlant iconHeron icon

Lake Hawthorn (fill in spring, top-ups as required) (target between 33 m AHD and 33.3 m AHD)

  • Increase and maintain water levels to encourage the germination and growth of ruppia to provide nursery habitat for Murray hardyhead and visitation by shorebirds
  • Maintain water levels within a 30 cm range to provide feeding resources for shorebirds and to maintain the Murray hardyhead population

Fish iconPlant iconHeron icon

Lake Powell (fill in spring)

  • Provide a range of open-water, shallow-water and emergent-vegetation habitats for water-dependent birds, to support breeding and feeding opportunities
  • Inundate and wet fringing river red gum, black box, lignum and vegetation communities to improve their condition
  • Mobilise carbon and nutrients within the wetland to support wetland processes

Connected iconPlant iconHeron icon

Nyah Floodplain (fill in autumn)

  • Inundate the base and littoral zone of Parnee Malloo Creek to support plant communities
  • Improve the condition of vegetation communities to provide a range of habitats and feeding and breeding resources for birds and frogs
  • Inundate the floodplain adjacent to Parnee Malloo Creek to promote the growth of herb and shrub layers
  • Inundate river red gum to improve their condition
  • Mobilise carbon and nutrients to promote chemical and biological processes

Connected iconFrog iconPlant iconHeron icon

Robertson Creek (fill in spring)

Billabong icon

  • Wet fringing river red gum, black box, lignum and vegetation communities to improve their condition
  • Provide lateral spread of freshwater to refresh local groundwater to support the condition of trees not directly inundated
  • Provide a range of open-water, shallow-water and inundated lignum habitats, to provide waterbird feeding opportunities and help protect the highly culturally significant site in the adjacent landscape

Plant iconHeron icon

Robertson Wetland (partial fill in spring) (target 28 m AHD)
  • Wet fringing river red gum, black box, lignum and vegetation communities to improve their condition
  • Inundate cane grass beds to improve their condition and resilience
  • Provide a range of open-water, shallow-water and inundated lignum habitat to provide waterbird feeding opportunities

Plant iconHeron icon

Vinifera Floodplain (fill in autumn)
  • Inundate the base and littoral zone of Parnee Malloo Creek to support plant communities
  • Improve the condition of vegetation communities to provide a range of habitats and feeding and breeding resources for birds and frogs
  • Inundate the floodplain adjacent to Parnee Malloo Creek to promote the growth of herb and shrub layers
  • Inundate river red gums to improve their condition
  • Mobilise carbon and nutrients to promote chemical and biological processes

Connected iconFrog iconPlant iconHeron icon

Engagement

Table 2 shows the partners and stakeholder organisations with which Mallee CMA engaged when preparing the lower 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 Mallee Regional Catchment Strategy and the Mallee Waterway Strategy

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

Partner and stakeholder engagement
  • Cabarita Inc.
  • Community members on the Mallee CMA Land and Water Advisory Committee
  • Local Landcare groups
  • Mid-Murray Field Naturalists
  • Goulburn-Murray Water
  • Parks Victoria
  • Department of Environment Land, Water and Planning (Fire Forest and Regions)
  • Department of Environment Land, Water and Planning (Water and Catchments)
  • Lower Murray Water
  • Loddon Mallee Waste and Resource Recovery Group
  • Mildura Rural City Council
  • Swan Hill Rural City Council
  • Trust for Nature
  • Local landowner
  • Sunraysia Apiarist Association
  • Mallee Tours
  • Murray Offroad Adventures
  • Visit Mildura
  • Wildside Outdoors
  • Birdlife Mildura
  • Four-wheel drive club
  • Mildura Information Centre
  • Sunraysia Bushwalkers
  • Mallee CMA Land and Water Advisory Committee
  • Arthur Rylah Institute (Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning)
  • Robinvale Elders and communties
  • First People of the Millewa-Mallee Aboriginal Corporation

Page last updated: 22/06/21