As its storages are quite small and spill regularly, the Ovens system maintains a large proportion of its natural flow regime, particularly in winter/spring. However, the storages and licensed water extractions throughout the system can restrict flow during low flow periods, and parts of the system can become quite flow-stressed during summer and autumn.
The Ovens River flows into Lake Mulwala on the Murray River, the largest weir pool on the Murray regulated system. Ovens River flows contribute to the reliability and variability of flows in the Murray River and support many downstream uses including irrigation, urban supply and watering of iconic floodplain sites (such as Barmah Forest).
Water for the environment is held in Lake Buffalo and Lake William Hovell and can be released when the storages are not spilling. Five reaches in the Ovens system can benefit from releases of water for the environment. While all are important, there is a relatively small volume (123 ML) of water available, and it is insufficient to meet most of the environmental flow objectives. The available water is used selectively to deliver the greatest possible environmental benefit. Water for the environment is most commonly used in the Ovens system to deliver critical flow events in reaches immediately below the two main storages, or it is used in conjunction with operational water releases to influence flow in the lower Ovens River. It is also used to fill and top up Mullinmur Wetland in Wangaratta.