Environmental issues

Water

Murray and Lower Darling valleys environmental water

river in centre foreground reflecting sky and trees with blue sky and large trees in background

Following an environmental water release, an ephemeral creek on the lower Murray River near Wentworth, NSW, fills in 2010 for the first time in almost a decade. Photo: Sascha Healy, OEH.

The Murray River forms a 1700-kilometre border between NSW and Victoria and continues downstream into South Australia. The Murray Valley includes a large anabranch system - the Edward-Wakool system - which creates an intricate network of streams, creeks and wetlands.

The NSW portion of the Murray and Lower Darling valleys has an area of 14,490 square kilometres which contains a mosaic of wetland types, ranging from ephemeral wetlands to permanently wet lagoons and rivers.

The Millewa, Werai and Koondrook-Perricoota Forests on the mid-Murray River, are listed under the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance (the Ramsar Convention). The ephemeral Darling Anabranch and its associated lakes are listed in the Directory of Important Wetlands in Australia.

View a map showing the location of environmental watering areas in the Murray and Lower Darling valleys (Murray2013.pdf, 830KB).

The Murray Valley wetlands and rivers have important Aboriginal cultural heritage values, with more than 968 cultural heritage sites recorded. Sites have been recorded in the Millewa Forest (Cummeragunja people), Werai Forest (Deniliquin people) and the eastern portion of Koondrook Forest (Cummeragunja and Moama people) and include scar trees, burials, shell middens and oven mounds.

The Living Murray icon sites

The Living Murray icon sites within NSW include the Millewa Forest, Koondrook-Perricoota Forest, the eastern section of Chowilla Floodplain and the River Murray Channel.

Watering of these sites is coordinated by the Murray-Darling Basin Authority and undertaken in conjunction with the relevant states.

Benefits of environmental water

Environmental water in the Murray and Lower Darling valleys supports:

  • wetland vegetation communities, including one of Australia’s largest stands of river red gum forest, as well as river cooba, black box and lignum, common reed, moira grass, spike rush and giant rush
  • habitat for fauna and flora species listed in the Commonwealth Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, including Macquarie perch, Murray cod, trout cod, painted snipe, regent honeyeater, superb parrot, regent parrot (eastern), southern bell frog, small scurf-pea, mountain swainson-pea and floating swamp wallaby-grass
  • the lowland Murray River and lowland Darling River, which have been declared endangered ecological communities under the NSW Fisheries Management Act 1994.

Catchment condition 2012-13

High flows through the Murray and Lower Darling systems during 2010 to 2012 saw widespread inundation of many previously dry wetland habitats. Through the 2012-13 water year, sites retained some floodwaters but generally wetlands were drying.

Though the health of the Murray and Lower Darling rivers and wetlands varies considerably, it is generally accepted that overall condition has improved. Monitoring across an array of Murray and Lower Darling wetlands indicates that vegetation and aquatic fauna, including native fish and frogs, have responded well to the wetter conditions. To continue this improvement, protracted drying of wetlands should be avoided for several more seasons.

Available environmental water in 2013-14

At the start of the 2013-14 water year, Hume Dam was at 64% capacity, Dartmouth Dam was at 94% while Menindee Lakes total storage was at 72%. High security allocations for the Murray Valley were expected to open at 97% and general security allocations at 38%.

At least 95,000 ML of held environmental water is available for use in the Murray and Lower Darling valleys. Available environmental water is made up from NSW Environmental Water Holdings and Commonwealth environmental water. Approximately 220,000 ML may also become available under the water sharing plan, subject to plan conditions.

Environmental watering aims 2013-14

The Murray and Lower Darling Environmental Water Advisory Group (EWAG) has considered the condition of assets, water availability and climate forecasts and recommended that the management outcomes for environmental watering for this water year are to ensure that environmental assets maintain basic functions and resilience and build on the positive environmental outcomes of the recent wet years.

With the primary management outcome for the Murray and Lower Darling system to maintain ecological health and resilience, NSW has nominated 20 priority environmental watering actions for the 2013-14 water year. These priority areas include ‘Private Property Wetlands’ (including Murray Irrigation and Moira Private Irrigation District), Gwynnes Creek, Tuppal Creek, Bottle Bend Reserve and the Edward-Wakool system.

The delivery of environmental water is limited by system constraints such as channel capacity, the use of irrigation infrastructure and potential third-party impacts such as the restriction of access to land and/or stock by landholders. Environmental flows are adaptively managed to integrate with other demands in the system.

For further information contact Justen Simpson, Senior Team Leader, Environmental Water Governance, NSW Office of Environment and Heritage: phone (02) 6229 7140.

Annual Environmental Watering Plan 2013-14

The Murray and Lower Darling Valleys Annual Environmental Watering Plan 2013-14 (130582MurrayAEWP.pdf, 2.7MB) outlines the environmental water scenarios in detail.

Murray Lower Darling Environmental Water Advisory Group

The Murray Lower Darling Environmental Water Advisory Group advises OEH on environmental water planning and delivery. The advisory group is currently chaired by the Murray Catchment Management Authority.

Partners

OEH manages environmental water in the Murray and Lower Darling catchment in partnership with:

Plans

Environmental water planning is supported by the following key documents and plans:

The Commonwealth Environmental Water Office also produces plans and reports in relation to its water holdings in the Murray and Lower Darling.

Reports on environmental water use

Environmental water use for 2012-13 is reported in Environmental water use in NSW: Outcomes 2012-13.

Page last updated: 13 March 2014