This section explains each of the River Flow Objectives (RFOs). See the RFOs recommended for each part of the Murrumbidgee River and Lake George catchments..
This section does NOT apply to any part of the Murrumbidgee, Tumut or Goodradigbee Rivers, the regulated part of Mirrool Creek, or to streams affected by the Snowy Scheme (which is marked on the map in pink). See Environmental flow rules for regulated rivers
In total, there are eleven inland River Flow Objectives, each dealing with a critical element of natural river flows.
Flow patterns in many rivers have been significantly altered and will not return to natural flow regimes. The NSW Government is not attempting to restore completely natural flow patterns where the community significantly benefits from altered flow patterns. Communities and the Government have identified important areas where we can make adjustments to maintain or improve river health while continuing to benefit from water use.
Water Sharing Plans (WSPs) where developed, will contain integrated actions and timeframes to achieve objectives and implement identified actions in consultation with the community. Different approaches and outcomes will apply across the catchment.
River Flow Objectives were not recommended for the regulated parts of the Murray, Murrumbidgee, Lachlan, Macquarie, Namoi, Gwydir and Hunter Rivers, as well as for the Barwon-Darling River. This is because as part of water reforms, in 1998 the Government established Environmental Flow Rules for these rivers, after consideration by River Management Committees. These flow rules considered the principles of the River Flow Objectives and generally applied from 1998 until 2004. River Management Committees developed Water Sharing Plans for these rivers, which commenced by the Minister for Natural Resources in July 2004. These Plans contain updated environmental flow rules, which are generally based on the principles of the River Flow Objectives, consistent with the State Water Management Outcomes Plan.
The Natural Resources Commission (NRC) will review the role of WSPs in achieving state-wide natural resource management standards and targets after 5 years of the plan being made. As part of this review the NRC will call for public submissions and consider other state-wide policies or agreements that are relevant to the catchment management area. The Minister for Natural Resources will consider the review undertaken by the NRC when deciding whether to extend the duration of the current water sharing plan or to make a replacement plan.
The Minister may also amend plan actions at any time if the plan so allows or if it is deemed to be in the public interest to do so.
The Snowy Water Inquiry was commissioned in 1998 to assess river management of the Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Scheme and recommend environmental flow options for rivers affected by the Scheme. The Inquiry's terms of reference required analysis of the environmental, social and economic effects of various options for future management, prior to making recommendations to the NSW and Victorian Governments. The final report of the Inquiry was submitted on 23 October 1998. In August 2000, the NSW and Victorian Governments reached an agreement for environmental releases for the Snowy River below Jindabyne Dam which will increase flows from 1% to 22% of natural flows downstream of Jindabyne Dam within 10 years. Releases were also agreed for other rivers affected by the Scheme, including the upper Murrumbidgee River, the upper Snowy River (above Jindabyne Dam), the Goodradigbee River and the Geehi River.
Protect natural water levels in pools of creeks and rivers and wetlands during periods of no flows
During dry times, some streams stop flowing and form pools. Pools and wetlands are refuges for aquatic plants and animals. Pumping water from these areas can make it more difficult for many species to recover after a drought.
Protect natural low flows
Water extraction and storage are high in dry times and impose long artificial droughts that increase the stress on aquatic plants and animals.
Protect or restore a proportion of moderate flows ('freshes') and high flows
Rain causes peaks in river flows. This 'pulsing' of flows, including their duration, may trigger migration of animals and reproduction of plants and animals; provide over-bank flows to wetlands and floodplains; shape the river channel; and control water quality and nutrients. Water storage and extraction can alter or remove freshes, inhibiting these vital processes. The height, duration, season and frequency of higher flow events are all important.
Maintain or restore the natural inundation patterns and distribution of floodwaters supporting natural wetland and floodplain ecosystems
Floodplain and wetland ecosystems develop in response to flow patterns and the landscape between the river and wetlands or floodplains. Floodplain works can change the flooding patterns, which will lead to changes in habitat and vegetation. These changes can be expected to result in reduced or different species diversity and abundance, particularly reduced numbers of native fish, and water quality problems.
Mimic the natural frequency, duration and seasonal nature of drying periods in naturally temporary waterways
Continuous or seasonal water releases from water storages can mean streams and wetlands can sometimes be 'wetter' than natural. In streams and wetlands that naturally dry out, this can create problems in maintaining habitat, vegetation, nutrient cycling and signals for breeding. It can also lead to a high watertable and associated salinity problems. Natural wetting and drying cycles produce diversity of habitat and, therefore, high species diversity.
Maintain or mimic natural flow variability in all streams
Australia's rainfall and river flows are naturally variable. The way we currently store and divert river water can reduce natural pulsing of water down rivers and maintain artificially high or stable river heights. Hydro-electric releases can vary unnaturally between day and night. In urban areas and other places where the ability of the land to absorb or detain rainfall is reduced, more water runs off rapidly, so water levels will rise higher. These changes often create problems with streambank stability, biodiversity and signals for breeding and migration.
Maintain rates of rise and fall of river heights within natural bounds
Shutting off dam releases, or starting many pumps together, can drop river levels too quickly. If water levels fall too fast, water does not drain properly from riverbanks and they may collapse. Migration of aquatic animals may also be restricted by such sudden falls in river height.
Maintain groundwater within natural levels and variability, critical to surface flows and ecosystems
Some shallow groundwaters are directly linked to flows in streams and wetlands. They may provide base flows in rivers during dry periods and may be primary sources of water for wetland, floodplain and riparian vegetation. Seriously depleting groundwater in dry times may lead to unnatural recharge of groundwater from surface waters during the next flow.
Minimise the impact of instream structures
Most instream structures (e.g. weirs) convert flowing water to still water, thus altering habitat and increasing the risk of algal blooms or other water quality problems. Barriers prevent passage of plant propagules (e.g. seeds) and animals.
Minimise downstream water quality impacts of storage releases
Many dams release water from the bottom of reservoirs where temperatures and dissolved oxygen are low and nutrient concentrations are high. These changed water quality conditions can affect the river downstream for hundreds of kilometres. For instance, many native fish will not breed in colder water.
Ensure river flow management provides for contingencies
River systems can sometimes be affected by unforeseen or irregular events-such as algal blooms or the start of bird-breeding seasons. As river flows are a major determinant of many of these processes, we can sometimes alleviate a water-quality or environmental problem by better managing river flows.
This page was published 1 May 2006