Connecting the Northern Rivers

Joint media release: Office of Environment and Heritage NSW and Commonwealth Environmental Water Office

The waters of the Darling River

It’s been a dry start to the year in the northern Murray-Darling Basin with much of the Barwon-Darling river system under significant stress.

In a joint effort by the Commonwealth and NSW Government, water for the environment will be released into the northern rivers from mid-April, specifically to connect river systems across the Northern Basin.

“This is one of the first opportunities we’ve had to manage such a large scale connection – from the top end of the Northern Basin through the Barwon-Darling and down to Wilcannia with the possibility of reaching the Menindee Lakes,” said Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder, Jody Swirepik.

“Water for the environment is needed to maintain connection of northern rivers and the Barwon-Darling. Although our purpose is to improve river health, we do hope it will also relieve some of the pressure the community has been feeling.”

Assistant Minister for the Environment Melissa Price welcomed the decision to use environmental water in the northern basin. "It will provide benefits to both the environment and communities," she said.

Minister Price also welcomed the strong co-operation between the Australian Government and New South Wales to organise this event.

In January a number of river reaches in the Barwon-Darling River downstream of Brewarrina stopped flowing. The watering event will capitalise on more recent flows making their way down the Barwon-Darling system which provides an excellent foundation for enhancing in-stream ecological outcomes.

“We now have a chance to improve conditions for the inland river systems across northern NSW, and particularly to help our native fish like the iconic Murray cod and silver perch,” said Tim Hosking of the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage.

“Managed water for the environment will add to the runoff that recently entered the Barwon and Darling Rivers, and will aim to connect rivers, improve water quality, and provide habitat and food sources for native fish populations. It will also help to build up their resilience for longer-term survival when the system becomes dry again.”

Monitoring that is underway may help to understand the effects on native fish when river flows stop, and how fish communities respond once rivers start flowing again.

Ms Swirepik said the water delivery would not have been possible without the support of the NSW Government ensuring the environmental flows would be protected to pass along the system.

“I’d also like to acknowledge the goodwill and collaboration of many agencies in NSW, as well as the support of local councils and irrigator groups who have an interest in making this complex watering event work,” Ms Swirepik said.

“We look forward to sharing the outcomes of this event with the community.”

The connectivity event is planned to cover a distance in excess of 2,000km as releases from a number of northern rivers converge in the Barwon-Darling River. It is anticipated that environmental flows will reach Bourke by early May, and Wilcannia by late May.

Background

  • Since January extensive reaches of the Barwon-Darling River downstream of Brewarrina ceased to flow, with flows in northern tributaries in decline since March.
  • The Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder (CEWH) has allocated up to 23.8 gigalitres of Commonwealth environmental water for the northern rivers connectivity event. The NSW Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) has also committed up to 7.2 gigalitres of NSW environmental water.
  • Good rainfall further north has been feeding flows into the system over the last few weeks. In addition to the water made available by the embargo on water extraction and Condamine-Balonne Queensland irrigators volunteering not to take water from the system, there is now a modest amount of water already replenishing some of the drought refuge waterholes for native fish.
  • Collaborating with the CEWH and OEH to assist with this event are NSW agencies such as the Department of Primary Industries (Fisheries), WaterNSW, and the Department of Industry (Water), as well as the Murray-Darling Basin Authority.
  • Specifically the environmental objectives for the northern connectivity event are:
    • Use environmental water generally through the northern system, to support flow dependent ecological assets and functions by providing replenishment of drought refuge habitat and connectivity of flow, and to protect native fish including species listed under NSW and Commonwealth legislation, and the IUCN convention;
    • Use environmental water in the Barwon River and northern tributaries, to stimulate some productivity of the riverine ecosystems, and to provide improved dispersal opportunities and food sources to support native fish.