Drought conditions pose social, economic and environmental challenges. The Department of Planning and Environment (Environment, Energy and Science Group) (DPE–EES) is aware of the difficult times many people are currently facing.
Rivers and wetlands across New South Wales are also doing it tough – they need water too.
The Department is managing the limited volume of water set aside for the environment to ensure essential environmental assets remain viable now and into the future.
As part of its annual planning processes, DPE–EES has prioritised the rivers and wetlands that will receive water over the coming months and years. Our management approach is adaptive. We revisit our priorities as the seasons change from dry times to floods and to the scenarios in between.
Many of our rivers and wetlands are still recovering from the millennium drought. We must manage available water carefully so that we don’t undo any recent gains or have further declines in river and wetland health.
Allowing a key wetland or river to degrade during drought can have long-term and far-reaching consequences. The risks include:
- losing genetic diversity, especially among native fish populations which cannot exist without water. Genetic diversity is not easily fixed by restocking
- losing viable populations of plants and animals of different ages and maturities. For floodplain plants like river red gums, this can take many decades to restore. This has implications for waterbirds, turtles, frogs and native fish as well
- losing or reducing breeding opportunities for flow dependent native animals and plants
- deleting parts of the food chain which then impacts other species
- opening the door to pest species that can capitalise on conditions in a degraded environment and bounce back faster than native species when rain returns. This is especially true of European carp
- interrupting the release of essential nutrients into the aquatic food web which impacts on plant and animal populations locally and downstream
- interrupting the seed bank lifecycle of native plants whose seeds lie dormant in the soil but are lost when water does not arrive
- depleting the availability of food for pollinators, which move from floodplain forests into surrounding farmland and provide important services to the agricultural industry
- depleting groundwater reserves, which impacts plant health and availability of grazing opportunities for nearby landholders.
It is not always possible to recover or restore populations of plants or animals that have been lost. That’s why it is so important to maintain what we have during these challenging times so our rivers and wetlands can remain viable for all water users now and in the future.