Water that is allocated and managed specifically to improve the health of rivers, wetlands and floodplains is known as water for the environment.
NSW environmental water management teams work with local community advisory groups including landholders, Aboriginal stakeholders, partner agencies and other interested community members to develop detailed annual plans for the use of water for the environment in each catchment, including how its use is prioritised.
The Murray and Lower Darling Baaka catchments cover 98,300 square kilometres and include the world’s largest stand of river red gums and Australia’s longest river, the Murray. Ramsar-listed sites include the Millewa, Werai and Koondrook–Perricoota forests, Chowilla Floodplain and River Murray Channel.
Prior to the 2018–19 fish kills, the Lower Darling Baaka River supported one of the Basin’s most robust Murray cod populations and was an important flow corridor for golden perch.
The Murray and Lower Darling Baaka catchments’ wetlands and rivers support important Aboriginal cultural values, with more than 968 cultural sites formally recorded. Aboriginal people continue to contribute important knowledge to inform the management of water for the environment.
The Murray and Lower Darling–Baaka catchments are Country to the Wiradjuri, Dhudhuroa, Waywurru, Bangerang, Barapa Barapa, Wemba Wemba, Yorta Yorta, Barkindji Maraura, Muthi Muthi, Nyeri Nyeri, Tati Tati, Wadi Wadi, Weki Weki and Ngintait Aboriginal peoples.
Water for rivers and wetlands
In 2023–24, managed environmental flows will target a range of outcomes, including:
- watering regimes that support the nationally threatened Australasian bittern and southern bell frog
- improved conditions for small-bodied native fish
- connectivity, refuge and dispersal flows for large-bodied native fish
- support for floodplain ecosystems, including the Central Murray Forest Ramsar site (Millewa, Werai and Koondrook-Perricoota).
Major flooding occurred in the Murray River, Edward-Wakool-Niemur system, Lower Darling Baaka River and Great Darling Anabranch over winter, spring and summer 2022–23. Water for the environment was used to support native fish populations during the flood and to maintain optimal nesting conditions for waterbirds at particular sites on the flood recession. Under an adaptive plan, water managers worked with other agencies and the community to coordinate the delivery of releases and to monitor, assess and manage risks.
Aboriginal water management priorities
Water for Country is environmental water use planned by the Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water and Aboriginal people to achieve shared benefits for the environment and cultural places, values and/ or interests.
The Murray Lower Darling Rivers Indigenous Nations are long-standing members of the Murray and Lower Darling Environmental Water Advisory Group. In 2023–2024, environmental water managers aim to deliver water into floodplains, wetlands and waterways including the Murray River and Edward–Wakool–Niemur river system, Werai Forest, Millewa Forest, Koondrook-Perricoota Forest, the Lower Darling Baaka and Darling Anabranch, and numerous other sites. Water delivery into these sites will be undertaken in partnership with Aboriginal groups and a range of delivery partners, including the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder, Murray-Darling Basin Authority, a range of NSW and Victorian government agencies, and numerous private landowners and irrigation corporations.
Weather and water forecast
As at early June the El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO1) outlook is neutral (neither La Niña nor El Niño) with oceanic and atmospheric indicators having returned to neutral ENSO levels. International climate models suggest neutral ENSO conditions are likely to persist through the southern autumn. However, there are some signs that El Niño could form later in the year.
Water managers have prepared watering plans that consider a range of weather and water availability scenarios. This is known as resource availability scenario planning. As of March 2023, ‘moderate’ conditions are forecast for the Murray and Lower Darling Baaka catchments in 2023–24.
1. ENSO: The interaction between the sea surface and atmosphere over the Pacific Ocean which results in dryer (El Nino) or wetter (La Nina) conditions.
Resource availability scenario
Main aim: Protect
Avoid critical loss
Main aim: Maintain
Maintain river functioning
Main aim: Recover
Improve ecological health and resilience
Wet to very wet
Main aim: Enhance
Restore key floodplain and wetland linkages
Key planned actions for 2023–24
Water managers have planned:
- watering events for the Murray catchment national and regional parks to support sites that contain nesting Australasian bitterns and other native waterbirds. Australasian bitterns are an important story-telling species for Aboriginal people
- deliveries of up to 1 gigalitre (GL) for Lake Agnes to promote waterbird breeding for threatened species such as blue-billed ducks
- deliveries up to 3 GL for Pollack Swamp (Koondrook-Perricoota) which is a breeding site for egrets, herons and little bitterns.
Water managers have planned Murray River multi-site flows from Hume Dam to South Australia to support native fish and instream productivity. This is a collaboration between states and agencies.
Fish flows in the Edward-Wakool system will provide benefits for native fisheries, instream vegetation and food webs.
Water managers are planning a winter–spring flow for the Lower Darling Baaka River to support native fish population recovery and recruitment. There is potential for a continuation of flow down the Great Darling Anabranch to the Murray River, water volumes permitting.
Water managers will deliver flows to private wetlands, providing critical habitat for southern bell frogs. Supporting the condition of remnant woodlands and other floodplain vegetation communities produces essential carbon and nutrients to support the aquatic food web and provides habitat and corridors for wildlife, such as the nationally threatened superb parrot.
Flows will provide connectivity between Tuppal Creek and the Edward River, Cunninyeuk, Murrain Yarrein and Cockran-Jimaringle creeks and the Niemur, Wakool rivers and Yarrein Creek.
A cultural flow is planned in the Koondrook-Perricoota Forest. This will also benefit vegetation, woodland birds and waterbirds.
Map of proposed annual priority targets in the water resource plan area 2023–24