Annual environmental water priorities in the Murrumbidgee catchment 2023–24

In 2023–24, NSW water managers will continue to improve the health and resilience of priority river and wetland ecosystems and of native fish in the mid and lower reaches of the Murrumbidgee catchment.

Kieeta Lake pelican chicksWater 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 catchment

The Murrumbidgee catchment covers 81,527 square kilometres and includes 26 storage or diversion structures, 1,690 kilometres of the river, and the surrounding wetlands. The climate conditions range from alpine in the Snowy Mountains to semi-arid on the Riverina plains.

Wetlands throughout the Murrumbidgee support threatened species listed under the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 and NSW Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016.

The Murrumbidgee catchment is Country to the Barapa Barapa, Mutthi Mutthi, Nari Nari, Ngarigo, Ngunnawal, Wadi Wadi, Wolgalu, Wamba Wamba, Weki Weki and Wiradjuri Aboriginal people.

Water for rivers and wetlands

During 2022–23, the Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water (the department) capitalised on very wet conditions across the catchment to deliver water for the environment to sites including the Gayini Wetlands and instream Murrumbidgee River.

Water was used to benefit wetland habitats in the Murrumbidgee and Coleambally irrigation areas as well as the Western Lakes, Forest Creek and Wanganella Swamp.

In 2023–24, managed watering events will initially focus on maintaining permanent water habitat for southern bell frogs, native fish, waterbirds and other aquatic species.

Water managers plan to supplement existing system flows to provide the maximum benefit to plants and animals. Watering events will aim to restore a more natural flow pattern to support a robust food web and other system functions.

Aboriginal water management priorities

Aboriginal peoples' priorities in water management

Environmental water managers have been working to support Aboriginal people’s priorities in water management.

Water for Country is environmental water use planned by the department and Aboriginal people to achieve shared benefits for the environment and cultural places, values and/ or interests.

The department is partnering with the Nari Nari Aboriginal people to deliver dual environmental and cultural outcomes with water for the environment in the Gayini and Toogimbie wetlands system.

In 2023–24, we will continue to plan, in partnership with Mutthi Mutthi Aboriginal people, to enhance healthy Country outcomes, with a view to achieving longer term wetland and water management goals.

The department will be supporting the development of land and water management outcomes with Wiradjuri Aboriginal people, with a view to longer term co-management of numerous mid-Murrumbidgee environmental water assets.

Weather and water forecast

As at early June the El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO1) outlook is neutral, with an El Niño watch. This will result in well below median rainfall for May to July 2023 for eastern mainland Australia, as forecast in the Bureau of Meteorology outlook issued in March 2023. The chance of exceeding median rainfall was stated as 20%.

Indicative starting allocations are 95% allocations for high security and 30% allocations for general security licences. Water management plans reflect these wetter conditions and are mindful of the favourable starting allocations and high carryover.

Water managers have prepared watering plans that consider a range of weather and water availability scenarios in case it rains more or less than expected. This is known as resource availability scenario planning. Moderate to wet conditions are forecast for the Murrumbidgee catchment 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

 Dry river reaches in lower Mehi near Collarenebri gauge 2

Very dry

Main aim: Protect

Avoid critical loss
Maintain key refuges
Avoid catastrophic events

 Red Gum, "Hells Gate", now called "Black Rocks", Darling River


Main aim: Maintain

Maintain river functioning
Maintain key functions of high priority wetlands

 Macquarie River Trail, Dubbo


Main aim: Recover

Improve ecological health and resilience
Improve opportunities for plants and animals to breed, move and thrive

 Lower Murray

Wet to very wet

Main aim: Enhance

Restore key floodplain and wetland linkages
Enhance opportunities for plants and animals to breed, move and thrive

Key planned actions for 2023–24

Waterbird icon


Water managers have planned flows up to 200 gigalitres (GL) to provide foraging and breeding habitat for waterbirds, turtles, frogs and other aquatic species in areas including Gayini, Western Lakes and the North Redbank wetlands. Flows will water key Australasian bittern habitats in the Murrumbidgee and Coleambally irrigation areas.

Native fish icon

   Native fish

Water management plans allow for flows up to 200 GL to maintain instream and deep water off-stream habitats for native fish and to restore a more natural flow pattern to support native fish populations.

Water managers have planned trout cod and Murray cod nesting flows for the upper Yanco and mid-lower Murrumbidgee River systems. They may also undertake dispersal flows to allow young native fish and larvae to enter low lying floodplain habitat areas. Contingency water will be set aside to mitigate the risk of low flows heat wave/hypoxia in the lower Murrumbidgee weirs.

Native vegetation icon


Water managers will provide up to 10 GL of water for the environment via pumping to key mid-Murrumbidgee and Yanco/Forest Creek sites currently out of reach of river flows, e.g. Willbriggie, Yarradda, Gooragool and Sunshower lagoons in the mid-Murrumbidgee, as well as Waldaira and Mainie swamps in the Junction Wetland system west of Balranald.

Connectivity and water flow icon


Water managers have planned flows to southern Yanga National Park via the Gayini wetland system and then south via Tala Lake (assuming reasonable starting allocations).

Map of proposed annual priority targets in the water resource plan area 2023–24

Map of proposed annual priority targets in the Murrumbidgee Water Resource Plan area 2023–24


The department is supporting the health and resilience of rivers and wetlands by delivering water for the environment where and when it is needed. We use the best available science, management expertise and experience to manage water across the landscape. This statement of annual priorities identifies the waterways and wetlands that are likely to receive water.

Our decision-making process considers:

  • expected availability of water in the coming year
  • conditions of the previous year
  • current health of the plants and animals in these ecosystems. 

About water for the environment

Water for the environment delivers benefits for communities, rivers, wetlands and wildlife across New South Wales.

Healthy, connected rivers and floodplains are a focus for tourism, fishing, recreation and relaxation. Rivers carry water to our homes, schools, farms and businesses, and along the way, support countless species including native fish, waterbirds, frogs, plants and more.

Rivers and wetlands have great cultural and spiritual significance for Aboriginal people.

Water for the environment is a critical tool to maintain and enhance the rivers, wetlands and wildlife we all love.

Working with communities

Local communities are at the heart of everything we do.

We involve the broader community by holding site tours and forums, and online and in-person events.

NSW water management teams consult regularly with community-based environmental water advisory groups.

Environmental water advisory groups members include local landholders, recreational fishers, Aboriginal people and local government representatives. Their advice helps to inform the decisions made by our local environmental water management teams.

Expected environmental water volumes available at 1 July 2023

The Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water works with partner agencies to manage environmental water in the catchment.


Maximum volume available (gigalitres – GL)

Volume expected 1 July under current conditions (gigalitres – GL)

Planned environmental water


Environmental Water Allowance (1)

100 GL
Linked to announced general security allocations

50 GL

Environmental Water Allowance (2)

Triggered by Burrinjuck Dam inflows and releases

26 GL


Environmental Water Allowance (3)

Linked to announced general security allocations

0 GL

Water licenced to New South Wales


General security

31.4 GL

7.85 GL
new allocation, approx.9.4 carryover


6.7 GL

Dependent on surplus flows

Lowbidgee supplementary access licence (South Redbank/Yanga)

148 GL

Dependent on surplus flows

Water licenced to the Commonwealth

High security

14.2 GL

Up to 13.5 GL

General security

286.5 GL

167.8 GL


50.3 GL

37.7 GL


22 GL

Dependent on surplus flows from unregulated tributaries

Lowbidgee supplementary

406.6 GL

Dependent on surplus flows

Note: This is an indicative summary of expected volumes to be available. For further detail and information on available volumes, please contact the region via Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water enquiries on 1300 361 967.

1 gigalitre = 1000 megalitres; 2.5 megalitre = 1 Olympic swimming pool.

Outcomes of water for the environment

Water for the environment has been delivering outcomes for rivers, wetlands and wildlife for 30 years.

We deliver flows that:

  • trigger native fish to breed and move
  • support waterbirds to nest and feed
  • connect rivers and floodplains
  • water forests and floodplains
  • allow plants to grow, flower and set seed
  • create refuge during droughts
  • enhance outcomes during wetter times
  • release vital nutrients from the floodplain floor that underpin the aquatic food web.

It’s habitat restoration on a landscape scale.