The Murray and Lower Darling Baaka valleys cover 98,300 square kilometres and include the world’s largest stand of river red gum and Australia’s longest river, the Murray. Ramsar-listed sites include the Millewa, Werai and Koondrook–Perricoota forests, part of Chowilla Floodplain and the River Murray Channel. The catchment wetlands and rivers support important Aboriginal cultural heritage values.
The focus of Department of Planning Industry and Environment (the Department) water managers in 2020–21 was to build on gains of previous years through the careful management of water for the environment.
The resource availability scenario was expected to be dry to very dry, as identified in the Murray and Lower Darling catchments: Annual environmental watering priorities 2020–21.
Inflows from the northern basin into the Menindee Lakes system resulted in flows over Weir 32 recommencing in March 2020, which connected Menindee Lakes and the Murray River for the first time in more than 12 months. Over the 2020–21 spring and summer, the Department oversaw the management of an environmental flow into the Lower Baaka River (Lower Darling Baaka River) to aid the recovery of native fish populations.
In the Murray valley, managed watering events benefitted native fish, habitat condition and system productivity. For example:
- The Department partnered with Murray Irrigation, private landholders and the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder to deliver water into the Tuppal, Thule, Jimaringle-Cockran, Buccaneit, Yarrein and Murrain-Yarrein creeks to improve and support water quality, in-stream vegetation, waterbirds and native fish.
- Environmental water was delivered into the Gulpa Creek and Gulpa Creek Wetlands to provide breeding habitats for Murray cod and the nationally threatened Australasian bittern. Monitoring suggests that the Barmah–Millewa Forest Wetlands, which includes the Gulpa Creek Wetlands, provide nesting and foraging habitats for up to 20% of Australia’s Australasian bittern population.
- Water was delivered into several wetlands on private properties in the central and lower Murray to support recovery efforts for the nationally endangered southern bell frog, one of the NSW Government’s Saving our Species projects.
- Flows were delivered into the Lower Baaka from Menindee Lakes to provide longitudinal connectivity with the Murray River. This supported native fish recovery through spawning and recruitment and in-stream productivity benefits that means more food for fish.