Victoria’s track record of achieving positive environmental outcomes in the Murray-Darling Basin

The Murray-Darling Basin Plan is delivered in a way that benefits local communities, cultural knowledge, water quality, and future-proofing our resources for all users and the environment.

Each year, the Victorian Government reports to the Commonwealth Government on its progress in implementing the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.

Throughout 2020–2021, Victoria has continued to work with the Commonwealth Government, other Basin jurisdictions, and the Murray-Darling Basin Authority to support the delivery of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan’s objectives to balance social, economic, and environmental outcomes, as agreed.

The Victorian Basin Plan Implementation Highlights for 2020–21 provides a summary look at Victoria’s program of work and progress towards achieving agreed Basin milestones in the areas of:

  • Local knowledge and stakeholder engagement
  • Environmental watering
  • Water quality and salinity management
  • Water trading
  • Sustainable Diversion Limits (SDL)
  • SDL adjustment and constraints management
  • Water Resource Plans

Victoria has continued to work with local communities and Traditional Owners to get great environmental outcomes for the Basin, whilst taking into account the significant challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Victoria's highlights by category

Local knowledge and solutions

Victoria is committed to meaningful engagement with local communities and stakeholders. Victoria has delivered on our commitment to value local knowledge and include stakeholders in decision-making on implementing the Basin Plan. Victorian Catchment Management Authorities (CMAs) and the Victorian Environmental Water Holder (VEWH) play an essential role in ensuring the planning and delivery of environmental water is informed by local knowledge, views and solutions.

Closing the knowledge gap - Traditional Owner involvement in planning and delivering environmental flows

In recognition of the cultural importance of water, caring for Country and their long-standing rich ecological knowledge, Traditional Owners in Victoria are increasingly engaging with waterway managers to provide Aboriginal cultural, social and recreational values when planning for and delivering environmental flows. Examples of Traditional Owners involvement during 2020–21 to plan for environmental watering in 2021–22 include:

Guttrum Forest (Murray floodplain)

The VEWH, North Central CMA and Barapa Barapa and Wamba Wemba Traditional Owners worked together in 2020–21 to plan for environmental watering at wetlands in Guttrum Forest in 2021–22. In preparation for the watering, Traditional Owners worked with North Central CMA to slash river red gum saplings that were encroaching into the wetland. These preparatory works will help to ensure the watering action in 2021-22 achieves its intended objectives. Barapa Barapa and Wamba Wemba Traditional Owners will work with North Central CMA during 2021–22 to deliver the watering event and monitor outcomes.

Horseshoe Lagoon (Goulburn System)

The Taungurung Traditional Owner water knowledge group Baan Ganalina (Guardians of Water) has worked closely with Goulburn Broken CMA, VEWH, local land holders and other partners to bring water back to Horseshoe Lagoon to restore habitats and see birds and other animals return to the site. The Taungurung Land and Water Council (TLaWC) participated in the development of the environmental water management plan for Horseshoe Lagoon in 2019 and observed the first environmental watering event at the site in winter 2019. Environmental water was used again in September 2020 to top up the wetland and extend the benefit of a natural fill-in in autumn 2020.

Robertsons Creek (lower Mallee)

The First People of the Millewa Mallee Aboriginal Corporation worked with Mallee CMA to plan environmental watering at Robertsons Creek in the lower Mallee region. Vegetation at the site has degraded due to lack of water, and in the spring of 2020, an environmental flow was delivered to the creek to improve the condition of remaining vegetation and help protect and enhance cultural values identified by Traditional Owners. This was the first time the site had received water since flooding in 2016. Mallee CMA has continued its engagement with Traditional Owners to inform planning and prioritisation of another environmental flow at Robertson Creek in 2021-22.

First Nations Environmental Watering Statement

In April 2021, a forum on Latji Latji Country in Mildura brought together Traditional Owner representatives from across the southern Murray-Darling Basin to share information about the health of Country. The forum participants discussed preferred outcomes from the management of environmental water. The forum was funded by the Commonwealth Environmental Water Office and organised with the MDBA’s Living Murray Program and Murray Lower Darling Rivers Indigenous Nations. The Statement on environmental water use in 2021-22 made by participants at the Southern Basin First Nations’ Environmental Watering Forum 2021 was reproduced in VEWH’s Seasonal Watering Plan 2021-22, and will be used to guide environmental watering during the 2021-22 water year, particularly through the Southern Connected Basin Environmental Watering Committee. It will work hand-in-hand with existing, site-based First Nations planning and environmental water delivery along the Murray.

Self-determined projects

These projects seek to harness the local knowledge of Traditional owners and, in some cases, partner their expertise with industry specialists to protect cultural values and natural resources on Country. The projects featured below define Traditional Owners’ aspirations for their waterways, increasing their confidence in water management.

Taungurung: Restoring water, restoring Country

The TLaWC were funded under Victoria’s Aboriginal Water Program for the project Taungurung, restoring water, restoring Country. The project commenced in 2018 and sought to engage Taungurung people with industry specialists to protect cultural values and natural resources in Taungurung Country through restoring natural water regimes and documenting the knowledge for future generations. The project conducted 4 seasonal vegetation assessments at Reedy Lake, where 10 Taungurung men and women participated with guests from Goulburn Broken CMA, Goulburn Murray Water, and the Federation of Victorian Traditional Owners Corporation (FVTOC), DELWP and Australian National University.

Wetter conditions during 2020 provided Taungurung with a fantastic opportunity to improve the results of the initial assessments and genuinely understand the ecological health conditions, hydrology regime and vegetation responses of the Lake. The climate conditions allowed Taungurung members to experience the enormous resilience the Lake still has and observe significant changes in the different environmental vegetation classes.

Taungurung developed a comprehensive ecological and cultural heritage assessment of Reedy Lake which found that:

  • the existing wetland vegetation, despite the dry conditions, had great structural and species diversity
  • many species were identified that had significant cultural uses for Taungurung
  • the multitude of scar trees and mounds at the Lake attest to the prevalent use of this site by Taungurung people over a long period.

TLaWC will use to this put forward future recommendations and strategies for joint management of the site, TLaWC will continue to seek collaboration and future funding for research for the site. The project has supported TLaWC to reconnect Taungurung people to their Country as well as supported TLaWC and Taungurung people to increase their confidence in water management. Restoring water, and restoring Country has enabled TLaWAC to build strong partnerships with the water industry and improve participation in land and water management. TLaWC has also established a working relationship with Goulburn Broken CMA and Parks Victoria.

Margooya Lagoon: Cultural Flows as a sustainable way to embed traditional ecological knowledge for healthier waterways

In 2021, Tati Tati Wadi Wadi (TTWW) delivered their Cultural Flows Management Plan, which defines their aspirations for Margooya Lagoon outside Robinvale. Developing the plan began in 2018, with Tati Tati Wadi Wadi members participating in workshops to determine nation objectives around Cultural Flows and the health of waterways and Country. A total of 16 main objectives were outlined across water, animals, plants, and people – all of which are considered interconnected and central to cultural understandings of Country.

In 2020, Victorian authorities committed and delivered a 15ML allocation of environmental water to a floodplain creek at the Murray River side of the Margooya Lagoon wetland. This “Test Flow” was a way to simulate the original inundation of the creek and help revive the biodiversity of the surrounding area. Monitoring and evaluation surveys created by the Tati Tati Aboriginal Water Officers were used over the course of 5 weeks to survey and record the outcomes of the watering event on various key indicators.

Increases were demonstrated during the flow event in the overall health of culturally significant plants and the overall abundance of culturally significant animals. However, while the cultural wellbeing of people slightly increased during the one-week flow event as the water was flowing into the dry creek bed, an overall decrease was observed once the flow event ended. Tati Tati Wadi Wadi reports that improved engagement between relevant stakeholders could lead to more positive, lasting outcomes for future watering events. To respect their rights and responsibilities to care for Country, Traditional Owners should be involved in all stages of the environmental watering process: before, during and after water is delivered.

Cultural Flows are a lifelong concept. The Cultural Flows Management Plan for Margooya Lagoon is an ongoing and live document that will grow and adapt as the people and Country that it concerns grow and change. Tati Tati Wadi Wadi members recommend further Test Flow events to gain additional knowledge and understanding of the natural creek inundation paths of Margooya Lagoon.

Relevant stakeholders should ensure that genuine engagement occurs, with Traditional Owners involved in all stages of the environmental and cultural watering processes and Traditional Ecological Knowledge embedded in the water space. The nation will also aim to continue developing the capacity for Traditional Owner employment, self-determination and autonomy in holding water workshops and educational projects.

Community involvement in planning environmental flows

CMAs outreach efforts to augment watering priorities

In 2020-21, catchment management authorities (CMAs) continued to engage stakeholders and the community to provide local knowledge, views and solutions to inform annual watering priorities during the preparation of their seasonal watering proposals and throughout the year.

Engagement includes Traditional Owner groups, Environmental Water Advisory Groups (which have local community representatives and staff of partner agencies), community groups, Committees of Management, and through direct contact with interested individuals and private landholders.

Information obtained through this engagement, such as observations, monitoring results and risk identification and management, is used to shape the implementation of environmental watering. The VEWH also engages regularly with state-wide peak bodies and stakeholders, including, but not limited to, Environment Victoria, the Victorian Farmers Federation, the FVTOC, the Murray Lower Darling Rivers Indigenous Nations (MLDRIN), the Field and Game Association, VRFish (Victorian Recreational Fishing peak body) and the Game Management Authority.

Environmental watering advisory groups (EWAGs)

As the environmental water portfolio has expanded in recent years, some CMAs established EWAGs through public advertisements, nominations, and/or recommendations. As required, additional stakeholders have also been identified and engaged during the planning and delivery of environmental watering events.

Agencies, interest groups and community members were engaged through the Goulburn, Broken River, Campaspe, Loddon and Loddon-Murray Wetlands EWAGs and the Gunbower Community Reference Group to incorporate expertise and local knowledge into seasonal watering proposals and to inform environmental watering decisions.

Kaiela (Lower Goulburn River) flows study

The environmental flow requirements for the lower Goulburn River were updated in November 2020 to capture the considerable monitoring and research undertaken in the river over the last decade and increase environmental water entitlements in the system. Technical specialists conducted the project. Community members and representatives of conservation and recreational fishing stakeholder groups contributed through the project advisory group, provided critical local environmental knowledge, and helped establish environmental objectives for the system.

The strategies and technical reports informed by cross-consultation with local communities and peak bodies collectively describe a range of environmental, cultural, economic, social and Traditional Owner perspectives and longer-term integrated catchment and waterway management objectives that influence environmental watering actions and priorities.

Victorian Environmental Water Holder partnering Traditional Owners

The VEWH and its program partners also consider Aboriginal cultural, social, and recreational values and use of waterways when planning for each system environmental watering activities. In addition, waterway managers engage with community representatives to determine how Traditional Owner and community benefits from environmental flows can be provided while optimising the delivery of environmental priorities for the year ahead. Examples of Traditional Owner involvement in the Murray-Darling Basin that support their input in planning, delivery and monitoring of environmental flows include:

Aboriginal Water Officers

Nine Aboriginal Water Officers (AWOs) from the Murray-Darling Basin were funded in 2020-2021. The AWOs play a significant role in promoting informed discussion to support Aboriginal values and uses through Victoria’s existing water resource planning and management processes. They deliver projects in partnership with Traditional Owner corporations, Aboriginal communities, CMAs and water agencies. The AWO positions provide a dedicated water expert on Country who support Traditional Owners to self-determine how they wish to partner with the water sector. Working on local projects and programs enables AWOs to support the Victorian Government to better understand and incorporate traditional ecological knowledge into water resource planning.

Water, Country and Community Programs

Six self-determined water projects in the Murray-Darling Basin were funded through the Water, Country and Community Program in 2020-2021. The Yorta Yorta Nation Aboriginal Corporation will implement these projects, First People of the Millewa-Mallee Aboriginal Corporation, Tati Tati Wadi Wadi, The Dja Dja Wurrung Clans Aboriginal Corporation, Taungurung Land and Waters Council and North Central CMA in partnership with Barapa Barapa Wamba Wemba. The funded projects have various outputs and outcomes as self-determined by Traditional Owner organisations, focusing on enabling long-term water planning and strategies. Themes that will be addressed include monitoring, mapping, and evaluating Country; community consultation and gatherings; capacity building; and country plan implementation.

Aboriginal Waterways Assessment tool

MLDRIN was funded in 2020-2021 to conduct 8 Aboriginal Water Assessments (AWA) for Traditional Owners and First Nations groups in the Murray-Darling Basin. AWAs are a tool that consistently measures and prioritises river and wetland health so that Traditional Owners can more effectively participate in water planning and management. The AWAs are expected to be conducted in Mallee Country, various waterways and wetlands between Robinvale and Lindsay Point, and Barapa Barapa Country. They are planned to be used for reconnecting with Country, as well as providing data that informs waterway management and planning.

Efficiency measures

Efficiency measures are activities that change water use practices and save water. They are integral to the Basin Plan’s sustainable diversion limit (SDL) adjustment mechanism to benefit the environment and communities across the Murray-Darling Basin. Since 2019, Victoria has funded the development of feasibility studies and/or business cases for projects presented in the 2018 Northern Victoria Water Infrastructure Prospectus of off-farm projects which could contribute to the requirement of 62 GL of efficiency measures under the SDL adjustment mechanism with neutral or positive socio-economic outcomes.

During 2020-21, Victoria continued to provide advice to project proponents to ensure projects were developed in line with the agreed socio-economic criteria (which ensures projects will only lead to neutral or positive socio-economic outcomes for communities). This included supporting consultation by proponents with affected stakeholders.

After pre-consultation with affected stakeholders, Goulburn Murray Water (GMW) submitted the GMW Water Efficiency Project to DELWP for assessment against the agreed socio-economic criteria. The proposal was published for public comment on the Engage Victoria website in August 2020. The Victorian Minister for Water determined that the GMW Water Efficiency Project was compliant with the socio-economic criteria and had the support of the community. The project proposal was submitted for consideration to the Commonwealth Government, which has committed $177.5 million to the project. This project is expected to deliver 15.9 GL/year Long-Term Average Annual Yield of water recovery towards Victoria’s Murray-Darling Basin Plan water recovery targets with no negative socio-economic outcomes.

The GMW Water Efficiency Project is on track and delivering off-farm system upgrades across the GMID and reducing water losses. Victoria will continue to support opportunities for investment in regional off-farm infrastructure projects with neutral or positive socio-economic outcomes which contribute to regional job creation, agricultural productivity, and Basin Plan environmental outcomes. Victoria continues to find opportunities to get better environmental outcomes by delivering environmental water more efficiently. An example is the Constraints Measures project.

Victorian Murray Floodplain Restoration Project

Progress of Victoria’s 9 sites of the Victorian Murray Floodplain Restoration Project (VMFRP) is well underway, and it remains on track for construction to meet the mid-2024 completion deadline, subject to regulatory approvals.  In May 2021, the State and Commonwealth reached an agreement to bring forward funding to enable the project to undertake the necessary State and Commonwealth regulatory approvals, including environmental and complex cultural heritage assessments. Community and stakeholders will have opportunities for input to the VMFRP through the public consultation phase of the regulatory process. Aboriginal Water Assessments will be undertaken with the Traditional Owners to better understand the water and land aspirations across the project area. This will enable cultural objectives to be identified and inform environmental water use, and when available, cultural water. Baseline ecological monitoring has commenced ensuring the project can demonstrate it is achieving objectives and improving values while providing information to stakeholder’s, the community and the government. This will be expanded to include cultural and socio-economic monitoring once determined in partnership with Traditional Owners.

Constraints Measures Project

Following Ministerial Council’s decision on community co-design the project has been re-scoped and staged with the Victorian and Australian governments entering into a contract for the first phase to develop a feasibility study with funding approved in mid-2021. This has enabled Victoria to establish the necessary project support to undertake the feasibility study. This first stage will be overseen by a Consultative Committee with an independent chair, who will work at both a regional and system-scale to assess what is practical to deliver, what are the benefits and risks under climate change and whether it is likely community and Traditional Owner support for implementation. By late 2022, Victoria will complete a feasibility study that has followed a community-centric engagement approach to fill in key technical and knowledge gaps, better understand the impact of climate change on delivery and whether there is likely community and Traditional Owner support for implementation. This is the first step to addressing key technical and knowledge gaps and considering options.

Environmental Management Framework

In 2020-21, Victoria has in accordance with the Basin Plan (Part 4 of Chapter 8) met its obligations under The implementation of the environmental management framework. Victoria has prepared, reviewed and updated Basin-wide environmental watering strategy, long-term watering plans and annual priorities in consultation with relevant agencies and stakeholders.

Co-development of Seasonal Watering Plan 2021-22

The VEWH’s Seasonal Watering Plan 2021-22 was developed in consultation with waterway managers, storage managers, environmental water holders, land managers, Traditional Owners, and community representatives.

Potential watering actions planned for each site in the seasonal watering plan aim to support the environmental objectives set for individual sites. The objectives are developed based on technical studies and environmental water management plans that assess the ecological priorities and requirements for the individual site. Some sites are recognised as Ramsar wetlands of international significance, and where relevant, environmental objectives for those sites reflect obligations under international agreements to maintain the ecological and hydrological conditions within defined Limits of Acceptable Change. Environmental objectives for individual sites align with objectives outlined in the Basin-wide watering strategy where possible and environmental watering actions across multiple sites collectively contribute to the environmental objectives specified in Chapter 8 of the Basin Plan.

Coordination in planning environmental watering across the southern connected Murray-Darling Basin

Seasonal watering proposals in the northern region within the Murray-Darling Basin that have multiple entitlement holders are reviewed by both VEWH, the Commonwealth Environmental Water Office, and the Southern Connected Basin Environmental Watering Committee (SCBEWC), where relevant.

In Victoria, all water for the environment must be delivered in line with the VEWH’s seasonal watering plan, meaning coordination during the annual planning phase (which occurred in late 2020-21 for the 2021-22 water year) is fundamental to successful basin-scale outcomes. Environmental watering in 2020-21 within northern Victoria was delivered in accordance with the Basin Annual Watering Priorities 2020-21 – published by MDBA in June 2020, including (where applicable) First Nations’ environmental priorities. VEWH works with the MDBA during the annual water planning phase to ensure alignment between the Seasonal Watering Plan and the Basin Annual Watering Priorities.  Watering actions within northern Victorian systems delivered in the 2020-21 year were consistent with the MDBA’s annual priorities identified for the southern connected basin in 2020-21.

Planning and prioritisation in northern Victorian systems focused on avoiding irretrievable loss of species and habitat or maintaining (and where able, improve) ecological health, condition and resilience of water dependent ecosystems. This depends on the water availability in the year. The suite of priorities planned in CMA seasonal watering proposals and the VEWH’s seasonal watering plan were adjusted depending on the climate scenario and delivered in accordance with the observed conditions and water availability.

Collaboration in action

Catchment Management Authorities in northern Victoria, in collaboration with local communities, aquatic ecologists and other agencies, have developed environmental flows studies, Environmental Water Management Plans (EWMPs) and icon site operating plans to guide environmental watering activities at rivers, wetlands and floodplains. These plans outline site values, environmental objectives and flow objectives for the sites.  Objectives and flow recommendations to manage water quality issues, such as salinity and hypoxic blackwater are established through this planning. The North Central CMA sought to embed Traditional Owner ecological knowledge into its update of Environmental Watering Plans.

Round Lake Environmental Water Management Plan: North Central CMA partnering Wamba Wamba Traditional Owners

In 2020-21, North Central CMA undertook a pilot update of the Round Lake EWMP to align with the review and update of the EWMP guidelines. The EWMP guideline update ensures consistency with the Basin Plan and will include improved guidance on collaboration with Traditional Owners and adaptively updating the management recommendations.

The focus of the pilot project was to ensure the EWMP had specific, measurable, archivable, realistic and time-bound (SMART) targets and that Traditional Owner knowledge and aspirations were incorporated into the EWMP. The project consisted of both online and face to face engagement with Wamba Wemba Traditional Owners and two workshops were held in late 2020 and early 2021. Through the consultation, Wamba Wemba identified that Round Lake has been known as Kunat Kunat which means ‘cotton weed’ in the local language. Wamba Wemba gave permission for Kunat Kunat to be used in the 2021 EWMP update. The Traditional Owner knowledge gained during the workshops was significant and included a set of values that were important for Round Lake and their culture.

A technical panel was established to advise on the update of the Round Lake (Kunat Kunat) EWMP. Together, the technical panel developed four SMART long-term objectives which focus on providing the most appropriate watering regime to ensure high quality habitat for the Murray hardyhead, large-fruit tassel and a high diversity of waterbirds. The advice from the technical panel workshop, in conjunction with recent studies on the salinity tolerances of Murray hardyhead during each lifecycle stage, has been used to update the water regime and seasonal adaptive approach sections in the Round Lake EWMP.

The EWMPs will be updated to allow the North Central CMA and stakeholders to:

  • understand how the conditions of waterways and wetlands have changed since the inception of EWMPs under the Basin Plan
  • monitor the effectiveness of the current management
  • ensure the most relevant up-to-date science is reflected in the EWMPs.

Updating the EWMPs also provides important opportunities to strengthen relationships with Traditional Owners and allows them to participate in the management of culturally significant wetlands and waterways.

Page last updated: 26/09/22