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 2021–2022, 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 including:

  • Water for the environment
  • Addressing water quality challenges
  • Barengi Gadjin Land Council Aboriginal Corporation
  • Goulburn-Murray Water Water Efficiency Project

This complements the detailed information provided in the Schedule 12 Annual Reporting templates, which covers Victoria’s obligations in relation to the Murray-Darling Basin Plan for:

  • Basin Plan Schedule 12 reporting matters
  • The Basin Plan Implementation Agreement compliance requirements

Image of creek, rocks, trees with green leaves, background has paddock

Water for the Environment - summary across Northern Victoria

Hattah Lakes - a waterbird breeding bonanza!

Water for the environment was delivered to Hattah Lakes in Autumn and Spring 2021, following a drying cycle. Short periods of drying are a natural part of the lake's water regime, however, reduced flood frequency and increasing dry periods had led to a decline in wetland condition.

This delivery to Hattah Lakes saw the arrival of thousands of waterbirds and triggered a significant breeding event across these lakes in the summer of 2021-22.

There were 24 waterbird species identified breeding at the site, with over 2000 nests and more than 7000 chicks observed. The vast majority were colonial nesting waterbird species, including very large colonies of great cormorants together with medium sized colonies of little black cormorant, little pied cormorant, and Australasian darter.

Other waterbird species breeding in sizable numbers included Eurasian coot, grey teal, hoary-headed grebe, pink-eared duck, great crested grebe, and yellow-billed spoonbill. Three threatened species were also recorded breeding: blue-billed duck (listed as vulnerable under the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988 (the FFG Act), musk duck (listed as vulnerable under the FFG Act) and white-bellied sea-eagle (listed as endangered under the FFG Act).

The breeding event continued into Autumn 2022 with high rates of chick survival, demonstrating the importance of Hattah Lakes for waterbirds, which are known to travel long distances to high-quality breeding sites. It also shows how critical environmental water is in maintaining waterbird populations and floodplain habitats across the Murray-Darling Basin.

Hattah Lakes is one of six designated Icon Sites of The Living Murray (TLM) Program, where water for the environment is being used to restore and maintain natural river and wetland processes that support healthy vegetation, fish and bird populations.

North Central CMA's rivers and wetlands

Approximately 68 GL of water for the environment was delivered to North Central CMA’s rivers and wetlands in 2021-22. Deliveries of water for the environment to the Wimmera-Mallee Wetlands triggered native water bird breeding at Chirrup Swamp, Corack Lake, Davis Dam, Falla Dam and Jesse Swamp in spring 2021. This included three species of duck and Australian grebe, as well as providing water in the landscape to support terrestrial biota. A significant highlight this year was the successful low flow trial in the Campaspe River in autumn, which was monitored through the Victorian Environmental Flows Monitoring Program (VEFMAP). Flows were reduced to very low levels in autumn to stimulate native vegetation germination and recruitment. An unexpected and dramatic reduction in irrigation demand, due to wet conditions, provided a unique opportunity to reduce flows to very low levels exposing bank and bench flats to the air and the sun. The trial is an example of active adaptive management within a short window of opportunity, including informing the community, negotiating the low flows with the Goulburn-Murray Water and ensuring monitoring was in place. The low flow trial:

  • improved understanding of the recruitment requirements of instream plants and whether exposure of the riverbed during summer/autumn can trigger germination
  • improved understanding of how environmental flows can be best managed in the context of the broader flow regime to provide germination triggers or the survival of germinates from low flow events
  • provided specific advice for managers to inform seasonal and annual watering decisions.

On 8 March 2022, the fifth River Tour eventfor Traditional Owners along the Campaspe River was coordinated by the North Central CMA, funded by the Victorian Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning. 27 Traditional Owners attended the one-day event, facilitating two-way knowledge exchange to improve cultural landscape and river understanding and management, and strengthening relationships between the CMA staff and Traditional Owners. “Thanks again to yourself and those involved for putting together a great river tour, it was great to see our crews connect with other groups and organisations meaningfully,” said Ryan Markwick from Biik Environmental.

Delivering water for the environment

Over 500 GL of environmental water was delivered to the Goulburn River, Broken Creek, Nine Mile Creek, Broken River and nine wetlands in accordance with 2021-22 seasonal watering proposals and the VEWH’s seasonal watering plan. The watering:

  • promoted the growth of wetland and riparian vegetation
  • maintained water quality
  • connected important off-stream habitats along the Goulburn River, and
  • provided habitat for macroinvertebrates, platypus, frogs, waterbirds and native fish.

Importantly, the delivery of environmental water promoted golden perch spawning in the Goulburn River, the growth of the nationally threatened ridged water-milfoil at Moodie Swamp and supported waterbird breeding at Barmah Forest.

Working with Taungurung Land and Waters Council

In 2021-22, delivery of water for the environment to the King and Buffalo Rivers was a partnership between North East CMA and Taungurung Land and Waters Council (TLaWAC) Traditional Owners, and a private landholder. TLaWAC transferred 36 ML of water to the VEWH for the event and the landholder donated 56 ML, enabling 142 ML to be released over two days in the King River in late summer to improve low flow variability and support TLaWAC’s objectives of healing Country.

Maintaining habitat and food for acuatic ecosystems

A total of 10,253 ML of water for the environment was delivered to waterways in the Wimmera River system, including Burnt Creek, Ranch Billabong and MacKenzie River. There were also 4,481 ML of environmental passing flows used in the Wimmera River system. These river flows maintained habitat and food resources for platypus, native fish (especially southern pygmy perch and obscure galaxias) and western swamp crayfish as well as continuing the improvements in aquatic and fringing vegetation along these waterways. The flows were also important to support successful breeding of platypus in the Mackenzie River, with four juveniles discovered in one night during a survey in February.

In 2021/22, 49.7 ML was also provided to Wimmera Mallee Pipeline wetlands including: Carapugna, Challambra Swamp, Mutton Swamp, Sawpit Swamp and Schultz/Koschitzke.

Other achievements

Barengi Gadjin Land Council Aboriginal Corporation

Barengi Gadjin Land Council Aboriginal Corporation (BGLC) were funded under Victoria’s Aboriginal Water Program for the project Come along and we will re-water the Billabong. After Aboriginal Waterway Assessments were undertaken at many sites along the Wimmera River in 2017 by Traditional Owners as part of River Yarns with BGLC, MLDRIN and Wimmera CMA, the Traditional Owners collectively decided that the re-watering and rehabilitation of the Ranch Billabong would be highly beneficial for Country and Community.

The project at the Ranch Billabong, a highly significant place for the Wotjobaluk community, commenced in 2018 and the most recent phase of the project was completed in June 2022. The Ranch Billabong is fed by the Wimmera River, connected today via a council-managed culvert, which was closed when the project commenced, disconnecting the billabong from the river.

The project initially proposed a small allocation of water to be pumped into the Billabong to test the impact of re-watering on the site. The management plan for the Ranch Billabong was then reviewed and updated to assist with ongoing watering and restoration based on results of the trial. The plan guided activities for revegetating with native plants, controlling weeds, improving access and installing signage over the course of the project.

By the completion of the project the BGLC team, in collaboration with Wimmera Catchment Management Authority, delivered several environmental water flows into the billabong; comprising 6 Megalitres delivered twice a year since 2019, water quality notably improved including an increase in recorded pH and a decrease in dissolved oxygen levels.

The BGLC team installed at the Billabong: two culverts for crossing the creeks, 1.1km accessible walking track around the billabong, a carpark and commenced the installation of a BBQ area, seating and chairs around the billabong, and the interpretative signage (including stories that were collected from the Community during the course of the project); a range of technology was also trialled for eDNA testing and wildlife acoustic recording at the Billabong.

The project has supported BGLC to reconnect Wotjobaluk people to their Country as well as supported BGLC and Wotjobaluk people to increase their confidence in water management. 
Restoring water to the Ranch Billabong has enabled BGLC to strengthen partnerships with the water industry and improve participation in land and water management.

Further information and images are available online at the Wimmera CMA website.

Cooperative approaches to addressing water quality challenges

A widespread hypoxic blackwater event occurred in the Broken Creek catchment in January and February 2022 as a result of two separate heavy rainfall events in the upper catchment. This caused some fish deaths and there was a risk the entire Broken Creek would be affected through to the Murray River at Barmah.

Goulburn Murray Water, Goulburn-Broken Catchment Management Authority, Parks Victoria and Moira Shire came together to provide a multi-agency response monitoring the affected waterways, both visually and by water quality testing. A number of water management options were enacted to alleviate the impacts, including use of environmental water after consultation with Victorian Environmental Water Holder.

Water users and the local public were advised of the situation and in fact it was local landowners who first alerted agencies to the event. Ultimately the low dissolved oxygen conditions did not reach the Murray River and impacts were minimal along the lower Broken Creek, with no dead fish observed in the lower reaches.

This image was taken at the junction of Broken Creek (left) and Nine Mile Creek (right) at Katandra Weir and shows the difference in water quality between the two waterways.

Two creeks joining showing water quality differences

GMW Water Efficiency Project reaches halfway milestone

The Goulburn-Murray Water (GMW) Water Efficiency Project has passed the halfway mark in delivering its target of 15.9 gigalitres of environmental water savings. To date the project has achieved an estimated 8 gigalitres of water savings, subject to an audit and verification process, with the project delivering infrastructure upgrades and improvements to water delivery efficiency across the Goulburn-Murray Irrigation District (GMID).

The $177.5 million Water Efficiency Project, funded by the Australian Government as a State-led project, involves off-farm infrastructure works which will improve water delivery for around 1000 customers and create an estimated 1000 local jobs. The project was identified in the 2018 Northern Victoria Water Infrastructure Prospectus and following a public consultation to determine that the project could be delivered without negatively impacting communities, it commenced in 2021.

The Water Efficiency Project follows on from the largest irrigation modernisation project in Australian history – the recently completed Connections Project. It is comprised of various asset reconfigurations throughout the GMID, including the treatment of 1,021 outlets and more than 250km of channel, including the conversion of numerous sections of channel into pipelines.

The Water Efficiency Project is expected to be completed in 2024.

Image of water channel between agricultural fields

The Living Murray

The Living Murray is a joint initiative funded by the New South Wales, Victorian, South Australian and the Commonwealth governments, coordinated by the Murray–Darling Basin Authority. In Victoria, environmental water, planning and delivery are managed by a partnership of state government departments and catchment management authorities.

By returning water to the environment, and by building infrastructure such as regulators, weirs and fishways, The Living Murray is helping to ensure a healthy, working Murray River into the future.

The Living Murray focuses on maintaining the health of six icon sites along the river, chosen for their environmental, cultural and international significance. The icon sites are:

  • Barmah-Millewa Forest
  • Gunbower-Koondrook-Perricoota Forest
  • Hattah Lakes
  • Chowilla Floodplain and Lindsay-Wallpolla Islands
  • The Lower Lakes, Coorong and Murray Mouth
  • River Murray Channel

Regular inundation has seen an improvement in vegetation in areas that receive both natural flooding and water for the environment, as compared to areas only receiving natural flooding.

The Living Murray environmental works program allows up to 4,500 hectares of Victorian wetlands and its floodplain to be watered more efficiently, with considerably less water than would be required if the watering infrastructure was not in place.

Page last updated: 13/12/22