Victorian Murray Floodplain Restoration Project

The Victorian Murray Floodplain Restoration Project gives iconic landscapes a much-needed drink

The Victorian Government is constructing watering infrastructure at nine sites along the Murray River to conserve these high ecological value floodplains and wetlands. The Victorian Murray Floodplain Restoration Project (VMFRP) project will deliver environmental outcomes using less water than would be required to create a natural flood.

From upstream to downstream, the 9 high-value sites are:

Visit the VMFRP website for fact sheets, maps, assessment processes and more:

The VMFRP will deliver water to high ecological value wetlands and floodplains using environmental works.

Environmental works include channels, flow regulators and pumps to enable efficient use of water for the environment. For example, pumps can move water directly into a wetland, and regulators can retain water for long enough to meet the needs of water dependent plants and animals. The environmental works footprint will be less than 2 percent compared to the environmental watering footprint.

The success of these types of works has been demonstrated for over a decade, with infrastructure used numerous times at sites such as Gunbower and Hattah Lakes, where we are seeing a significant improvement to the floodplains' ecological health.

For example, a more natural regime has been introduced at Hattah Lakes with pumps and regulators enabling water to be delivered even when flows in the Murray are low, and we are now seeing improvements in the condition of floodplain and wetland vegetation.

Aerial footage of trees in Hattah Lakes with blue sky Image: Hattah Lakes aerial view

Downstream at Gunbower Forest, new trees are growing, demonstrating clearly how watering improves the condition of wetland vegetation. Tree health within this watered footprint has improved measurably compared with sites outside that rely on periodic natural floods and rainfall to survive. Waterbird habitat quality outside the watering footprint has declined.

The floodplains next to the Murray River have evolved to periodically receive water. Historically, the river would spill onto the floodplains as often as 8 out of every 10 years, creating rich, lush landscapes teeming with life.

As our towns, cities, agriculture and industries have grown over time, we have changed the way the rivers flow to suit our purposes by capturing flood flows in a complex system of weirs and dams.

While this has benefited regional communities and economies, water no longer flows naturally as it once did. Reinstatement of moderate and major floods would require vast amounts of water impacting on industry, agricultural production and town supplies and its delivery inundating private land and towns.

The VMFRP will build infrastructure like flow regulators, channels and containment banks to water the floodplain and hold water there for longer allowing for bird breeding and native vegetation regeneration. In some cases the project will also remove blockages that stop floodwater flowing into creeks.

This water will bring new life and help these nine ecologically significant floodplains to survive and cope with future dry conditions and drought, so they can continue to be enjoyed by future generations.

The VMFRP is being implemented as part of Victoria’s obligations under the Murray Darling Basin Plan in partnership with Lower Murray Water, Goulburn Murray Water, Mallee Catchment Management Authority, North Central Catchment Management Authority, Parks Victoria and the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning. The VMFRP is funded by the Australian Government’s Department of Climate Change, Energy, Environment and Water .

The works planned under VMFRP require regulatory planning approvals under the Victorian Planning and Environment Act 1987.  The following assessment processes are being undertaken before construction works can commence:

Operational rule changes

Projects to change the way river systems operate.

Victoria is working with other Murray-Darling Basin states (GlossaryOpen in slide out) on projects that involve changing the way river systems operate. These are known as operational rule changes.

Five Operational Rule Change projects are part of Victoria’s package of 22 projects to achieve the Basin Plan’s environmental targets without the need for further Commonwealth water buy-backs. These are joint projects with NSW. The projects involve changes to river operation rules to improve flexibility and control over delivering environmental water to the Murray River.

Complementary to the constraints projects, Victoria, New South Wales and South Australia are also working on an Enhanced Environmental Water Delivery project.

The Barmah-Millewa Forest is the largest river red gum forest in Australia and is listed under the Ramsar International Convention on Wetlands as a significant breeding site for waterbirds.

This project involves changing the rules associated with the water set aside by Victoria and NSW in an environmental account (the Barmah-Millewa Forest Environmental Watering Allocation (BMFEWA)). The BMFEWA was established by Victoria and NSW in the late 1990s. Since then, many more environmental water entitlements have been created.

The operating rule change will improve the coordination of the BMFEWA with the environmental water recovered under the Basin Plan, leading to better environmental outcomes. It will enable BMFEWA to be used more effectively and improve the number of successful environmental events that can be delivered within the same volume of allocated water.

Download business case: Barmah-Millewa Forest Environmental Water Allocation (BMFEWA) - Current notification (Amendment 1) (PDF, 10.8 MB)

Download addendum to business case: Addendum – Enhanced Barmah-Millewa Forest Environmental Water Allocation SDL Adjustment Proposal

Hume Dam is the major operating storage on the Murray River system. The Hume Dam releases irrigation, domestic and stock, urban and environmental water to Victoria and New South Wales, and provides about one-third of South Australia's (SA) entitlement.

Hume Dam also affects the delivery of water to many important environmental assets. Prior to this operating rule change, Hume Dam’s operators were not permitted to allow the flow rate below the dam to fall more than 150 mm a day (six inches – ‘the six-inch rule’) at Doctors Point. This rule was made to minimise risk of river-bank slumping.

The rule was reviewed by the Murray-Darling Basin Authority who found it was too conservative and could be relaxed without an unacceptable increase in slumping risk. ‘The six-inch rule’ uses more water than if the flow rate is allowed to drop more quickly. It also contributes to unseasonal flooding of Barmah-Millewa Forest — an adverse environmental impact — because dam releases cannot be quickly scaled back when rainfall means that irrigators no longer need water they have ordered.

This project will save water as well as reducing flooding risks to Barmah-Millewa Forest.

Download business case: Flexible rates of fall in river levels downstream of Hume Dam - Current notification (Amendment 1) (PDF, 6.2 MB)

The volume of water held in Hume Dam is managed mainly to protect the storage and reliability of water supply, with some flood mitigation benefit to downstream communities. This is done by calculating a target volume that takes into account the total capacity of Hume, as well as forecast inflows, and irrigator demands; however, environmental demands were previously not considered.

This operating rule change enables environmental water demands to be considered when calculating requirements for space (‘airspace’) in the reservoir. This reduces the need for the dam operators to pre-release water in spring to create additional airspace in the storage in advance of potential inflows, resulting in more water being available in Lake Hume for allocation against entitlements to meet irrigation and environmental demands.

Download business case: Operating rule change to Hume Dam airspace management and pre-releases - Current notification (Amendment 2) (PDF, 10.3 MB)

A key decision in operating the River Murray system is determining how much water to release from storage each day to meet all commitments. Operators do not have perfect knowledge of river conditions and make conservative assumptions, releasing more water than is required. This excess water is the operational loss.

Leading up to and following the millennium drought, there has been significant water reform and a shift in operational practice. Operators are now making decisions informed by more accurate and plentiful data on river conditions. This results in lower operational losses, with more water being available for allocation to environmental and consumptive demands. This project proposed to recognise this as an enduring improvement in operational efficiency as a permanent change.

The Improved regulation of the River Murray project is included in the package of notified supply measures, but offsets associated with the project were not included in the 605 GL offset determination in 2017. The project has been retained in the package as a notified project to enable governments to consider the project again in the future.

Download business case: Improved Regulation of the River Murray (IRRM) - Current notification (Amendment 1) (PDF, 8.7 MB)

This project involves changes to rules about flows from the Snowy Hydro scheme to the Murray River.

In 2002, Victoria, NSW and the Commonwealth agreed to fund water efficiency and water entitlement purchases in the Murrumbidgee and Goulburn river systems. The water recovered allows up to an additional 70 gigalitres (GL) and 212GL each year to be released to the Murray and Snowy rivers respectively for environmental purposes.

Formerly, the release of that water was at the discretion of the electricity generator Snowy Hydro. It was generally at times suited to Snowy Hydro’s commercial outcomes, which limited the environmental benefits.

In 2011, changes were made to the Snowy Hydro licence and to the release rules for this water (called ‘River Murray Increased Flows’ or RMIF). As a result, the Victorian and New South Wales governments now hold that water and order its release for environmental outcomes in the Murray River downstream of Lake Hume. This project provides a means to control the timing of RMIF water releases from the Snowy Scheme, allowing more flexibility to achieve environmental outcomes targeted in the Murray River below Hume Dam.

Download business case: River Murray Increased Flow (RMIF) - Current notification (Amendment 1) (PDF, 11.6 MB)

This project aims to maximise the benefits of water for the environment across the southern-connected Basin by accelerating improvements in system-wide coordination and the development of new forecasting and planning tools and processes.  This is an opportunity to address long-standing issues relating to coordination and delivery of water for the environment to keep our floodplains and wetlands healthy and provide environmental benefits for the whole system.

The project will respect the independent decision making of environmental water holders, catchment management authorities and water corporations.

The project will be delivered in stages. The first stage (1A) is now underway and is largely investigative, focusing on reviewing the current knowledge base to inform detailed planning and requirements for the following stages. The project will take several years to develop, test and review the new tools and processes before being put into action.

This project is sometimes referred to as Hydro-cues, as the initial concept focused on releasing water from storages in response to hydrological cues.

Download business case: Enhanced Environmental Water Delivery (EEWD) - Current notification (Amendment 2) (PDF, 22.0 MB)

Page last updated: 26/09/22