Why Victorian waterways need help

In northern Victoria, waterways in the Murray-Darling Basin provide many environmental, economic, cultural, and social benefits for Victorian communities. Many of northern Victoria’s waterways have been modified from their natural state as Victoria has developed and the population has grown. Dams and weirs have changed the natural flow of many waterways to supply our cities and towns, for agriculture and irrigation, and industry. In some Victorian rivers, up to half of the water that would have flowed naturally is removed.

Spoonbill hatchling Barmah Forest, image credit Paul O'Connor

Image: Spoonbill hatchling - Barmah Forest (Credit: Paul O’Connor)

As a result, our waterways cannot function as they once did, and without management action, the health of the plant and animal communities that depend on them is at risk of declining.

Water for the environment helps return some of this water to Victoria’s waterways to re-create the flows that have been lost. This helps improve the health of our waterways and catchments and benefits the plants and animals that depend on them. It supports the growth of aquatic plants and fringing vegetation such as native grasses, river red gums (Eucalyptus camaldulensis) and black box (Eucalyptus largiflorens). These plants support and stabilise the banks of rivers and creeks to prevent damage in floods and provide food and shelter for native insects, fish, frogs, reptiles, birds and mammals.

Benefits of environmental watering to northern Victoria

Victoria invests heavily in monitoring the outcomes of environmental watering through various programs. Findings show positive outcomes in many Northern Victorian rivers and wetlands.

Native fish are doing well, with increases in abundance for many species and waterways. For example, the Campaspe River was severely impacted by the Millennium Drought. Environmental water has been used to improve native fish abundance and recruitment of large-bodied native fish such as Murray cod (Maccullochella peelii), Macquarie perch (Macquaria australasica), trout cod (Maccullochella macquariensis) and golden perch (Macquaria ambigua).

Golden perch image credit Wayne Koster

Image: Golden perch (credit Wayne Koster Arthur Rylah Institute 2017).

Northern Victoria’s wetlands provide important habitat for both Australian birds and those that migrate to our country from overseas. Waterbirds are using wetlands that receive water for the environment and their breeding habitat is protected. More than 20,000 individual birds have been recorded on many occasions after watering at Lake Cullen, part of the Kerang Wetlands Ramsar site, and over 32,000 birds were recorded in just one month of November 2019.

Darter taking off, Mallee CMA

Image: Darter (Credit Mallee CMA 2014).

Vegetation is responding, with better conditions and increases in some threatened species. In the upper tributaries of the Wimmera River such as the Mackenzie River, research has found that the condition of riparian vegetation in river red gum (Eucalyptus camaldulensis) and bottlebrush communities have improved. This improvement can be directly related to environmental watering that supports germination and survival of seedlings.

Early indications show that frogs are responding well. Many of the Murray floodplain wetlands provide habitat for several frog species, including the nationally threatened growling grass frog (Litoria raniformis). Places like Kinnairds Swamp, Horseshoe Lagoon, McDonalds Swamp, Johnsons Swamp, Wirra-Lo Wetland Complex and Kings Billabong recorded high abundance and diversity in frog species.

Complementary measures like control of stock grazing, feral animals and weeds, as well as fishways, are working and are critical to realising the full benefits of environmental watering. Catchment management authorities, the Victorian Environmental Water Holder and the Victorian Government are working together to support fish movement in priority waterways, like the Ovens River and Gunbower Creek, where fishways will soon be built to allow fish to access hundreds of kilometres of prime habitat.

Find out more

Victoria’s Basin Plan Report Card 2020 – Water for the Environment is Working demonstrates the critical role of environmental water in protecting and restoring the health of our waterways and the species that depend on them. The report card and associated technical report are available for download at https://www.water.vic.gov.au/reportcard.

To find out more about the Victorian environmental water program, please visit Environmental Water. To find out more about monitoring the outcomes of environmental watering through various programs, visit the Monitoring website.

Measuring river red gum at Hattah Lakes, credit Paul Brown Image: Measuring river red gum at Hattah Lakes (Credit: Paul Brown Murray Darling Freshwater Research Centre 2017).

Page last updated: 26/09/22