In 2003, the Murray–Darling Basin Ministerial Council announced The Living Murray First Step Decision to restore the health of the River Murray system by recovering 500 gigalitres of water and constructing major water management structures at six environmental icon sites — Barmah–Millewa Forest; Gunbower–Koondrook–Perricoota Forest; Hattah Lakes; Chowilla Floodplain and Lindsay–Wallpolla Islands; Lower Lakes, the Coorong and Murray Mouth; and the River Murray Channel.
To achieve this, the Australian Government and the governments of New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia and Australian Capital Territory pledged $650 million, making The Living Murray one of Australia's largest river restoration programs.
Ten years later, The Living Murray program has recovered a long-term average of 479,973 megalitres of water, delivered 657,016 ML of environmental water and began building major water management structures at Gunbower–Koondrook–Perricoota Forest, Hattah Lakes, and Chowilla Floodplain and Lindsay–Wallpolla Islands icon sites.
The sea-to-Hume fishway program will soon be completed, restoring migratory passage for native fish along 2,225 kilometres of the River Murray, from the Hume Dam to the Murray Mouth in South Australia.
The Living Murray delivered its first environmental water to the icon sites during the longest drought in Australia’s recorded history. Small amounts of environmental water provided refuges for stressed native flora and fauna, and helped prevent local extinctions. Watering at the Lower Lakes maintained water levels in Lake Albert, preventing acidification and the loss of key species such as the endangered Murray hardyhead.
In 2009–10, after record rain, environmental water was used between flood peaks to ensure that water did not recede too quickly and cause waterbirds to abandon their nests. This resulted in one of the best colonial waterbird breeding events in Barmah–Millewa Forest in 60 years. This water also contributed to flows to the Lower Lakes, Coorong and the Murray Mouth.
The prospect of receiving substantial water allocations for the first time since the program began opened up a whole new range of possibilities for environmental water delivery, including large single watering events and watering multiple sites along the river.
Environmental monitoring has shown that the icon sites have begun to improve in the past four years in response to natural flooding, with areas that were watered during the drought showing faster improvement. Some of the less resilient species may take longer to recover, and some may not recover.
The success of The Living Murray program is underpinned by the strong collaborative approach that has developed between the Murray–Darling Basin Authority and the partner governments. This also involves working closely with the local communities, including Aboriginal communities, as well as with land managers, catchment management authorities, water authorities and construction companies. Read more..