Skip to main content
Go to search page

Northern Basin Toolkit measures

In March 2021 the Australian Government announced the environmental projects that will be funded through the Northern Basin Toolkit. The 10 successful projects were assessed by an independent expert panel.

The Northern Basin Toolkit is a $180 million investment in the ecological health of the northern Basin and will be implemented in a way that generates jobs and economic activity in rural and regional communities. The Toolkit measures will create opportunities for local communities, improve river management across the northern Basin and protect water for the environment.

Projects addressing system constraints in the Gwydir catchment
Three Gwydir constraints measures projects

The Gwydir constraints measures projects (Gwydir CMP) will enable the NSW Government and the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder to more efficiently use environmental water to achieve enduring environmental outcomes. One of the main objectives of the projects is to improve water delivery onto the floodplain, in turn improving and conserving floodplain and wetland vegetation.

The Gwydir CMP seek to address a combination of physical and other constraints that affect the timing, magnitude, frequency and duration of flow events in order to achieve desired flows that reconnect the rivers, floodplains and wetlands in the west of the Gwydir valley.

The Gwydir CMP include 3 study areas that are 3 of the 10 projects being funded by the Australian Government under the Northern Basin Toolkit:

  • Gingham Watercourse
  • Lower Gwydir Watercourse
  • Lower Mehi River

State responsible: New South Wales

The NSW Department of Planning, Industry, and Environment (DPIE) – Water is working in partnership with DPIE – Environment, Energy and Science Division and other NSW Government agencies to deliver the Gwydir CMP.

Project benefits

The projects will maximise ecological outcomes from all environmental water flows (planned and held) for native fish, vegetation, waterbirds and river flows and connectivity by:

  1. inundating both core and outer wetlands at the beginning of the growing season to achieve a longer inundation period when wetland productivity is highest
  2. improving the ability to deliver water into the Lower Gingham watercourse, including across the Windella and Crinolyn Ramsar–listed wetlands
  3. reinstating hydraulic connection between dominant watercourses and their floodplains
  4. reinstating the ability to provide variable flow range to the Lower Gwydir River in spring/summer
  5. increasing the overall efficiency of the environmental watering program to achieve best possible outcomes with the allocated and available volume of water for the environment.

Status of projects

  • Feasibility proposal completed
  • Projects approved for business case development
  • Business case due to the Australian Government in November 2021
  • Community engagement and discussions with landholders will be a large component of business case development
Environmental works projects to promote fish movement and habitat including fishway construction
NSW fish for the future: reconnecting the northern Basin project

All Australian native fish need to migrate to spawn, seek food and shelter, and to avoid threats such as drying habitats. The ability of native fish to migrate in the Murray–Darling Basin has been significantly constrained through the construction of dams and weirs that block native fish passage. Without targeted intervention to remediate fish passage, native fish populations will continue to decline. The Reconnecting the northern Basin project aims to reinstate fish passage at priority sites in the northern Basin. This major infrastructure program will address barriers to fish passage at major weirs, providing a connected ‘highway’ for fish such as golden perch and Murray cod to undertake critical migration runs. The Reconnecting the northern Basin project will focus activities in the Barwon–Darling and Border Rivers, providing valuable linkages for fish to access mainstem habitat, as well as habitat in key tributaries such as the Macquarie, Namoi, and Gwydir rivers in NSW, and to the Warrego, Culgoa, and Moonie Rivers in Queensland.

State responsible: New South Wales

The NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment – Water is working in partnership with the NSW Department of Primary Industries  – Fisheries and various other NSW and Queensland Government agencies to deliver the Reconnecting the northern Basin Project.

Project benefits

The Reconnecting the northern Basin project will provide significant environmental, social-economic and cultural benefits to the northern Basin, including:

  1. catchment-scale connectivity to improve the distribution and abundance of migratory native fish species
  2. major job creation and investment in regional communities through the construction phase and increased tourism opportunities as native fish populations increase
  3. sustainable management of agricultural and water resources as essential infrastructure for water supply and delivery such as dams, weirs and regulators is retained, whilst a significant ecological impact of these structures is mitigated
  4. enhanced cultural heritage values, as native fish are an important part of Aboriginal culture.

Status of project

  • Feasibility proposal completed
  • Project approved for early implementation of on-ground works and business case development
  • Currently completing site field surveys including condition assessment of key infrastructure and water level monitoring. Commencement of fish passage concept designs to occur within next 6 months
NSW fish for the future: fish-friendly water extraction project

Millions of native fish are lost from rivers every year. They are sucked into pumps and diverted into channels, along with debris like sticks, leaves and algae. This impacts the sustainability of native fish populations and causes significant damage to irrigation infrastructure.

Modern screens are available to solve these problems, by stopping fish and debris entering pumps and diversions. These screens replace outdated 'trash racks' currently used on most diversions. They have been used internationally for over a century and have been tailored to Australian conditions over the past decade.

Modern screening technology is ready to be rolled-out and is currently being showcased to industry at several sites across the Murray–Darling Basin. In this project, NSW Department of Primary Industries – Fisheries will work with water users, irrigation engineers, local screen manufacturers and anglers to design, manufacturer and install modern diversion screens at a number of priority diversions across rivers of the northern Basin.

The project will focus on the Barwon–Darling and Gwydir Valleys, with the final installation sites to be selected to complement other fish passage works and diversion screening activities being undertaken in NSW and Queensland.

State responsible: New South Wales

The NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment – Water is working in partnership with the NSW Department of Primary Industries – Fisheries and various other NSW and Queensland Government agencies and Natural Resource Management groups to deliver the Fish-Friendly Water Extraction Project.

More partners, particularly from the private agriculture, engineering and non-government organisation sectors will be added during the project.

Project benefits

This project will have significant environmental and economic benefits in the northern Murray–Darling Basin.

Modern screens can reduce fish losses at water diversions by over 90%. Using the best screen designs at priority diversions will keep more juvenile and adult fish in the river where they belong. The project will protect native fish during upstream and downstream migrations, helping more fish survive to maturity and boosting native fish populations. This protection also extends to other aquatic creatures such as platypus, turtles and crayfish. 

This project will drive significant investment in water infrastructure that will benefit regional communities recovering from the impacts of drought and COVID-19. Through better debris control, water users are ensured cleaner water with less time and money spent maintaining inline filters, sprinklers and siphons. There is potential to save water, as less debris in supply lines enable more water efficient delivery methods to be used (such as drippers and micro sprayers). The construction and installation of screens will stimulate regional jobs associated with manufacturing and installation. Over longer time frames, improved native fish populations can attract more fishing tourism to regional towns, having flow-on benefits to many businesses.

Status of project         

  • Feasibility proposal completed
  • Project approved for early implementation of on-ground works and business case development
  • Diversions across priority systems in the northern Murray–Darling Basin will need to be prioritised based on their capacity to provide an ecological return. Initial investigations have commenced for this aspect of the project, and in the upcoming months the project team will undertake a detailed project risk evaluation, establish a procurement strategy and undertake public consultation to identify landholders willing to participate in the program across priority systems
NSW scoping initiative: Macquarie Marshes enhanced watering project

The project will improve the effectiveness of environmental water delivery to the Macquarie Marshes by reducing the volume of water bypassing key assets. Proposed works include regulators or fixed-crest weirs on Oxley Break no.3 in the southern Macquarie Marshes and on Mumblebone Break upstream of Marebone Weir.

State responsible: New South Wales

The Department of Planning, Industry and Environment (DPIE) – Water is working in partnership with DPIE – Environment, Energy and Science Division and various other NSW Government agencies to deliver the Macquarie Marshes Enhanced Watering Project.

Project benefits

The benefits of the project include the capacity to deliver flows to the Macquarie Marshes at higher flow rates, ensuring connection of the river and wetlands to key areas of the floodplain. The Mumblebone breaks carry water away from the Macquarie River channel and away from the Macquarie Marshes, and currently commence to flow at approximately 3000 to 3200 megalitres per day. These offtakes are slowly eroding and threaten to take a greater proportion of flows away from the Macquarie Marshes. Works undertaken as part of this project will re-instate the commence to flow rate of these natural breaks to approximately 4000 megalitres per day. In addition, the Oxley Break no.3 regulator will give environmental water managers greater control of the distribution of flows within the Marshes with the intent of directing a greater proportion of flows through key asset areas of the south marsh, reinstating commence to flow and channel capacity and stabilising the Oxley Break no.3.

Status of project  

  • Feasibility proposal completed
  • Project approved for early implementation of on-ground works and business case development
  • Elements of the design for a structure on the Oxley Break no.3 have been progressed, and engagement with affected property owners commenced. To implement the project, it is proposed to complete all elements of the business case to confirm projected benefits and costs and to engage with other stakeholders, particularly those who have an interest in proposed work on the Mumblebone Breaks
Enhance the flexibility and capability for distributing and managing low flows through the Lower Balonne River system bifurcation weirs project

This project includes installation of enhanced flow regulation structures on bifurcation weirs in the Lower Balonne River system near St George in Queensland. This will allow low flows to be actively managed and distributed to different parts of the Lower Balonne River system, including water held for the environment.

State responsible: Queensland and the Dumaresq–Barwon Border Rivers Commission

Project benefits

Modifying the bifurcation weirs’ capabilities to distribute and manage low flows will open up opportunities to actively direct these flows to important ecological assets and other Basin priorities. Opportunities include management of low flows to support important drought refuge waterholes, to sustain bird breeding habitat in the Narran Lakes, to improve longitudinal connectivity and reduce the risks of longitudinal fragmentation.

Status of project

  • Feasibility proposal completed
  • Project approved for business case development. Business case due to the Australian Government in November 2021
  • Preliminary investigations underway. Public consultation to be undertaken as part of business case development
Queensland fish-friendly water extraction: Condamine–Balonne and Border rivers project

This project will demonstrate both environmental and operational benefits of fish-friendly infrastructure at key irrigation sites in the Queensland section of the northern Murray–Darling Basin. Demonstration sites include the Border rivers, the Lower Balonne and the Upper Condamine.

Screening offtake pumps to prevent fish being taken out of the river has potential to protect very high numbers of fish, leading to immediate gains in fish populations. Pump screen technology has been proven to work globally and includes:

  • rotary drum screens
  • travelling screen (panel or belt)
  • vertical fixed plate screens and pump screens (end-of-pipe).

For most sites, pump screens will need to be custom built, based on existing designs, which will create local employment opportunities. 

State responsible: Queensland with Southern Queensland Landscapes

Project benefits

The benefits will include increases in native fish populations at the catchment scale. Between tens of thousands and millions of fish will be retained in the rivers at each demonstration area and therefore not lost from the system. This will lead to improved recruitment including for key species such as the olive perchlet, southern purple-spotted gudgeon, freshwater catfish and silver perch. Uptake of this technology by irrigators could have a positive effect across the whole northern Basin. Not all irrigators need to use the technology for positive impacts on fish populations to occur on a large scale, but a wide geographical spread of pump screens is desirable. Local manufacture of pump screens will help create job opportunities in regional centres in the northern Basin.

Status of project        

  • Feasibility proposal completed
  • Project approved for early implementation of on-ground works and business case development
  • Preliminary investigations are underway to identify priority demonstration sites. Public consultation will be undertaken during business case development, including to identify landholders willing to participate in the program
Queensland reconnecting catchments: Condamine–Balonne project

A series of large barriers, the biggest being Beardmore Dam, currently prevent movement of fish from the broader Murray–Darling Basin upstream into the Condamine and Maranoa Rivers. The forces exerted passing downstream, over or through these structures, mean they are also likely to be barriers to successful downstream movement. Installation of fishways at Jack Taylor Weir and Beardmore Dam on the Balonne River will re-establish connectivity and increase movement of key fish species in the northern Basin. Jack Taylor Weir and Beardmore Dam, in the Lower Balonne, are the largest in-channel structures in the main trunk of the Condamine–Balonne, so are the highest priority barrier to longitudinal movement. Their close proximity to each other means that both structures will be remediated to achieve significant benefits.

State responsible: Queensland and Sunwater

Project benefits

This project will improve the population structure and support increased movement and distribution of key species in the northern Basin including the olive perchlet, southern purple-spotted gudgeon, freshwater catfish and silver perch.

Status of project

  • Feasibility proposal completed
  • Project approved for business case development. Business case due to the Australian Government in November 2021
  • Preliminary investigations underway. Public consultation to be undertaken as part of business case development
Queensland improving catchment fish resilience: Culgoa River project

This project will install up to 5 fishways along the length of the Culgoa River. The Culgoa River represents 489 km of riverine habitat in both New South Wales and Queensland. Remediation of the barriers will provide passage in the Culgoa River linking this region with the Darling River and the greater Murray–Darling Basin downstream. Connectivity will also improve access to key refuge waterholes at Brenda and Weilmoringle, and the Lower Balonne floodplain under a larger range of flow conditions. The project may include vertical slot fishways for low-level structures, bypass channels and rock ramps.

State responsible: Queensland

Project benefits

This project will support improved population structure, increased movement and the expanded distribution and populations of key native fish species in the northern Basin.

Status of project

  • Feasibility proposal completed
  • Project approved for business case development. Business Case due to the Australian Government in November 2021
  • Preliminary investigations underway. Public consultation to be undertaken as part of business case development