Kiewa

Snapshot

Catchment area

< 0.2% of the Murray–Darling Basin

Contribution to Basin water

Annual stream flow

689 GL

River length

109 km

Major tributaries

Mountain, Running, Yackandandah, Simmonds and Middle creeks; Kiewa River east branch and Kiewa River west branch

Major towns/cities

Tangambalanga, Kiewa, Yackandandah, Mount Beauty, Falls Creek

Major water storages

Rocky Valley Dam (28 GL)

Key water users

Urban water supply, stock and domestic, hydroelectricity, irrigation

Summary

Rising as 2 branches on the Bogong High Plains of Victoria, the main channel of the Kiewa River forms on a narrow flood plain at Mount Beauty and flows northwards through farmland in a widening valley towards the River Murray.

The Kiewa River catchment is less than 0.2% of the area of the Murray–Darling Basin. Although it is the smallest catchment in the Basin, the upstream branches of the Kiewa River supply water to Victoria’s largest hydroelectric scheme and make a significant contribution to flows in the River Murray and for downstream irrigators.

The upper and lower Kiewa River and its tributaries are listed as a high-value environmental asset as the streams contain the native fish species mountain galaxias and Murray cod. There are few wetlands on the Kiewa River, as the valley floor is highly developed for agriculture, however there are important habitat sites in the Kiewa River corridor. All streams upstream of Mount Beauty have excellent instream habitats.

There are no major urban centres in the Kiewa Valley. Several small towns and villages support rural communities, rural enterprises and tourists. About half of the water extracted from the Kiewa River is for urban use and industry; and the other half is for irrigated agriculture, predominantly dairying. The dairy industry is a major source of income and employment in the region, and to a lesser extent, timber and horticulture. Tourism is important to the region, with a focus on fishing and snow sports.

Photo of the Kiewa River, Victoria
Photo by Michael Bell (2010)
Kiewa River, Victoria

The landscape and its water

The east and west branches of the Kiewa River rise in the alpine landscapes of the Great Dividing Range, to the south of Mount Bogong. The western branch rises near Mount Hotham, then flows northwards, largely unregulated, from the high plains through to a steep forested valley. The eastern branch rises above Falls Creek and its upper reach is impounded by the Rocky Valley storage. Leaving the high plains, the east Kiewa branch flows north through a forested steep valley, delivering water to a series of pondages, tunnels and aqueducts for the largest hydro-electric scheme in Victoria. The east branch of the Kiewa River is joined by the Bogong and Mountain creeks before merging with west branch of the Kiewa near Mount Beauty.

After Mount Beauty, the Kiewa River flows northward along a widening valley, cleared for agriculture. The valley is some of the most productive land in north-east Victoria. Significant stands or remnant areas of vegetation are found along most of the Kiewa River valley. The lower reaches of the river divert into floodplain wetlands before merging with the River Murray just east of Wodonga, below Lake Hume.

The landscape of the Kiewa catchment ranges from the high plains of the Great Dividing Range, over 1,400 m high, to the northern floodplains near Albury–Wodonga with an elevation of between 100 and 300 m.

Most of the catchment receives over 700 mm average annual rainfall, with the Bogong High Plains experiencing much higher falls to almost 2,500 mm, including snow in winter over 1,400 m.

The most important groundwater source in the Kiewa basin is alluvial aquifers associated with the river system. Groundwater is also available in small fractured rock and sedimentary rock aquifers. Groundwater quality is generally excellent in the Kiewa River basin, however some sources are marginal to brackish in quality.

People, industry and water use

The Kiewa catchment and the surrounding mountains, hills and valleys have been important for Aboriginal culture for at least 21,000 years. While some Aboriginal groups lived on the plains of the catchment throughout the year, many groups would travel to the mountains in spring and summer from much greater distances each year to feast on Bogong moths in the Australian Alps. These gatherings were also a time to perform ceremonies, share stories, and exchange knowledge and skills. The Kiewa valley was an Aboriginal trade route for many thousands of years. The Kiewa catchment includes the traditional land of Dhudhuroa, Waywurru and Yaitmathang nations.

Europeans arrived in the Kiewa Valley in the 1830s and 40s, many travelling overland from the Sydney area. For the next 100 years or so, the valley was entirely pastoral, following the early settlers’ lead of grazing cattle in the summertime on the high country alpine areas of the Upper Kiewa. The beginning of the Kiewa Hydro-electric scheme construction in the late 1940s introduced many changes, including the enlargement and improvement of the highway and the construction of the town of Mount Beauty.

There are a few small settlements in the valley but the land is generally agricultural or forested. Albury–Wodonga on the River Murray, with a population of over 100,000, is the major service centre for the Kiewa Valley.

Freehold land in the rich fertile soils of the Kiewa Valley is dominated by agriculture, primarily intensive dairying, and with some specialist enterprises producing cheese, milk and yoghurt. Tobacco is grown on the lower slopes around Mount Beauty. Large portions of the land within the catchment are public land, including the Alpine National Park, and have high conservation significance. Tourism and leisure-based industries are also important for the economy of the catchment and wider region.

Water use in the Kiewa River Basin is very low, on average about 14 GL per year. Approximately half of the total use is urban and industrial, and the other half irrigation of pasture, crops and horticulture. Nearly all of the water used in the catchment is surface water, with a small volume of groundwater extracted from fractured rock aquifers.

Regulation of water

The highest flows in the Kiewa River are during August to October, however natural flow in the lower reaches has been modified by hydro-electricity generation. Work began on the Kiewa hydro-electricity scheme in 1937 but was not completed until 1960 due to a series of setbacks including World War II, a recession and funding cuts. The completed project was a scaled-down version of the original proposal, and the fourth power station was completed in 2009. The finished scheme features 5 aqueducts and 5 dams and pondages, including Clover Dam, Lake Guy, Pretty Valley, Mt Beauty and Rocky Valley storages, the latter being the largest with a capacity of 28 GL.

Environmental importance

The upper reaches of the Kiewa River on the Bogong High Plains feature alpine wetlands of national significance. Known as the alpine sphagnum bogs and associated fen, they contain many rare species of alpine wetland flora. High priority threatened species of frogs, invertebrates and skinks are also found along the upper branches of the river, and the high plains provide habitat to the endangered mountain pygmy possum. Fish diversity is restricted in these upper reaches due to barriers to movement related to the hydro-electricity scheme.

The lower reaches of the Kiewa River feature the high priority threatened fish species Murray cod and golden perch, and the Murray spiny crayfish. Also in the lower reaches, the wetland and riparian zones provide important habitat to threatened bird species including the great eastern egret, azure kingfisher and nankeen night herons.

Stands and remnant patches of significant vegetation are found along most of the river, playing important habitat roles. Riparian vegetation is in good to excellent condition in the higher reaches of the river, but steadily declines going downstream.

The Sustainable Rivers Audit 2 released in 2012 reported that the overall ecosystem health of the Kiewa River Valley was poor. Native fish populations were in extremely poor condition in the upland, slopes and valley, and poor in the lowlands. The macroinvertebrates were moderate in the lowlands and in good condition elsewhere, with 78% of expected families found. Riverine vegetation of the river valley was rated in poor condition overall, however it was in good condition in the upland zone. The physical form of the river was good throughout the valley. Flow variability and seasonality of the river system were rated in good condition in slopes and upland zones, but the mainstem river reaches were not assessed.

Water recovery

The Basin Plan specifies how much water is required to satisfactorily manage environmental sites and functions in the Murray–Darling Basin. A sustainable diversion limit (SDL) was established for each catchment (or group of catchments) and the reduction in diversions required to achieve the SDL was identified.

For the Kiewa catchment, the baseline diversion level of surface water determined by the Basin Plan was 25 GL per year. This level of diversion was considered sustainable and there was no required local reduction in take. However the catchment may have to contribute to the southern zone 'shared reduction' of 971 GL per year, which is to be recovered from all southern Basin catchments connected to the Murray system.

Groundwater extractions and/or entitlements determined by the Basin Plan mostly matched the sustainable diversion limit set for the groundwater units of the Kiewa catchment, and therefore there were no required reductions in groundwater extraction.

Further information on water recovery in the Murray–Darling Basin, which includes an interactive map with catchment-specific information, is available at water recovery progress.

The Basin Plan allows for adjustments to SDLs if new works or changes in river operation and management rules increase the quantity of water available to be extracted; or efficiency measures through infrastructure works and upgrades reduce the quantity of water required in a delivery system.

The use of environmental water in a specific catchment or region will vary from year-to-year. The MDBA has produced a Basin-wide environmental watering strategy to guide the use of environmental water across the Murray–Darling Basin to help achieve the best possible results over the long term. Environmental water managers make the day-to-day decisions on what to water and when, in line with the strategy and taking into account seasonal conditions, priorities and the availability of environmental water. Watering decisions are made in consultation with various waterway managers and local landholders.

Catchment or regionally-specific details about environmental water use in the catchment including watering actions, portfolio details and planning, and monitoring of environmental watering, can be found through the Commonwealth Environmental Water Office or the state government environmental water manager (see table below).

Water management

The management of the water resources is the responsibility of local, regional, state and Australian governments.

Delivery to households, industry and farms is managed by local councils or regional water authorities.

State government departments for water ensures the network of authorities manages water responsibly and fairly, that catchment and waterway health is maintained or improved through catchment management authorities, and that water saving, re-use and flood management projects are implemented. State governments must manage their state’s water resources according to state and commonwealth water legislation.

In addition to directing operations of the regulated River Murray system, the MDBA implements a number of plans and programs to ensure the waters of the Basin, which flow through four states and one territory, are managed cohesively and in the best interests of all water users of the Basin. Such programs include:

Useful links

Rural water authority

Goulburn–Murray Water

Urban water authority

North East Water

Catchment management authority

North East Catchment Management Authority  

State government water manager

Department of Primary Industries – Water

Water recovery

Basin Plan targets (MDBA)
Restoring the balance in the Murray–Darling Basin (Australian Government)

Infrastructure upgrades and efficiency projects

Sustainable Rural Water Use and Infrastructure (Australian Government)

Use of environmental water

Victorian Rivers of the Murray-Darling Basin  (Commonwealth Environmental Water Office)
Environmental watering in Victoria (Victorian Environmental Water Holder)

Water storage levels

Kiewa catchment (MDBA)

Irrigation water allocation

Goulburn–Murray Water

Longitude map Kiewa