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The Paroo River is the last free-flowing river of the Murray–Darling Basin. Flowing when heavy rains fall in its northern catchment. The river is a series of waterholes, lakes and wetlands.  Only in wet years will the Paroo join the Darling River.

The Paroo River catchment is in the top north-west corner of the Basin, with half of its area in Queensland and half in New South Wales. The river flows through sparsely-populated, flat semi-arid plains where extensive grazing is the predominant land use.

Water from the Great Artesian Basin is the major domestic and stock water source for the region. There are no major dams and little irrigation along the Paroo River.

The catchment contains significant wetlands including Currawinya Lakes, Nocoleche Nature Reserve and Peery Lake. These sites support many thousands of waterbirds. River flow is critical to retaining the biological diversity.


Catchment area

3% of the Murray–Darling Basin

Contribution to Basin water


Annual stream flow

445 GL (Calwarro gauge)

River length

600 km


Beechal, Yowan and Qulberry creeks; part of the Cuttaburra Creek

Towns include

Eulo, Hungerford, Wanaaring

Major water storages


Water users

Stock and domestic

The landscape and its water

The Paroo River begins in the Warrego Range, west of Charleville. From the range country, the Paroo flows across semi-arid plains with little surface water.

The river ends on the floodplains south of Wanaaring, in the top north-west corner of New South Wales. The Paroo is a series of waterholes, lakes and wetlands, some which remain permanently wet. With major rainfall, breakouts occur along the watercourses causing widespread flooding across the plains. In wet years, the lower Paroo receives flows from the Warrego River system via Cuttaburra Creek. In very wet years the waters of the Paroo will flow to reach the Darling River, between Louth and Wilcannia. 

The elevation of the Paroo's headwaters in the Warrego Range is around 330 metres. At the southern end of the catchment, the floodplains have an elevation of around 100 metres. Annual rainfall is low, with averages of 200–400 mm across the catchment. Most of the rain falls in the north of the catchment and occurs in summer and autumn. Evaporation in the region is high.

Mulga scrub and shrubland are the main  vegetation types on the plains of the Paroo catchment. Eucalypt and gidgee fringe the river and streams.  The dominant eucalypt species in the catchment are river red gum, coolabah and poplar box. In the lower reaches of the catchment many types of wetland vegetation are found, including black box, river cooba, grasses and forbsherbaceous flowering plants.

The Paroo region is underlain by shallow alluvial and sandstone aquifers. Shallow groundwater is generally saline and supply is unreliable. The deeper confined aquifers of the Great Artesian Basin also lie beneath the catchment, supplying the bulk of groundwater used in the region. Artesian springs are a feature through the region, including the Eulo aArtesian sSprings sSupergroup, which is a collection of more than 40 springs scattered in the area south-west of Eulo. 

People, industry and water use

The lands of the Paroo catchment have been important to Aboriginal people for over more than 25,000 years. Many Aboriginal Nations have  a connection with the region, and their history, culture and livelihoods are intertwined with its river systems. The Paroo catchment includes (or borders) the traditional lands of the Bidjara, Budjiti, Gwamu/Kooma, Kunja, Mardigan and Murrawarri Nations.

Explorers passed through the region in the 1840s but it was not until the 1860s that pastoralists took up land, with livestock grazing only becoming viable thanks towith demand from the goldfields and links to settled areas through river transport on the Darling. European settlement was along the river courses to ensure water supplies for people and livestock.

The Paroo catchment is home to few people — less than 0.1% of the population of the Basin. They live on large agricultural holdings or in small settlements such as Eulo, Hungerford, Cooladdi, Wanaaring, Tilpa and White Cliffs.

The income of the population comes from grazing of beef cattle and sheep for wool production, or associated employment; and retail and services to the local population. Goat production is a developing livestock industry in the region. There are few irrigated crops, and crop production is small - providing supplementary feed for livestock.

Tourism in the region is supported by natural attractions such as wetlands and national parks. Local government in the region is supporting growth in the tourism industry to diversify the local economy.

Opals are mined in the southern parts of the catchment, especially around White Cliffs.

Generally, groundwater resources within the region are of poor water quality and are not suitable for large-scale irrigation. Water from the Great Artesian Basin is a more reliable source for domestic and stock water. As a result, agriculture and industry uses little surface water or other groundwater in the region. 

Regulation of water in the catchment

The Paroo River is mostly unregulated but some water is taken from the river by diversion of flow or overland flows. Water is held in weirs or large, shallow earthen storages located on the floodplain, known as 'ring tanks' or 'turkey nest' dams. According to tThe 2016 Queensland water resource plan for the region, the Paroo catchment average end-of-system flow (assuming full usage of entitlements) is estimated to be just one per cent less than the flows experienced in the system prior to any water resource development. that relates to the Queensland portion of the Paroo region requires that at least 99% of the average 'without development' flow into New South Wales is maintained, therefore substantial development of water resources is not likely in the foreseeable future. 

Environmental importance

The region is a habitat for  many animal and plant species, including a diverse range of waterbirds, as well as for many fish species, including a genetically distinct population of golden perch.

Water recovery

The Basin Plan sets Sustainable Diversion Limits -  how much water can be used in the Murray–Darling Basin, while leaving enough water for the environment. 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.

The use of environmental water in a specific catchment or region will vary from year-to-year. The MDBA has 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 Holder or the state government environmental water manager. 

More information

Water management

The management of 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 ensure the network of authorities managess 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. 

Rural wat​er authority

Urban water authority

Catchment management authority

State government water 

Use of environmental water

Irrigation water allocation