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Native plants are vital for wetland and river health. Plants provide shelter, food and shade for a range of animals. 

Different plants support different animals and waterway functions, such as filtering water to keep the water clean, nutrient cycling and stablising soil and riverbanks. It is important to maintain diverse and healthy plants to keep our rivers healthy.

Decisions about where water for the environment goes are based on maintaining and improving the health of water-dependent ecosystems throughout the Murray–Darling Basin. 


The nutrient cycle

Nutrient cycling refers to the way nutrients move through food webs. Living things need nutrients to live, grow and flourish. Plants add many different nutrients to water and are vital for a healthy system.

We need to restore native vegetation to restore our rivers

How we use water in our rivers has changed the natural wet and dry periods that used to occur throughout the year. This change in how rivers flow affects the type, diversity and character of plant communities along the rivers. In some rivers, up to half of the water that would have naturally flowed in them is removed each year for use in towns, irrigation and industry.

In many places like Murray River floodplains, this has meant a decline in native plants such as river red gums, black box and lignum.

Healthy floodplain forests, woodlands and wetlands need different amounts of water throughout the year to ensure native plants can grow and survive. This includes wet and dry periods.

Water for the environment ensures there is enough water to keep plants alive so that the river system can be restored to health.

Restoring health to native plants and rivers takes time.

Deciding where water goes to help native vegetation

This year: annual environmental watering priorities for vegetation

The annual priorities are a guide for where water should be provided for the current year to improve the health of native plants and animals for the overall health of the Basin over the long term, as set out in the Basin watering strategy.

2021–22 native vegetation priorities   

In the northern Basin:

  • Improve watering of important vegetation on the water’s edge and plants that support waterbird breeding and fish habitat during flooding.
  • Support key sites in the Macquarie Marshes with water for longer periods.
  • Support watering of the Warrego and Lower Balonne floodplains.

In the southern Basin:

  • Improve the health of forests and woodlands by watering trees located high on the floodplain under stress from a lack of water.
  • Support watering of wetlands and floodplains for longer periods to replenish soil moisture and encourage plants to spread.
  • Assist the growth and spread of the important aquatic plant, ruppia in the southern Coorong.
  • Support a natural pattern of wetting and drying of riverbanks and snags to increase food resources for fish and other animals.

The annual environmental watering priorities are the focus for the current year and are small steps in the short-term to achieve long-term goals.
Longer term goals are documented in the Basin-wide watering strategy and multi-year priorities.

One important factor used to decide how much water should be provided for the environment each year and where, is the resource availability scenario. This is based on climate conditions (rainfall, runoff and soil moisture), surface water availability in dams and the climate outlook.

Longer term: rolling, multi-year environmental watering priorities

The annual environmental watering priorities support rolling, multi-year environmental watering priorities that guide watering over the medium-term (the next 3–5 years) based on different conditions, from very wet to very dry. Multi-year watering is important because restoring health to rivers and the plants and animals in them takes a long time.

Multi-year watering provides for and relies on cumulative progress over time. For example, watering in one year ensures vegetation survives, while watering in a second year supports plants to reproduce and grow.