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Decisions about where water for the environment goes, are based on protecting and enhancing natural river flows. These flows connect rivers to wetlands and floodplains.

When rivers are connected to wetlands and floodplains plants, animals and people living along rivers can thrive because our rivers are healthy. 

River flows refer to the water in or flowing down a river.

What is river connectivity?

There are two types of river connectivity:

  • longitudinal connectivity, which is when a river is connected along its length, or the river is flowing, and
  • lateral connectivity, which is when a river is connected to the wetlands and floodplains either side of the river. This means the river has enough water to flow into the smaller waterways either side of the main river channel.

River flows and connectivity are important for people, plants and animals

All people, animals and plants rely on water. Rivers provide drinking water for cities and towns, water to grow food and fibre and unique landscapes where plants and animals live.

River flows and connectivity deliver water to water dependent ecosystems. The movement of water between rivers, wetlands and floodplains mixes nutrients into the water. These nutrients keep people, animals and plants healthy.

These landscapes are also culturally significant to Aboriginal Nations and internationally important, to Australians and people around the world, for their natural beauty and environmental function.

The rivers, wetlands and floodplains in the Murray–Darling Basin are enjoyed by those who live there and those who visit.

People have changed how rivers flow and connect

Many of our rivers and wetlands have been changed to provide water for towns, industry and growing food. In some rivers, up to half of the water that would have naturally flowed in them is removed each year for drinking water, irrigation and industry. It's not just the size of flows that has changed, the natural patterns and frequency of flows has also been altered by river regulation and water management. 

As a result these rivers are not able to function as they would naturally. This means people need to actively manage how water flows through them. These flows are called ‘water for the environment’.

Water for the environment protects river flows and connectivity

Water for the environment is stored and then released into rivers and wetlands to support them and the plants and animals that live, feed and breed in them.

Flows, or water released, at the right time and delivered to the right place can help rivers and wetlands function as they need to, e.g. flows connect wetlands to the main river channel to allow fish to swim to where they need to be to find food and shelter and to breed.

Deciding where water goes to support flows and connectivity

This year: annual watering priorities for flows and connectivity

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

2022–23 Flows and connectivity priorities

In the northern Basin:

  • Support cross-border and inter-valley connectivity opportunities (where necessary, coordinate through NBEWG).
  • Manage water recession at sites where there is an active bird breeding event (e.g. Narran Lakes, Gwydir Wetlands, Macquarie Marshes).
  • Support connectivity between the northern and southern Basin via the lower Darling (Baaka).

In the southern Basin:

  • Piggyback off high-flow events to deliver additional water to low-lying floodplains and extend the event duration. Use existing environmental works to deliver this water where available.
  • Coordinate and plan event releases to achieve multiple benefits along the length of the Murray (where necessary, coordinate through SCBEWC).
  • Deliver moderate to large-scale watering events where possible (including Icon sites) to target higher floodplain areas.
  • Increase flows to the barrages to improve water quality and trigger cues for migratory fish movement.

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.

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 provides and relies on cumulative progress over time. For example, watering in one year may only wet a dry riverbed. Watering for a second year provides more water to fill the river and reach wetlands – these flows reach plants and animals that may would not have received water the previous year.