The Living Murray program

The Living Murray program aims to return water to the environment and build water management structures which will help deliver the water to over 37,000 ha of significant forests, wetlands and lakes along the River Murray.

It represents a 12 year partnership between the MDBA and the New South Wales, Victorian, South Australian and Australian Capital Territory governments. Through a $650 million investment, it has acquired almost 500 GL of environmental water and constructed a series of water management structures to help environmental watering occur more efficiently.

Coppermine wetlands at Chowilla after receiving environmental water. Photo by Corey Brown.

The Living Murray program focuses on maintaining the health of 6 icon sites, chosen the following sites for their high ecological and economic value, and their cultural and heritage significance to Aboriginal people. The sites encompass areas of high conservation value — the floodplains, wetlands and forests along the Murray, the Murray's estuary and the river itself.

They are:

The Living Murray delivered its first environmental water to these icon sites during the longest drought in Australia's recorded history (2000–2009). The water was used to provide refuges for stressed native plants and animals, and prevented local extinctions.

Map of the 6 icon sites.

Engineering solutions to meet environmental needs

Water managements structures, such as regulators and levees, enables water managers to inundate areas of the River Murray floodplain, and keep water on the floodplain for longer. This allows managers to simulate natural flows, using only a fraction of the water.

At some sites, such as Hattah Lakes, managers are able to divert or pump water from the river and hold it on the floodplain, using levee banks and regulators. Water can then be returned to the river and re-used at downstrem sites.

A total of 6 major water management structures have been completed through The Living Murray program. They assist with watering over 37,000 ha of forests and wetlands along the River Murray. Other structures are being built at Pike and Katarapko floodplains in South Australia.

The Living Murray program also funded the Sea to Hume Fishway — an innovative series of fishways along the River Murray restoring migratory passage for native fish. The fishways provide a way for fish to go around weirs and dam walls.

The Basin Plan’s SDL adjustment mechanism is building on this work. 

Monitoring the outcomes

The Living Murray program monitoring provides information about responses to watering and the environmental condition of icon sites. Intervention monitoring includes real time monitoring during the watering event and monitoring ecological responses. Condition monitoring is usually conducted annually and provides information about the health of vegetation, fish and waterbirds at icon sites. The Living Murray also annually assesses the condition of stands of river red gum and black box communities at a River Murray system scale. Knowledge generated from all this monitoring is used to improve future environmental water planning by better understanding how to use environmental water and works to maximise ecological outcomes.

 

The Living Murray Indigenous Partnerships project

The Living Murray Indigenous Partnerships project is a vital component of the program. Its aim is to ensure Indigenous community knowledge, values and perspectives are considered in each of the icon site management plans.