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Hattah Lakes, in north–western Victoria, is a large floodplain and wetland system of international significance, consisting of more than 20 semi-permanent freshwater lakes, creeks and swamps over an area of 48,000 hectares. In the past, regular natural flooding helped to maintain the ecological health of the area. However, due to river regulation and a drier climate, the area receives much less water less often. As a result, the plants and animals that depend on the lakes have come under serious threat.

Structures to regulate water flows

A series of environmental works were built in 2010, including a permanent pumping station, levee banks and 3 flow regulators. This infrastructure enables site managers to pump water from the river and hold it on the floodplain. This method simulates natural flows but uses much less water. Once the environmental objectives (such as waterbird breeding) have been met, the water can then be returned to the river, providing additional benefits to important places downstream.

Environmental works at Hattah Lakes (MDBA)
Environmental works at Hattah Lakes

The works, in conjunction with natural flooding, are used to deliver water to fill the lakes every two to three years, with more extensive watering to reach the floodplain every eight to 10 years, subject to natural rainfall and water availability. Condition monitoring undertaken at Hattah Lakes since the structural works were completed has shown significant improvement in the health of the site.

Producing healthier waterways

In 2010 the site received extensive water. Within months drought-stressed River Red Gum and Black Box trees were showing signs of growth, flowering and germination. Thousands of water birds were recorded, including threatened species such as the Regent Parrot.

In 2012–13, a total of 120 wetland plant species were recorded, representing the highest number of plant species recorded during annual monitoring. Plant diversity had increased in nine wetlands, and 23 different water bird species were recorded across the site.

The strategic use of water for the environment to complement natural flows has—and continues to—help improve and maintain the overall condition of the site, with site monitoring conducted in 2017 indicating the ecological objectives for the site in relation to water birds, fish, vegetation and river connectivity have been  met or partially met.

The ability to actively manage water at Hattah Lakes over many years is working. The health of this internationally significant wetland is improving and is a positive sign of success.

Fish freeway

In addition to the various built works such as dams, weirs and locks, there is also an innovative series of passages known as the Sea to Hume Dam Fishways. These fishways along the Murray River create a migratory passage for fish, providing them with a way to navigate weirs and dam walls, aiding fish conservation and biodiversity.

Watch time lapse of Hattah Lakes watering in 2013–14