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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.

Moira grass coated in algae
Moira grass coated in algae

Healthy moira grass
Healthy moira grass

Deciding what native vegetation to water when

This year: annual watering priorities for native vegetation

Each year we set priorities to restore native vegetation. The annual priorities are a guide for where water should be delivered 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.

2019–20 priorities for native vegetation are:

  • Provide flows to maintain core wetland areas and provide refuge habitat.
  • Improve vegetation condition in areas of high habitat and conservation value.

Annual priorities are small steps in the short term to achieve long term goals.

One important component to determine the locations and amount of water to be delivered each year 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: multi-year environmental watering priorities

The annual environmental watering priorities support multi-year environmental watering priorities. Multi-year priorities remain in focus over a number of years to achieve long term outcomes.

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 and relies on cumulative progress over time, e.g. watering in one year may only wet a dry riverbed, but follow up watering the next year provides more water to fill the river and reach wetlands either side of the river where it waters plants and animals.