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Published: 14 February 2019   •   Media release

The 2019-20 environmental watering outlook for the Murray–Darling Basin focusses on protecting critical habitat for native fish and waterbirds with the possibility that warmer and drier than average conditions will continue in parts of the Basin next year.

Executive Director of the Science and Knowledge Division at the Murray–Darling Basin Authority (MDBA), Colin Mues, said the watering outlook, released on Thursday, was published each year to guide the efforts of environmental water managers.

"If hot and dry conditions and low inflows continue into next year, then environmental water allocations could be well below average," Mr Mues said.

"In these conditions, environmental water will be best used to target and protect critical habitat for native fish and waterbirds that is most at risk of being lost if this drought continues.

"This approach aims to maintain environmental condition and drought refuges long enough for the environment to bounce back when wetter times return.

"Environmental water holders receive the same allocations as other holders of the same entitlements, and when there isn't much water available, allocations will be low. Allocations for the environment, particularly in the Northern Basin, are expected to remain low due to the very low levels of water in storage.

"Many of the Basin's rivers, wetlands and floodplains have not recovered from the millennium drought. The outlook highlights that some important wetlands and floodplain forests, including key sites for waterbirds, have not received water for long periods due to the prolonged dry conditions.

"The outlook identifies key watering opportunities that are likely to be a priority for environmental water delivery in 2019-20, to the extent that water is available, for the Narran Lakes in northern NSW, the Coorong and Lower Lakes in South Australia, and the Koondrook-Perricoota Forest upstream of Barham in southern New South Wales.

"The outlook notes that if rain makes it possible, environmental water managers should consider how best to use the first-flush events from tributaries of the Barwon and Darling rivers and through to the Menindee Lakes.

‘Where environmental water holders are able to carry over water from this year into next year, most likely in some southern catchments, it might be possible to maintain the condition of critical wetland refuges, supporting native fish, waterbirds and native vegetation.

"Fish deaths in the lower Darling and other Basin catchments in the past few months are a graphic demonstration of the stress the system is under. It highlights the importance of fully implementing the Basin Plan so we can restore the rivers to health."
The outlook also reports on environmental outcomes from the current year and 2017-18, including the successful delivery of water to support fish refuges and habitat for waterbirds in the Macquarie Marshes, and the northern connectivity event – a coordinated delivery of 23 gigalitres of water which travelled 2,000 km along the Barwon-Darling and to Menindee Lakes between April and June 2018.

The Basin-wide environmental watering priorities for 2019-20 will be finalised and released in June. This will incorporate feedback from basin stakeholders on the actions outlined in the outlook.

The Basin environmental watering outlook for 2019-20 is available at www.mdba.gov.au/publications/mdba-reports/basin-environmental-watering-outlook.

Community feedback on the outlook can be provided by email to Engagement@mdba.gov.au or by telephoning 1800 230 067.

ENDS

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