Annual watering priorities 2016–17

Annual watering priorities 2016–17

Identifying the priorities

We identify the whole-of-basin annual environmental watering priorities each year based on past climatic conditions, forecast conditions and the condition of the basin’s rivers, floodplains and wetlands to determine likely water availability and need.

We develop annual priorities to make the most effective use of environmental water, to promote better basin-scale outcomes and to help environmental water holders and managers coordinate their planning and delivery of environmental water to achieve the outcomes described in the basin watering strategy.

Water holders and managers need to have regard to the whole-of-basin priorities when they plan and deliver environmental water but these are not an exclusive list of all important environmental assets and functions in the basin.

Previous environmental watering

Environmental benefits often take many years to achieve and may require multiple environmental watering events. It also takes time to see how plants, animals and ecosystems respond to environmental watering.

Some positive early signs are starting to emerge for wetland habitat, floodplain vegetation and threatened native fish but we still have a way to go. Some important aspects of the basin, such as waterbird populations, are still in decline.

We are working with basin governments and scientific experts to monitor and evaluate the results of environmental watering undertaken since the Basin Plan. More information about this will be available in an evaluation report to be published in 2017.

Watering in a dry climate

The basin has been dry for most of the last decade and because it is dry there is a high need for environmental watering across the basin. This need will grow if dry conditions continue. Even with good rainfall, runoff will be limited because soils are so dry and it will take time to re-fill storages.

In dry conditions, there is not a lot of water available to deliver to the environment. Delivering environmental water makes a difference by helping rivers and wetlands to maintain their basic functions and resilience.

Environmental watering in the past few years has helped during this dry period by providing flows to waterbird habitat, keeping it in good condition for when there is enough water for birds to breed.  See the Eastern Australian Waterbird Survey for more information.

Watering also improved the health of ecosystems in the southern basin and improved flows, which benefited native fish.

Improving the priorities

These are the fourth annual environmental watering priorities prepared under the Basin Plan. The focus of the priorities has evolved over time to align with the basin environmental watering strategy published in 2014 and in response to new knowledge and adaptive management.

Each year we improve how the priorities are prepared. This year we have improved how we determine the resource availability scenario (a combination of need for water and its availability) and our engagement with Aboriginal people. We have included a case study on the social and economic benefits of environmental watering and increased community participation.

We are progressively making the process for setting the priorities more objective by developing new methods and we are looking at whether multi-year priorities could help us to achieve the basin outcomes.

We are working to identify where environmental outcomes may also result in complementary social and economic outcomes.

Each year the Murray–Darling Basin Authority prioritises environmental watering for the basin as a whole, depending on what animals, plants and sites need it most.

These whole-of-basin priorities guide planning of environmental watering across the basin. We identify them in consultation with the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder, basin states and local authorities, and complement local, regional and state priorities.

The whole-of-basin priorities for 2016-17 anticipated dry conditions continuing but  also identified priorities should conditions change and more water become available.

We updated the priorities in November 2016 to add five more priorities in response to wetter conditions in parts of the Basin, to make the most of available water.

The whole-of-basin priorities describe the watering needed in  2016-17 to ensure we achieve the long-term environmental goals for native vegetation, waterbirds, native fish and river flows and connectivity, as set out in the Basin-wide environmental watering strategy.

The initial priorities set for 2016-17 is listed below:

Native vegetation

The Morgan-Whyalla Pipeline
Yarradda Lagoon, Mid-Murrumbidgee (photo by Paul Doyle)

In dry conditions:

Improve the condition of wetland vegetation communities in the mid-Murrumbidgee wetlands that provide critical habitat.  Read more

The Port of Echuca
Long Arm, Back Lake and Clear Lake in the Narran Lakes system in flood (photo by Josh Smith courtesy of the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage)

Improve the health and complexity of waterbird rookery habitat in the northern Narran Lakes system. Read more

Tauwitchere Barrage and the Murray Mouth
Moira Grass at Hut Lake, Barmah (photo by Keith Ward)

In moderate conditions:

Prevent critical deterioration of Moira grass in Barmah-Millewa Forest, subject to resolving natural resource management issues. Read more



Locks on the River Murray
Waterways in the Macquarie Marshes (photo by Richard Kingsford)

In moderate conditions:

Support waterbird populations by watering critical breeding and feeding habitats at the important basin environmental assets for waterbirds, and coordinate watering at ecologically linked systems, particularly at the Macquarie Marshes and Narran Lakes.  Read more

Salt interception schemes
Waterbirds roosting in Macquarie Marshes (photo by Richard Kingsford)

Capitalise on opportunities to support waterbird breeding. Read more


The Snowy Hydro Scheme
Silver perch (photo by Ivor Stuart)

In dry conditions:

Contribute to the long-term recovery of silver perch by improving existing populations and enhancing conditions for recruitment and dispersal to and from suitable habitat.

Support viable populations of threatened native fish by protecting drought refuges and maintaining in-stream habitats and essential functions. Read more

Purnong, South Australia
In-stream vegetation and fishway on the Barwon River, Brewarrina (photo by Irene Dowdy)

In moderate conditions:

Maximise opportunities for range expansion and the establishment of new populations of silver perch and other threatened fish as conditions allow. Read more.

Flows and connectivity

Where the rivers meet
A waterhole on the Narran River (photo by Willem F. Vlotman)

In dry conditions:

Maintain waterholes in the Lower Balonne Floodplain to provide critical refuge for water-dependent species. Read more

Canola in Cunningar, NSW
The Coorong, South Australia (photo by Denise Fowler)

Protect aquatic habitat conditions in the Coorong and support native fish movement by optimising flows into the Coorong and through the Murray Mouth. Read more