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River Reach – May 2021

Rains welcomed by locals 

Click on the above image to check out the previously unseen footage of the recent flooding rains travelling through the Murray–Darling Basin. Our regional staff captured this footage as the much-needed water travelled downstream

Northern Basin flooding flows south


A message from Chief Executive, Phillip Glyde

Welcome to our new-look River Reach. Here at the MDBA we are always working towards continuous improvement and this includes refining how we get the latest news to Basin communities.

At the 2021–22 Federal Budget announcement last week, we welcomed the Australian Government’s commitment to enhanced and integrated river modelling across the Murray–Darling Basin. This commitment will contribute to more timely, accurate, and accessible information on which to base water management decisions. This is key for river management and for Basin communities which rely on every drop being used effectively. We look forward to working with Basin state governments and sharing details of progress towards modernising Murray–Darling Basin river models.

Since our last edition, I am really pleased to see that many areas of the Basin have received welcome rain. Flows of this nature carry much-needed economic, cultural and ecological benefits right through the system and Basin communities have welcomed them on their way south.

These flows have reached the Menindee Lakes and earlier this month the volume of water entering the lakes surpassed 640 GL, triggering the water sharing arrangements agreed between New South Wales, Victoria, and South Australia. This is the most significant volume of water to enter the lakes in 5 years and is critical for the wellbeing of the Baakindji people and the confidence of the Menindee community. In response to recent dry conditions across the southern Basin, this week we began releasing small amounts from Menindee Lakes aimed at mimicking the natural river systems and providing connectivity between the Darling and Murray systems.

Next month we are bringing together Basin communities and industries in Griffith, New South Wales at our inaugural annual regional water conference, River reflections. The two-day event will include discussion about a range of Basin issues including the environment, hydrology, climate adaptation, First Nations and the future perspectives of key water stakeholders. Places are still available to attend virtually, free of charge, and I encourage you to register here.

I hope you enjoy this issue of River Reach. During the course of 2021 you will notice several additional improvements to our e-newsletter and we welcome any feedback or suggestions on the changes we are making to engagement@mdba.gov.au.

All the best,

Phillip


Menindee Lakes reach trigger

A false colour satellite image of Menindee Lakes, showing inflows filling the lakes for the first time in 5 years

Sentinal2 satellite image of Menindee Lakes filling, May 2021. This image uses 'false colour' to highlight the area of innundation.

The most significant volume of water to enter the Menindee Lakes in 5 years has activated water sharing arrangements that have been in place and agreed between New South Wales, South Australia and Victoria in the 1970s. 

As determined by the Basin states in the Murray–Darling Basin Agreement, once the storage volume has reached 640 gigalitres, water in the lakes is available to meet demand downstream.

The lakes are currently 50 % full, holding more than 850 gigalitres and rising, with storages increasing by 17,000 megalitres every day on average over the past week.

The water is critical for the wellbeing of the Baakindji people and the confidence of the Menindee community as a whole and the lakes are important for local tourism and a recognised site for fish and bird breeding.

For the first time since 2016–17 this week, the MDBA begun releasing small amounts of water from Menindee Lakes in response to dry conditions across the southern Basin.

Basin state governments require the MDBA to maximise the total volume of water available across the River Murray system. This means water is often drawn from the Menindee Lakes in preference to other storages such as Hume and Dartmouth dams, which have lower rates of evaporation and seepage. 

As inflows continue, government water authorities – including environmental water holders – are working together, with local communities and landholders, to determine the best way to use this resource.

This is the most significant volume of water to enter the lakes in 5 years, it's critical to draw on this water carefully and maximise the benefits to everyone with a stake in this resource.

The current releases have started slowly to mimic natural river systems, providing connectivity between the Darling and Murray systems.

Given the state of the river system, significant releases of water are not likely from the Menindee Lakes until late spring or summer, although the MDBA will continue to evaluate this. If conditions remain dry that might change with rising demand for water.

The last time the lakes were shared between New South Wales, South Australia and Victoria ended in December 2017, when levels dropped below 480 gigalitres. Since then, in accordance with the Murray–Darling Basin Agreement, water in the lakes has been reserved for New South Wales use. 

Since inflows commenced in January, WaterNSW estimates that by the conclusion of the flow event up to 1,000 gigalitres will make its way into the lakes. These inflows are expected to continue until June this year.

For more information about the Menindee Lakes visit: www.mdba.gov.au/river-information/running-river-murray/menindee-lakes or view our recent webinar.



Flora and fauna flourish with flows

Among the creatures benefiting from the releases of water for the environment are various birds and fish like these adult and chick royal spoonbill.

Silver perch, ibis and spoonbill are among the creatures benefiting from the careful planning and release of water for the environment across the southern Murray–Darling Basin.

Planning for the release of water specifically targeting the improved health of the river system includes considerations of animals breeding and life cycles as well as the importance of flows for aquatic vegetation.

The annual Southern Connected Basin Environmental Watering Committee planning workshop was held last month (April) to reflect on outcomes achieved in the past year while planning for the year ahead.

Monitoring of key locations has revealed successful waterbird fledging of ibis and spoonbill in the Barmah Forest, Victoria and breeding of Australasian bitterns (sometimes known as the Bunyip bird) in the Millewa Forest, New South Wales.

In South Australia, researchers found evidence of silver perch spawning and survival in the lower Murray River for the first time in many years and flowering of the important aquatic plant Ruppia in the Coorong.

Despite the increased rainfall in the past 12 months many key floodplain forests and wetlands along the River Murray and its tributaries remain parched. Giving these sites a drink will be a priority for targeted delivery of water for the environment in the year ahead.


Summit fast-tracks action

Efforts to adjust to the impacts of climate change received a boost earlier this year when leaders came together to share their climate adaptation knowledge and innovations at the MDBA Climate Summit.

The group heard insights from active stakeholders across a range of sectors including community, agriculture, environment, First Nations, government, science, research and development, eco-tourism and finance.

Several adaptation success stories were highlighted including:

  • The Western Australian grains industry has innovated across a range of areas including seed breeding, machinery, farm inputs and overall farm management. These changes delivered the second biggest crop on record in 2020–21, with a decile 4 winter rainfall.
  • In the Strathbogie Ranges in Victoria, communities are revegetating for refugia, ground water monitoring and water budgeting on-farm.
  • In the Shepparton region in Victoria, farmers are implementing water use efficiency practices, reconfiguring drainage systems and reconnecting nature for species movement.

The summit will result in improved collaborations between organisations across the Basin.

The MDBA invites interested and active groups or individuals to contact us at engagement@mdba.gov.au with information about climate adaptation ideas and plans, and/or interest in being involved in further work.

For more information on the MDBA's climate workplan visit the website.



Healthy waterways vital for First Nations

The First Nations men gathered to provide a male perspective to planning for releases of water for the environment across the southern Murray–Darling Basin at the recent First Nations Environmental Watering Forum.

For the first time the input of First Nations has been included at the system-scale for planning the release of water for the environment across the southern Murray–Darling Basin.

First Nations are often involved in the planning at the important site-scale but a workshop in Mildura, last month saw representatives from 12 First Nations present a vision on how to restore the entire system to health.

Water for the environment is released to imitate the natural ebbs and flows of river systems which requires careful planning. This is vital for environmentally important sites as well as for the health of the whole river system.

The 2-day First Nations Environmental Watering Forum was hosted by the Commonwealth Environmental Water Office, the Murray Lower Darling Rivers Indigenous Nations (MLDRIN) and the MDBA’s Living Murray Initiative and included representatives from government agencies that plan and release water for the environment.

As part of the planning, First Nations representatives conveyed the importance of considering their input from both women’s’ and men’s’ perspectives and separated into gendered groups to discuss their feedback.

The essential nature of water for women’s business was highlighted, along with the importance of connecting water to Country via floodplains, creeks, and wetlands, and caring for the biodiversity of river landscapes to help plant and animal species recover.

First Nations made it clear they would be monitoring how the input was applied by water holders. Agencies committed to report back about how the important input was applied and to continue to involve First Nations in the planning of water for the environment.


Out and about in the Basin

Open for business

Murray–Darling Basin Authority chair Air Chief Marshall Sir Angus Houston AK AFC (Ret'd) toured the Sunraysia region of Victoria and New South Wales this week.

With the easing of COVID-19 restrictions in many areas, we have had the opportunity to get back out to hear directly from communities and this includes our chair Air Chief Marshall Sir Angus Houston AK AFC (Ret’d).

This week Sir Angus has again been out touring the Basin, this time in the Sunraysia region of Victoria and New South Wales and speaking at the Murray–Darling Association conference in Wentworth.

Regional staff have also been taking advantage of being locally based and meeting with Basin communities at the Mildura Field Days in Victoria and Riverina Field Days in New South Wales, as well as the Karoonda Farm Fair in South Australia.

These events provide important opportunities to share key water management information via two-way communication, at a Basin, regional and local scale.

Local MDBA staff were delighted to get out and about last week at the Riverina Field Days in Griffith New South Wales.


Lamprey travelling through the system


On the horizon

Key upcoming dates of interest:

22 May – International Day for Biological Diversity

23 May – World Turtle Day

1 June - MDBA Webinar, Murray-Darling Agreement

5 June – World Environment Day

9 to 11 June – River Reflections, Regional Water Conference, Griffith

12 to 13 June – Narran Lakes Open Day

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Updated: 12 Jul 2021