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Part 1: Protect and enhance the shared water resources and environmental assets of the Basin

Strategy 1.1
Coordinate the implementation of The Living Murray

In May 2007, the Ministerial Council updated The Living Murray Business Plan. The plan describes how the MDBC will implement the actions and milestones in the MDB Intergovernmental Agreement for the Murray-Darling Basin and Australian governments to recover up to 500 GL for the environment. This funding will be used to recover water for environmental use within the Murray-Darling Basin, with an initial focus on achieving environmental results at six Murray River icon sites and supporting the environmental works and measures program.

The Living Murray six icon sites are:

  • Barmah–Millewa Forest
  • Gunbower–Koondrook–Perricoota Forest
  • Hattah Lakes
  • the Chowilla Floodplain, Lindsay and Wallpolla islands
  • the Lower Lakes, Coorong and Murray Mouth
  • the River Murray Channel.

Water recovery progress

Water recovery, along with the associated works and measures and the delivery of environmental water, provides the foundation of The Living Murray (TLM). The overall target is to recover up to 500 GL of water (measured as average annual flow) for environmental purposes by June 2009. Where practicable, some water may be recovered and made available for use at an earlier date.

Under the Intergovernmental Agreement on Addressing Water Over-allocation and Achieving Environmental Objectives in the Murray-Darling Basin, water recovery measures are listed on a central register, featuring:

  • the Developmental Register – comprising proposed measures submitted for further development and assessment against eligibility criteria, and
  • the Eligible Measures Register – comprising measures approved for accreditation against funding commitments under the inter-governmental agreement.

A summary of the listings on each register is shown in Table 1.

Table 1 Summary of water recovery measures, as at June 2007
Measure Register Volume (GL) Cost ($m) Status (Eligible Measures only)
Goulburn-Murray Water Recovery Package (Vic) Eligible Measures 145 109 Investment under way
Lake Mokoan Water Recovery Packagea (Vic) Eligible Measures 24 13.7 Implementation expected in the near future
NSW Package A Eligible Measures 9 9 Feasibility study on market-based measures currently under way
NSW Package B Eligible Measures 62 63.25 Most works (including Great Darling Anabranch) completed
Securing Government-held Water for Environmental Use (SA) Eligible Measures 13 19.5 Implementation expected in coming months
Shepparton Irrigation Area Modernisation Project (Vic) Developmental 35 136.5 n/a
Pilot Allocation Leaseback Measure (MDBC) Developmental 20 Market price n/a
Water through Efficiency Tender (Aust Govt) Eligible Measures 0.45 0.765 Completion expected in 2007
Pilot Market Purchase Measure (MDBC) Eligible Measures 20 Market price Expression of interest from willing sellers expected from July 2007
Total volume 328.45

a. Based on an exposure draft of the Investment Plan, the volume and cost may change.

In addition, at its meeting in May 2007, the Murray-Darling Basin Ministerial Council welcomed further water recovery measures proposed by the Ricegrowers Association of Australia that may result in the recovery of a further 12 GL of water.

The Commission and jurisdictions are also funding a range of feasibility studies to develop additional water recovery measures. These feasibility studies include potential water recovery from infrastructure projects, on farm projects and market based measures. Reports and fact sheets from a number of these projects have been released and are available on the Commission website.

Delivery of environmental water

During periods of extended drought, it is even more imperative that environmental watering is managed to ensure maximum value is extracted from the scarce resource. Ongoing cooperation between river operations and environmental managers was crucial to achieving outcome.

A range of watering options are available to managers to achieve this outcome including:

  • enhancing natural peak flows to sustain water levels within floodplains
  • mechanically pumping water onto floodplains to alleviate drought stress in vegetation communities, and
  • operating fishways to allow for native fish migrating throughout the river system.

As a result of the severe drought, the amount of water utilised for environmental management in 2006–07 totalled only 22 GL, made up from:

  • 7.8 GL donated by South Australia (originally 13 GL but reduced as the South Australia allocation was reduced), and
  • 14.2 GL provided from River Murray Increased Flows (recovered through the Snowy Joint Government Enterprise).

This watering covered less than 1 per cent of the combined area of the icon sites. While the observed environmental responses have been encouraging in the areas watered, the general health of the icon sites is continuing to decline.

In addition, Victoria and New South Wales made allocations from state environmental water entitlements to provide additional water for TLM icon sites, including:

  • 0.5 GL provided from Victorian Murray Flora and Fauna Entitlement (FFE) to Reedy Lagoon in Gunbower Forest, and
  • 14 GL of Victorian Murray FFE and 0.4 GL provided by the New South Wales Murray Wetlands Working Group for watering of wetlands along the River Murray Channel.

The 22 GL managed through The Living Murray was distributed to three of the icon sites as follows:

Lower Lakes, Coorong and Murray Mouth

4.7 GL was used for barrage fishway releases in the Lower Lakes, with good results. Monitoring in late 2006 has indicated that fish species, such as Common galaxias and Congollis, have migrated upstream following spawning, and Short-headed lampreys have also been identified.

Hattah Lakes

For Hattah Lakes, 8.5 GL was delivered to supplement a Victorian Murray FFE of 5 GL, resulting in a total of 13.5 GL being delivered to 11 lakes in the Hattah Lakes system between mid-September and early December 2006. Monitoring has confirmed a positive growth response in areas receiving two or more waterings, while areas receiving only a single watering maintained healthy vegetation.

In addition to River red gums, Lignum has also responded well and flowered, and the presence of water has resulted in breeding of a number of waterbird species, including Black duck, Wood duck, Grey teal, Australasian grebe, Eurasian coot and Pied stilts.

Chowilla Floodplain and Lindsay and Wallpolla islands

4.2 GL was used for watering of the Chowilla Floodplain and 4.6 GL for watering of stressed River red gums throughout the Lindsay and Wallpolla islands. Monitoring has shown a positive vegetation response, including increased vigour of River red gums and Black box and the development of a mosaic of flood-dependent understorey. The environmental watering has also enabled temporary flooding of a limited number of wetlands that have been utilised by endangered species for foraging and reproduction. Thousands of waterbirds (including, state-listed species and more than 30 species of waterbirds present on Mulcra and Wallpolla islands) as well as large numbers of frogs (including the nationally vulnerable Southern bell frog) have benefited from environmental watering.

Environmental management of icon sites

The delivery of environmental water to icon sites is governed by The Living Murray Environmental Watering Plan and the Icon Site Environmental Management Plans.

The Environmental Watering Plan provides the framework for application of water to icon sites to meet the ecological objectives under the First Step Decision. The Icon Site Environmental Management Plans detail the water application and management within each icon site and have been developed in liaison with the consultation reference group for the site.

The continuing drought has meant that there have been limited opportunities for environmental management in 2006–07. However, while the amount of water utilised for management under The Living Murray totalled only 22 GL, there has been significant progress in developing the operational framework supporting the environmental management of icon sites, including:

  • adoption of the revised Barmah–Millewa Environmental Water Allocation operating rules
  • adoption of interim rules for the use of River Murray Increased Flows
  • endorsement of the scoping report for coordination of The Living Murray and the Basin Salinity Management Strategy, which outlines key tasks to support integration across MDBC programs – the activities identified in the scoping report are now being progressed
  • development of a new operating strategy for the Murray Mouth barrages
  • review of the management of Murray River unregulated flows to improve environmental outcomes, and
  • commencement of investigations to revise river operational rules to balance competing requirements for operational, environmental and consumptive uses.

Monitoring of icon sites

Monitoring programs are conducted at all of the icon sites, collecting data on fish, bird and vegetation species. There are two types of monitoring conducted as part of The Living Murray:

  • condition monitoring, which assesses the overall condition of the icon sites, and
  • intervention monitoring, which examines the impacts of environmental watering actions to determine if the watering decisions are achieving the expected outcomes.

The Living Murray Outcomes Evaluation Framework, guiding the development of the ecological monitoring arrangements across the six icon sites, was further progressed in May 2007. Individual monitoring plans are now being developed and implemented for each of the icon sites.

In addition, the Environmental Delivery Program in 2006–07 also funded a range of intervention monitoring activities at icon sites to improve the understanding of the relationships between specific interventions and ecological outcomes. These projects include:

  • assessments of larval fish recruitment success rates
  • research on cues to prevent fish being trapped behind forest regulators
  • ecological responses to weir manipulation
  • assessment of outcomes of pumping to icon site wetlands, lakes and floodplains, and
  • assessment of the resnagging in the Murray River on fish population growth and distribution.

The outcomes of these projects will inform future management at each of the icon sites.

The Living Murray Coordination

A Scientific Reference Panel has been established to provide independent, factual scientific assessments of issues relating to implementation of The Living Murray. The three-member panel was appointed after an extensive selection process and will provide an excellent resource for the Commission and the community.

The second audit of the implementation of The Living Murray was conducted by the Independent Audit Group (IAG) in October 2006. The audit assessed activities undertaken in the 2005–06 financial year. The results were presented to Ministerial Council in May 2007. During the course of the audit the IAG identified eight issues to be addressed (see Table 2).

Table 2 Issues identified by the IAG for The Living Murray, 2005–06
Issue number Summary description
2006.01 The issue of human resources is the critical constraint to the delivery of The Living Murray.
2006.02 It will be difficult to achieve the targets in the original timeframe (June 2009) unless a suite of many of the types of water recovery measures enabled in clause 23 of the IGA are rapidly progressed, including market-based measures.
2006.03 The wider context and risks to water resource availability when combined with the insights from the volumes likely to be needed for watering at Chowilla create doubt about the achievability of the environmental objectives for all icon sites and The Living Murray overall.
2006.04 While jurisdictions have a range of processes in place to achieve the volumetric target, very diligent project management will be required to meet this target by June 2009, especially if water recovery measures continue to focus on infrastructure projects.
2006.05 It would be timely to ascertain the likelihood of achievement of the desired outcomes from the First Step Decision and the expected timeframe for their achievement
2006.06 In the three years since the First Step Decision on The Living Murray, the hydrologic modelling platform has not yet been enhanced to support the management of the Murray River incorporating the additional flexibility and wider objectives associated with The Living Murray.
2006.07 The recommended actions of 2005 with regards to the management of river flows that are surplus to regulated requirements (refer Issue 2005.09) had not yet been achieved as of October 2006.
2006.08 Issues of accounting and tracking environmental water in a robust and transparent way are critical to the implementation of The Living Murray.

Action is under way to address all of the issues identified by the IAG.

Indigenous Partnerships

The Living Murray Indigenous Partnerships Program (IPP) has been established so that Indigenous social, spiritual, cultural, environmental and economic interests in the Murray River are considered.

The IPP is underpinned by a process of ‘informed consent’ that ensures Indigenous people have adequate knowledge of icon site issues and management, and understand the consequences and outcomes that may result from their contribution and decisions regarding cultural knowledge, values and perspectives.

During 2006–07, resources were provided to support three full-time locally employed Indigenous facilitators at Hattah Lakes, Chowilla (South Australia) and the Murray Mouth, Coorong and Lower Lakes icon sites. One half-time Indigenous facilitator has been employed to work with the Barkindji people at the north-eastern end of the Chowilla icon site. The main role of the Indigenous facilitators is to guide and enable the involvement of local Indigenous communities in The Living Murray.

Two icon sites have Indigenous working groups, which provide support and advice to the Indigenous facilitator and other staff on appropriate ways to engage their Indigenous community.

As the primary Indigenous consultative body for The Living Murray, the Murray Lower Darling Rivers Indigenous Nations (MLDRIN) is continuing to work with the Commission in accordance with the memorandum of understanding.

As part of engaging Indigenous people in a more meaningful way, the Indigenous Partnerships Project is introducing a social science methodology to map Indigenous people’s contemporary relationship with icon sites. This approach, called use and occupancy mapping, is being introduced in line with the principle of informed consent. This has meant working with MLDRIN and other representatives of Traditional Owners to gain support for the concept, and then undertaking a pilot mapping project with an Indigenous community.

As part of this pilot, use and occupancy maps have successfully been produced for several individuals at two of the icon sites. Considerable effort has been invested in involving and informing Indigenous community members regarding use and occupancy mapping, which is now gaining strong support within the Indigenous community.

The MDBC is working with Charles Sturt University to undertake a research and monitoring program to measure the impacts and benefits of use and occupancy mapping at the icon sites.

The MDBC is also closely involved in the development of the world’s first textbook on use and occupancy mapping, currently being researched and written in Canada. This involvement will ensure that the textbook will be relevant to Australia and available for future training needs in the Murray-Darling Basin.

Communications and consultation

The Living Murray communication and community consultation program aims to ensure that individuals and groups have an opportunity to consider and provide input into decisions regarding The Living Murray that affect them, and that all relevant information as well as a diversity of views is considered in the decision-making process. A further aim is to increase awareness and understanding of, and support for, The Living Murray program.

The communications component of the program is delivered through the implementation of The Living Murray Communications Strategy 2005–07. This strategy outlines how governments and the MDBC Office communicate information about activities under The Living Murray program in an accurate and timely manner to foster public confidence in the way that environmental water is recovered, applied and monitored.

Program milestones for 2006–07 are described below.

Community consultation

The Living Murray’s community consultation activity is conducted primarily through The Living Murray Community Reference Group (CRG). This group provides input into key environmental management plans, as well as seeking a wide range of views within affected communities. The CRG advises the Murray-Darling Basin Community Advisory Committee and, through it, the Murray-Darling Basin Ministerial Council. Four CRG meetings were held in 2006–07 at various locations along the Murray River. In May 2007, a process for renewing the group’s membership through to 30 June 2009 was undertaken.

Publications

Materials ranging from reports and strategy documents through to a series of fact sheets and posters have been produced and distributed. At present, there are 28 publications that provide specific information about The Living Murray program, and a distribution strategy has been developed to ensure that key groups and individuals regularly receive these publications as they become available.

Electronic media

Throughout 2006–07, The Living Murray section of the MDBC website was redeveloped to provide an enhanced source of information on progress of the program. The updated pages went online in May 2007, with many technical reports and several associated peer reviews made available through the website.

Support has been provided to produce short documentaries on values of The Living Murray icon sites, key activities under way and the environmental outcomes.

Events and sponsorship

Through The Living Murray, a number of project launches, community forums, information days, artworks and field days have been organised or supported.

Sixteen regional events received sponsorship support from The Living Murray program in 2006–07. These include activities delivered by the Murray Darling Association, such as local government bus tours and youth forums focusing on the Murray River.

Environmental Works and Measures Program

The Living Murray Environmental Works and Measures Program aims to improve the health of the Murray River system by funding infrastructure that delivers and manages water at the six icon sites to achieve the environmental objectives of the Ministerial Council’s First Step Decision. This infrastructure includes water regulating structures, water delivery channels and fishways as well as complementary works and measures.

The Living Murray Environmental Works and Measures Program began in 2003 as an eight-year, $150 million funding commitment. In 2006, funding was boosted by the Australian Government’s commitment of an additional $500 million for the Murray-Darling Basin Commission to deliver existing Council and Commission decisions, expand the Environmental Works and Measures Program, and accelerate water recovery under The Living Murray. This funding support will enable the Environmental Works and Measures Program to complete additional works at the icon sites and the total investment over the life of the program is now expected to be in the order of $250 million.

Investigations and planning

To date, a great deal of activity under the Environmental Works and Measures Program has been in the form of feasibility studies, concept designs and supporting investigations for works to achieve environmental objectives at the icon sites (see Table 3). These will progress to the detailed design and construction stages over the coming years.

An important achievement for the year was agreement to the development of blueprints to align the requirements of works and environmental water needs at the icon sites.

Table 3 EWMP investigation and planning achievements, 2006–07
Barmah–Millewa
  • Continued feasibility studies and hydraulic modelling for flow management in the Barmah–Millewa Forest
  • Assessment of fish passage requirements at Gulf Creek, Black Engine Creek and for the Mary Ada regulators
  • Development of concept designs for Moira Lake Stage 3 works
Gunbower–
Koondrook–Perricoota
  • Completion of detailed hydraulic models for Gunbower and Koondrook–Perricoota forests
  • Continued feasibility studies for water delivery options for Gunbower Forest, including the Upper Forest Channel and Hipwell Road regulators
  • Continued feasibility studies for the Koondrook–Perricoota flood enhancement project (including the Torrumbarry cutting)
Hattah Lakes
  • Feasibility study into the effectiveness of lowering the commence-to-flow threshold of the main inlet (Chalka Creek) and regulators to improve the frequency and duration of wetland and floodplain inundation
Chowilla,
Lindsay–Wallpolla
  • Feasibility studies for regulators on Lindsay River and Potterwalkagee Creek to enhance wetland and floodplain inundation
  • Feasibility study of a bypass channel around Lock 9 to increase the extent of flowing aquatic habitats in Wallpolla Creek and associated anabranches on Wallpolla Island
  • Refinement of concept designs for the proposed Chowilla Creek environmental regulator and ancillary structures
  • Detailed hydraulic modelling and completion of ecological risk assessments for the proposed Chowilla Creek environmental regulator
  • Detailed salinity and groundwater impact assessment for the proposed Chowilla Creek environmental regulator
  • Completion of concept designs for the replacement of Bank E and Boat Creek Bridge, replacement of Werta Wert regulator and the repair and provision of fish passage at Pipeclay and Slaney Creek weirs
  • Drilling to investigate the feasibility of deep aquifer disposal of saline groundwater
Lower Lakes,
Coorong, Murray Mouth
  • Assessment of the ecological benefits of a connecting channel between Lake Albert and the Coorong
  • Concept designs for small fish lock and small vertical slot fishway at Goolwa Barrage
  • Concept designs for three rock-ramp fishways and a small vertical slot fishway at Tauwitchere Barrage
  • Concept design for a small vertical slot fishway at Boundary Creek Barrage
  • Concept design for a fish-friendly regulator at Hunters Creek
River Murray Channel
  • Concept designs for fishways at Stevens Weir and the Edward River Offtake Regulator
  • Concept designs for fish passage at the Lake Victoria Inlet and control regulators
  • Pump surveys between Locks 1 and 2, and 6 and 7, to assess the impacts and feasibility of weir pool lowering
  • Assessment of the ability of secondary regulating structures between Locks 1 and 7 to accommodate weir pool raising
  • Documentation of past weir pool manipulation activities

Temporary works and measures

The focus of the Environmental Works and Measures Program is the development of long-term, icon site–scale packages to achieve the environmental objectives of the program. The program therefore funds temporary works and measures only where these are critical to the delivery of the overall Living Murray objectives. Currently, the temporary works and measures funded through this program are limited to the following:

A flood plain coolabah, treasured by the Hill family on their property, ‘Dunkerry South’. Photo: John Reid

A flood plain coolabah, treasured by the Hill family on their property, ‘Dunkerry South’, in the Mooni River sub-catchment south of St George, Queensland – a symbol of resilience.

(Photo: John Reid)

Chowilla, Lindsay–Wallpolla
  • implementation and operation of four ground and surface water management trials at Bookpurnong to inform long-term management options at Chowilla and other icon sites
  • investigative drilling and analysis to contribute to the feasibility assessment of a deep aquifer, saline groundwater disposal scheme associated with a potential groundwater management scheme at Chowilla.
River Murray Channel
  • review of coordination of weir pool manipulation activities and investigations in South Australia to inform future weir pool manipulations elsewhere in the system.

Capital works

In 2006–07, design and construction activities were concentrated at the Chowilla (including Lindsay–Wallpolla) and River Murray Channel icon sites (see Table 4).

A key achievement was the replacement of more than 1,200 River red gum snags at three priority sites in the Hume to Yarrawonga reach of the River Murray Channel. Snags are submerged dead trees that provide important habitat and refuge for native fish and aquatic invertebrates. The replacement of snags that had previously been removed is expected to provide significant benefits for fish populations in the area.

Table 4 EWMP capital investment including works designed and/or constructed, 2006–07
Gunbower,
Koondrook–Perricoota
  • Purchase of Toorangabby Station to contribute to the implementation of the Koondrook–Perricoota flood enhancement project
Chowilla,
Lindsay–Wallpolla
  • Completion of Stage 1 Lindsay–Wallpolla works including the construction of regulators at Horseshoe and Webster’s lagoons and Lake Wallawalla (including raising the level of the Old Mail Route Road to retain a higher water level in the lake following flooding)
  • Detailed design for the replacement of Bank E and Boat Creek Bridge at Chowilla
Lower Lakes, Coorong, Murray Mouth
  • Detailed design of Hunters Creek fish-friendly regulator on Hindmarsh Island
River Murray Channel
  • Resnagging: over 1,200 snags were reinstated into three high-priority sites in the Hume to Yarrawonga reach to provide native fish habitat