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The Moonie River flows across south-west Queensland, through a very flat landscape into northern New South Wales. The Moonie is joined by 13 minor tributaries before merging with the Barwon River, downstream of Mungindi. Most of the catchment (98%) is in Queensland. The river is unregulated and surface water diversions are small.

There are over more than 100 wetlands along the Moonie River floodplain. Even though the wetlands are not recognised as nationally or internationally important, they provide significant waterbird habitats within the Basin.

The Moonie River catchment is sparsely populated, with less than 0.1% of the population of the Basin living in the region. Dryland grazing, mainly beef cattle, is the major source of income and employment in the region. A small area of the catchment is irrigated, mainly for cotton or pasture. Cereal crops and plantation forestry also contribute to the regional economy.


Catchment area

1.4% of the Murray–Darling Basin

Contribution to Basin water


River length

542 km

Major tributaries

Teelba Creek

Towns include

Moonie, Thallon

Water storages

Thallon Weir (0.2 GL)

Water users

Stock and domestic, irrigation

The landscape and its water

The Moonie River is a simple channel system with few tributaries compared with other rivers in the Basin. The river exists as a series of unconnected waterholes for most of the time, flowing about one third of the year.

The catchment is heavily cleared and impacted by agricultural development, with highly-eroded banks and riparian zones. The region features remnant areas of brigalow scrub, mixed eucalypt woodland areas and open grasslands.

The Moonie flows from an altitude of 350 metres at its source on the Southern Downs, down to 150 metres where it meets the Barwon River on the flat expansive floodplain.

The Moonie catchment has a hot to warm semi-arid climate, with an average annual rainfall of 500–600 mm. There is considerable annual variation in temperature and as well as variations within years and between years in rainfall, resulting in irregular and infrequent river flows.

There are major shallow and deep groundwater aquifers in the Moonie catchment in the St George alluvium, and in sedimentary aquifers above the Great Artesian Basin. The sedimentary rock aquifers of the Great Artesian Basin, deep beneath the catchment, are also an important water source for the region.

People, industry and water use

The lands of the Moonie River catchment have been important to First Nations people for over more than 25,000 years. Many First Nations people retain a connection with the region, and their history, culture and livelihoods are closely intertwined with its river systems. The catchment includes the traditional lands of the Bigambul, Gomeroi/Kamilaroi and Mandandanji nations.

European settlers first arrived in the Moonie region in the 1840s, attracted to the pastoral country and climate suitable for grazing sheep and cattle. Australia’s first commercial oil field was established in 1961 near the town of Moonie and is still operational.

Settlement in the Moonie catchment has been limited and there are no major large towns. The population of the catchment of less than 2,000 people is scattered in rural areas and distributed amongst a few small settlements such as Moonie and Thallon. The closest town to the Moonie region is St George, which has over 2,500 people, and the nearest large urban centre is Toowoomba on the edge of the Basin, with a population exceeding over 150,000. Agriculture is the most significant employment sector in the catchment.

More than 70% of the catchment is used for grazing, mainly beef cattle, on native and improved pasture. About 10% of the land is used for dryland cropping and about 15% is native vegetation. There is a very small area of irrigated crops in the west of the catchment, mainly cotton, which accounts for about 90% of water use in the region.

Almost all irrigation in the region depends on surface water. However, these diversions are small, accounting for only 0.2% of surface water diverted for irrigation in the Basin. Groundwater use is less than 0.1% of the Basin total, excluding water from the confined aquifers of the Great Artesian Basin, which provides around 70% of the groundwater used in the region.

Regulation of water in the catchment

The Moonie River is a predominantly unregulated system and has no water major storages. A weir was built over the river at Thallon in 1959 to supply town water.

Small to medium weirs are dispersed along the river for irrigation purposes, predominantly for cotton. The majority of water stored is harvested through capture of overland flows and the diversion of floodwater during episodic flow events. Water is stored in large shallow floodplain storages known as ‘ring tanks’ or ‘turkey nest dams’.

Environmental importance

The Moonie catchment is ecologically significant as it flows through the endangered southern brigalow belt, which contains remnants of brigalow forests, poplar box, wilga and white cypress pine. The Moonie River system has more than 100 floodplain wetlands, many of which support bird breeding, and includes high biodiversity and unique in-stream systems.

The catchment provides habitat to several protected species of birds, including the Australian painted snipe and the freckled duck, and contains threatened and endangered plant species and three endangered vegetation communities.

The Thallon Waterholes, while not formally recognised as nationally or internationally important, are significant for waterbirds in the Basin. The waterholes include 2 relatively permanent lakes of approximately 12 and 21 hectares, which are filled by overbank flows during floods and provide habitat for a range of aquatic organisms and up to 20,000 waterbirds.

Water recovery

The Basin Plan sets Sustainable Diversion Limits, which is how much water can be used in the Murray–Darling Basin, while leaving enough water for the environment. A Sustainable Diversion Limit (SDL) was established for each catchment (or group of catchments) and the reduction in diversions required to achieve the SDL was identified.

The use of environmental water in a specific catchment or region will vary from year-to-year. The Murray–Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) has a Basin-wide environmental watering strategy to guide the use of environmental water across the Murray–Darling Basin to help achieve the best possible results over the long term. Environmental water managers make the day-to-day decisions on what to water and when, in line with the strategy and taking into account seasonal conditions, priorities and the availability of environmental water. Watering decisions are made in consultation with various waterway managers and local landholders.

Catchment or regionally-specific details about environmental water use in the catchment including watering actions, portfolio details and planning, and monitoring of environmental watering, can be found through the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder or the state government environmental water manager.

More information

Water management

The management of the water resources is the responsibility of local, regional, state and Australian governments.

Delivery to households, industry and farms is managed by local councils, regional water authorities or state government.

State government departments for water also ensures that:

  • the network of authorities manage water responsibly and fairly
  • catchment and waterway health is maintained or improved through catchment management authorities, and
  • water saving, re-use and flood management projects are implemented.

State governments must manage their state’s water resources according to state and commonwealth water legislation.

In addition to directing operations of the regulated River Murray system, the MDBA implements a number of plans and programs to ensure the waters of the Basin, which flow through 4 states and 1 territory, are managed cohesively and in the best interests of all water users of the Basin.

Rural water authority

Urban water authority

Catchment management authority

State Government water manager

Use of environmental water

Irrigation water allocation

Updated: 25 Oct 2021