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The Warrego River is located in the top north-west of the Murray–Darling Basin, directly east of the Paroo River catchment. The river source in the Carnarvon Range.

Most of the Warrego catchment (80%) is in Queensland and the remainder is in New South Wales. Its rivers flow through flat semi-arid plains that are sparsely populated and where extensive grazing is the predominant land use.

The Warrego River is one of the only places in the Murray–Darling Basin where silver perch breed naturally. In the south of the catchment, creeks branch off the Warrego River to supply water to extensive wetlands, such as the nationally-important Yantabulla Swamp. The region provides important breeding sites for waterbirds.


Catchment area

7% of the Murray–Darling Basin

Contribution to Basin water

< 1%

Annual stream flow

422 GL (Wyandra stream gauging station)

River length

900 km


Ward, Langlo and Nive rivers


Cuttaburra, Noorama and Widgeegoara creeks

Towns include

Augathella, Charleville, Cunnamulla, Enngonia

Water storages

Cunnamulla Weir (4.8 GL)

Water users

Stock and domestic

The landscape and its water

The Warrego River rises north-east of Charleville in south west Queensland. From the it's source in range country, the Warrego flows south across semi-arid plains where there is very little surface water, other than the river and its tributaries and distributaries, which flow intermittently.

The Warrego has several major tributaries in its upper reaches, which include the Nive, Langlo and Ward rivers. South of Cunnamulla, the river becomes a complex distributary system with flows leaving the river via creeks and anabranches. The river is ephemeral, and flows vary with the season and rainfall. When not flowing, the Warrego River becomes a chain of permanent waterholes providing critical refuge for fish and waterbirds populations. In wet years, waters of the Warrego River system may flow through the Cuttaburra Creek to the lower reaches of the Paroo River.

The river generally ends in large swamps and storages near Louth. Toorale Station was purchased by the New South Wales Government in 2009 to increase the volume of water from the Warrego that enters the Darling River during floods.

The elevation of the Warrego's headwaters in the Carnarvon Range is around 600 metres. At the southern end of the catchment, the floodplains have an elevation of around 100 metres. Annual rainfall is low, ranging from 500 mm in the north east of the catchment to 250 mm on the plains of the lower catchment. However, nearly half of the catchment receives less than 400 mm each year, with most of the rain falling in the north, mainly in summer and autumn. Evaporation in the region is high.

Mulga shrubland is the predominant vegetation type in the Warrego catchment with areas of brigalow in the north. The major channels of the waterways support cypress pine woodland and gidgee can be found within the catchment floodplain areas. In the lower reaches of the catchment, river red gum, coolibah and river cooba grow along channels and wetland areas.

The Warrego region is underlain by shallow alluvial and sandstone aquifers. Shallow groundwater is generally saline and supply is unreliable. The deeper confined aquifers of the Great Artesian Basin also lie beneath the catchment, supplying the bulk of groundwater used in the region. Artesian springs occur through the region.

People, industry and water use

The lands of the Warrego 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 Warrego catchment takes in (or closely borders) the traditional lands of the Bidjara, Gwamu/Kooma, Gunggari/Kungari, Kunja, Mandandanji, Mardigan and Murrawarri nations.

Explorers passed through the region in the 1840s but it was not until the 1860s that pastoralists took up land, with livestock grazing only becoming viable with thanks to demand from the goldfields and links to settled areas through river transport on the Darling River. European settlement was predominantly along the river courses to ensure water supplies for people and livestock.

The Warrego catchment is home to very few people – about 0.3% of the population of the Murray–Darling Basin. The catchment is sparsely populated with most people living in the small towns of Charleville and Cunnamulla, or smaller settlements such as Augathella, Morven, Wyandra and Enngonia.

The income of the population is derived directly from grazing of beef cattle and sheep for wool production, or associated employment; and retail and services to the local population. There are very few irrigated crops, with a small amount of cotton and horticultural crops.

Tourism makes a significant contribution to the region's economy, with visitors to national parks in the ranges in the north of the catchment and floodplains in the south.

Only a small volume of surface water in the catchment is diverted for irrigation and urban use, and this is well under the permissible level of diversion of 13% of the catchment's surface water. Generally, groundwater resources within the region are of poor water quality and are not suitable for large-scale irrigation. As a result, the catchment uses very little of this available resource. Water from the Great Artesian Basin is a more reliable source for domestic and stock water but use is low compared with to other areas of Queensland.

Regulation of water in the catchment

The Warrego River is largely unregulated, with the exception of the Cunnamulla (Allan Tannock) Weir that diverts water for irrigation and town supply. Some water is also taken from the river by diversion of flow or overland flows. Water is held in weirs or large, shallow earthen storages located on the floodplain, known as 'ring tanks' or 'turkey nest' dams. The Queensland Water Resource Plan that relates to the Queensland portion of the Warrego region requires that at least 87% of the average 'without development' flow into New South Wales is maintained, therefore substantial development of water resources is not likely in the foreseeable future.

Environmental importance

There are over more than 300,000 hectares (ha) of wetlands in the Warrego catchment including saline lakes, lignum swamps, flood channels, freshwater lakes, claypans and semi-permanent water holes. Twelve wetlands are considered of national significance including the Yantabulla Swamp and the Warrego River waterholes.

Yantabulla Swamp is part of the Cuttaburra Basin system, which is filled from various sources including Cuttaburra Creek and the Paroo River overflow. The swamp covers over more than 37,000 ha and has been identified as the most important waterbird breeding site in north-west New South Wales. The main vegetation communities are cane grass, lignum, fringing yapunyah, river red gum, coolabah and river cooba.

The Warrego River waterholes are a string of large permanent and intermittent waterholes covering some around 500 ha along the river channel in southern Queensland. These sites are flooded seasonally in most years. They provide an invaluable habitat and refuge for a wide range of aquatic fauna including species such as Murray cod that are listed under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. Significant waterbird populations are known to inhabit the waterholes, particularly during periods of high flows. The waterholes are also First Nations cultural sites.

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 or regional water authorities.

State government departments for water ensures the network of authorities manages water responsibly and fairly, that catchment and waterway health is maintained or improved through catchment management authorities, and that 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


Updated: 28 Oct 2021