Environmental waterings of Gunbower Forest last year used less than two-thirds of the allocated water, with 40 per cent of the water also being used again downstream according to the North Central Catchment Management Authority.
A total of 48Gl of the allocated 82Gl was used to irrigate the forest, with most of the water already used to meet environmental water needs in the Campaspe and Goulburn rivers upstream.
North Central CMA program delivery executive manager Tim Shanahan said the figures showed an ‘‘efficient’’ use of water.
‘‘The decisions around water use in the forest were based on local conditions, local community feedback and results of monitoring the forest’s response to the water,’’ Mr Shanahan said.
‘‘But it wasn’t only the forest that benefited.
‘‘Our important native fish populations were given a boost, too, with vital food and nutrients coming off the floodplain and back into our creeks and rivers in spring when they needed it most.’’
Mr Shanahan said managing the allocated Gunbower flows meant that farmers received water down the Gunbower Creek before the environment.
‘‘During irrigation season in our catchment, the forest accessed water only after irrigators did,’’ he said.
‘‘That is why we started the watering in winter.
‘‘Once the irrigation season arrived, inflows dropped dramatically from 700Ml to an average of 200Ml a day into the forest.
‘‘Like farmers, we know it’s important to use water when it’s available, and state and federal authorities had the water available.
‘‘We then adapted the flows in response to a dry spring and high irrigation demand.
‘‘Interestingly, modelling showed that despite the dry period, without regulation the forest would still have received water in spring.’’
Mr Shanahan said the understorey vegetation in the red gum forests and box woodlands was in the healthiest condition it had been since monitoring began in 2005, but he said it still had some way to go towards making a full recovery.
‘‘Those trees provide shelter, feeding and nesting habitat for animals, and the forest is also home to more than 50 rare and threatened plants and animal species,’’ he said.
‘‘Thousands of waterbirds are now foraging and roosting, and we have also discovered colonies of waterbirds nesting in new areas.
‘‘The overall health of the forest is slowly improving.
‘‘Restoring the forest from more than a century of changed flooding patterns is going to take time.
‘‘Water for the environment is the life support of Gunbower Forest.
‘‘It is providing Mother Nature with a much-needed helping hand and helping build resilience if dry conditions continue.’’
The Gunbower Forest Flooding for Life project is delivered by North Central CMA in partnership with Goulburn-Murray Water, Murray-Darling Basin Authority, Commonwealth Environmental Water Office, Victorian Environmental Water Holder, DELWP and Parks Victoria.