MDBA announces basin environmental watering priorities

By Jamie Salter

Over the next 12 months, environmental water will be used to protect wetlands, floodplains and river ecosystems across the Murray-Darling Basin from further damage.

The Murray-Darling Basin Authority published its annual environmental watering priorities for the basin on June 30, to identify where water for the environment can be best used.

One of the priorities in the report aims to expand and improve the condition of Moira grass in the Barmah–Millewa Forest, which involves the management of impacts from feral animals and invasive plants.

MDBA Basin Strategy and Knowledge head Vicki Woodburn said despite the welcome rain earlier in the year, the basin had been battered by an intense drought, which eroded the ecological condition of rivers and floodplains.

“Three years of above-average warm and dry conditions have taken a toll on the basin’s environments and the people, plants and animals that depend on them,” she said.

“There have been some really positive outcomes from the environmental water that has been strategically used.”

The focus for the environmental water will be on avoiding permanent loss of species or ecosystems, providing drought refuges for animals and fish where possible, and supporting breeding events where they occur naturally.

In the medium term, the water will ensure enough freshwater flows at the right time through the Lower Lakes, Coorong and Murray Mouth.

This year, the MDBA and Commonwealth Environmental Water Office have drawn on objectives identified by First Nations, who worked together with the Northern Basin Aboriginal Nations and the Murray Lower Darling Rivers Indigenous Nations.

“For the first time, First Nations’ environmental watering objectives will be acknowledged and incorporated into environmental water management at a federal level,” Ms Woodburn said.

NBAN chair Fred Hooper said the collaboration exemplified what it meant to follow best practice in co-designing and partnering with First Nations in water planning and management.

“We have a deep-rooted and long held cultural obligation to protect Country, and to take only what we need and leave the rest for downstream and neighbouring Nations,” Mr Hooper said.

“Having First Nations’ priorities reflected in national planning is a significant step forward.”