The year ahead for environmental water in northern Victoria

The Victorian Environmental Water Holder (VEWH) has released its plan for watering in 2016-17.

Careful planning means water carried over from 2015-16 will supplement this year’s water allocations, providing sufficient supplies to support key rivers, wetlands, and the wildlife that rely on them.

Across northern Victoria, environmental water will be delivered to the Goulburn, Broken, Loddon and Campaspe rivers as well as wetlands and floodplains in these regions and on the Victorian Murray system, including Barmah and Gunbower Forest, Hattah Lakes and Lindsay, Wallpolla and Mulcra islands.

Environmental water also benefits communities by improving conditions for fishing, camping and canoeing, sustaining healthy Country for Aboriginal communities, and improving water quality which can have indirect economic benefits for irrigation and urban water supply.

Chairperson Denis Flett says despite uncertainty about how the upcoming seasons will play out the VEWH is prepared for all circumstances.

“We are subject to water allocations like any other entitlement holder and if there is less water available, we will scale back the scope of our environmental objectives in 2016-17,” he says. “Rain in early winter has wet catchments, particularly in the northeast, which are now primed to provide good runoff after more rainfall.”

The VEWH is an independent statutory body responsible for making decisions on the most efficient use of Victoria's environmental water.

Its annual plan scopes potential watering in Victoria using water held in reservoirs set aside to be returned to rivers and wetlands for plants and animals.

In 2015-16, 27 rivers and 73 wetlands in Victoria received environmental water.

The VEWH plans for a range of scenarios – from drought to wet seasonal conditions – adjusting environmental water deliveries according to conditions.

Studies show that environmental watering results in fish spawning and increased populations of animals such as birds, frogs and turtles around the state.

CEO of the Goulburn Broken Catchment Management Authority, Chris Norman, says their highest priority for environmental watering in the lower Goulburn River is providing year-round low flows of at least 500ML/day to maintain water quality, improve habitat for native fish and water bugs and maintain bank plants.

He says, “We are again planning environmental flows in spring and in autumn to improve the bank-stabilising vegetation that has established as a result of previous years’ environmental flows.

“Environmental water delivery to Reedy Swamp near Shepparton is a priority due to its importance as a drought refuge for water birds and, subject to conditions, we are also planning a delivery to Doctors Swamp near Murchison to protect waterbird habitat and wetland plant diversity.

“As always we will continue to work closely with Goulburn-Murray Water to make the most of opportunities to achieve environmental outcomes by enhancing natural flow events or while water is being delivered to irrigators and other downstream users.”

The Seasonal Watering Plan 2016-17 is based on proposals from waterway managers across northern Victoria – the Mallee, North Central, Goulburn Broken and North East catchment management authorities – which recommend the most effective watering activities for their region based on the best-available science.

Communities play a large part in these regional proposals by providing local perspectives, including historical waterway knowledge and citizen science.

We work in partnership with the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder and the Murray-Darling Basin Authority’s Living Murray program when coordinating environmental water in northern Victoria.

The plan is available here.