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Decisions about where water for the environment goes, are based on protecting and enhancing natural river flows. These flows connect rivers to wetlands and floodplains.

When rivers are connected to wetlands and floodplains plants, animals and people living along rivers can thrive because our rivers are healthy. 

River flows refer to the water in or flowing down a river.

What is river connectivity?

There are two types of river connectivity:

  • longitudinal connectivity, which is when a river is connected along its length, or the river is flowing, and
  • lateral connectivity, which is when a river is connected to the wetlands and floodplains either side of the river. This means the river has enough water to flow into the smaller waterways either side of the main river channel.

River flows and connectivity are important for people, plants and animals

All people, animals and plants rely on water. Rivers provide drinking water for cities and towns, water to grow food and fibre and unique landscapes where plants and animals live.

River flows and connectivity deliver water to water dependent ecosystems. The movement of water between rivers, wetlands and floodplains mixes nutrients into the water. These nutrients keep people, animals and plants healthy.

These landscapes are also culturally significant to Aboriginal Nations and internationally important, to Australians and people around the world, for their natural beauty and environmental function.

The rivers, wetlands and floodplains in the Murray–Darling Basin are enjoyed by those who live there and those who visit.

People have changed how rivers flow and connect

Many of our rivers and wetlands have been changed to provide water for towns, industry and growing food.  In some rivers, up to half of the water that would have naturally flowed in them is removed each year for drinking water, irrigation and industry. It's not just the size of flows that has changed, the natural patterns and frequency of flows has also been altered by river regulation and water management. 

As a result these rivers are not able to function as they would naturally.  This means people need to actively manage how water flows through them.  These flows are called ‘water for the environment’.

Water for the environment protects river flows and connectivity

Water for the environment is stored and then released into rivers and wetlands to support them and the plants and animals that live, feed and breed in them.

Flows, or water released, at the right time and delivered to the right place can help rivers and wetlands function as they need to, e.g. flows connect wetlands to the main river channel to allow fish to swim to where they need to be to find food and shelter and to breed.

Deciding where water goes to support flows and connectivity

This year: annual watering priorities for flows and connectivity

Each year we set priorities to deliver flows to rivers to reconnect rivers and river ecosystems. The annual priorities are a guide for where water should be delivered for the current year to improve the health of plants and animals for the overall health of the Basin over the long term, as set out in the Basin watering strategy.

2019–20 priorities for flows and connectivity are:

  • Coordinate environmental watering to increase longitudinal connectivity in connected catchments.
  • Mitigate irreversible environmental impacts associated with extended drought.
  • Prevent dry spell durations exceeding refuge tolerances.
  • Support any opportunities to increase longitudinal connectivity with the Barwon–Darling and through to the lower Darling by protecting and enhancing unregulated events.
  • Support replenishment flows to maintain habitat at Narran Lakes.
  • Use works infrastructure to connect the floodplain-wetland ecosystem of Koondrook–Perricoota Forest and manage associated risks.
  • Coordinate the management of environmental water with barrage operation to provide flows to the Coorong and assist the maintenance of Lower Lake levels above 0.4m.

The annual environmental watering priorities are the focus for the current year and are small steps in the short term to achieve the multi-year watering priorities in the long term.

Longer term: multi-year environmental watering priorities

The annual environmental watering priorities support multi-year environmental watering priorities. Multi-year priorities remain in focus over a number of years to achieve long term outcomes.

Multi-year watering is important because restoring health to rivers and the plants and animals in them takes a long time

Multi-year watering provides and relies on cumulative progress over time, e.g. watering in one year may only wet a dry riverbed, but follow up watering the next year provides more water to fill the river and reach wetlands either side of the river where it waters plants and animals.