THE expectation that the coming year with will warmer and drier in parts of the Murray-Darling Basin, has the MDB Authority looking to protect critical habitat for native fish and waterbirds.
MDBA science and knowledge division executive director Colin Mues said the 2019-20 environmental watering outlook was published annually to guide the efforts of environmental water managers.
“If hot and dry conditions and low inflows continue into next year, then environmental water allocations could be well below average,” he said.
“In these conditions, environmental water will be best used to target and protect critical habitat for native fish and waterbirds that is most at risk of being lost if this drought continues.
“This approach aims to maintain environmental condition and drought refuges long enough for the environment to bounce back when wetter times return."
Mr Mues said environmental water holders received the same allocations as other holders of the same entitlements, and when there was not much water available, allocations were low.
"Allocations for the environment, particularly in the Northern Basin, are expected to remain low due to the very low levels of water in storage," he said.
“Many of the Basin’s rivers, wetlands and floodplains have not recovered from the millennium drought.
"The outlook highlights that some important wetlands and floodplain forests, including key sites for waterbirds, have not received water for long periods due to the prolonged dry conditions."
Mr Mues said key watering opportunities likely to be a priority - where water is available - for the Coorong and Lower Lakes, Narran Lakes in northern NSW, and Koondrook-Perricoota Forest, upstream of Barham in southern NSW.
“The outlook notes that if rain makes it possible, environmental water managers should consider how best to use the first-flush events from tributaries of the Barwon and Darling rivers and through to the Menindee Lakes," he said.
‘Where environmental water holders are able to carry over water from this year into next year, most likely in some southern catchments, it might be possible to maintain the condition of critical wetland refuges, supporting native fish, waterbirds and native vegetation.
“Fish deaths in the lower Darling and other Basin catchments in the past few months are a graphic demonstration of the stress the system is under.
"It highlights the importance of fully implementing the Basin Plan so we can restore the rivers to health.”
The outlook also reports on environmental outcomes from the current year and 2017-18, including the successful delivery of water to support fish refuges and habitat for waterbirds in the Macquarie Marshes, NSW, and the northern connectivity event – a coordinated delivery of 23 gigalitres of water which travelled 2000 kilometres along the Barwon-Darling and to Menindee Lakes between April and June 2018.
The Basin-wide environmental watering priorities for 2019-20 will be finalised and released in June.
This will incorporate feedback from basin stakeholders on the actions outlined in the outlook.
The Basin environmental watering outlook for 2019-20 is available at mdba.gov.au/publications/mdba-reports/basin-environmental-watering-outlook.
Community feedback on the outlook can be provided by email to Engagement@mdba.gov.au or by telephoning 1800 230 067.