Delivering a healthy working Basin for Australia: Rivers Environmental Restoration, New South Wales
Program: Water Smart Australia
Funding recipient: NSW Government Rivers Environmental Restoration Program
Water for the Future Grant: $79.62 million
Project commencement: September 2007
Project completion: September 2011
The NSW Rivers Environmental Restoration Program (RERP) is an ambitious program to restore the health of priority wetlands in NSW.
DECCW staff, Aboriginal community members and
landholders discuss the Aboriginal cultural values
The program is a partnership between the Australian and NSW Governments focused on voluntary acquisition of water (through NSW Riverbank) and effective management of environmental water.
"We needed urgent action to address wetland decline from flow regulation and floodplain development," said Jeff Hillan, manager of RERP with the NSW Department of Environment and Climate Change.
"We saw the opportunity to build on almost a decade of effort and achievement in water reform."
"Our program centred on five iconic – and stressed – wetlands in NSW: Gwydir Wetlands, Narran Lakes, Macquarie Marshes, Lachlan Wetlands and the Lowbidgee Floodplains."
"Around 80 per cent of the budget was spent buying water access licences from willing sellers, or on water infrastructure programs leading to water savings. These investments led to more water being available for the wetlands."
The timing of the project proved critical, with purchases made during a period of unprecedented drought and historically low – and in some cases, nil – water allocations. The wetlands, which were already suffering from low flows, were under severe stress.
"The water allocated from the licences we purchased, was used to provide water to our targeted wetlands. Helping to ensure their survival through the drought," Jeff said.
Importantly, the program invested in other complimentary areas including science, environmental works, improving river health, community engagement and purchasing wetland properties.
"Our engagement activities with landholders who manage wetlands on their property have been very important - with 15 management agreements being negotiated," Jeff said.
Weeds giving way to wetlands – Whittakers Lagoon
benefitting from environmental water and now
managed by North West Livestock Health and Pest
Authority to achieve conservation outcomes.
"We're working with landholders to improve management strategies, engaging with them on wetland management in a two way process."
"We talk with Aboriginal communities who have cultural connections to the wetlands, the knowledge they bring to water management is very important. Aboriginal people are recording sites of significance, and have identified more than 1200 new sites. We're working to develop access agreements so they can visit wetlands of cultural importance on private land. We want to build relationships, restore connections and develop tangible outcomes."
"We've also bought several properties containing important wetlands," Jeff said. "These properties help ensure an adequate representation of wetlands is held in the national reserve system and support our engagement activities."
"We have funded several research projects to help manage environmental water and monitor wetland health over time to help refine our management. For example, we've developed new hydrologic and hydrodynamic models for the Gwydir Wetlands, Macquarie Marshes and Lowbidgee Floodplain, and decision support systems for these valleys and the Narran Lakes to help plan and manage environmental flows."
"RERP is a large and complex project involving different areas and interest groups. Having the resources to pull the pieces together strategically, in a coordinated way, has been a real opportunity to bring about change. It's given those wetlands a much better chance of surviving in the future."
Environmental water delivered to these sites through the Commonwealth Environmental Water program is also contributing to the health and restoration of these wetlands.