Water Matters - Issue 5
The Coorong and Lakes Alexandrina and Albert wetland is one of Australia’s most important wetland areas. Using revegetation and bioremediation techniques will help to stabilise the soil and improve the health of the ecosystem.
Direct seeding involves distributing seed directly onto sites which have been suitably prepared to encourage germination and establishment.
Work has commenced using revegetation and bioremediation to neutralise soils exhibiting acidification or at risk of becoming acidic around the Lower Lakes of the River Murray.
The work is being undertaken by the South Australian Government, with assistance from landholders, businesses and community groups for on-ground works. The Australian Government has provided $10 million over two years to SA to enable this urgent action to address environmental pressures on the internationally-listed wetland site.
The Coorong and Lower Lakes have been in decline for several decades as a result of land uses that have altered the natural flow of water through the environment. The long-running drought and early impacts of climate change have added to these pressures as lake levels fall and water flows decline giving rise to exposure of actual and potential acid sulfate soils.
Bioremediation is a process that uses microorganisms, fungi, green plants or their enzymes to return the natural environment, altered by contaminants, to its original condition. Bioremediation promotes naturally occurring sulphur-reducing bacteria which repair and reduce the acidification process. Revegetation adds iron and organic matter to the soil, promoting the carbon cycle and slowing the oxidation process.
Large-scale seeding and planting on the exposed acid sulfate soils will assist with natural revegetation, weed management and soil stabilisation, which will help to improve the health of the Lower Lakes ecosystem.
The $10 million provided by the Australian Government is in addition to the $200 million committed for long-term work to address the environmental issues facing the region, as part of the South Australian Government’s $610 million Murray Futures program.
More information about the Coorong and Lower Lakes is available at: www.environment.gov.au/water/publications/environmental/wetlands/coorong-factsheet.html
Almost 11 billion litres (gigalitres) of water was allocated to sites in the Murray-Darling Basin in the first year of environmental watering under the Australian Government’s Water for the Future initiative.
The water was allocated to 10 sites in South Australia, Victoria and New South Wales with the support of state government agencies and private landholders from March to June 2009.
These sites were chosen by the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder in consultation with state governments and the Environmental Watering Scientific Advisory Committee.
Sites are at risk from the combination of historical over-allocation of water entitlements and continuing low inflows to the Basin. Environmental watering is aimed at giving the sites the best chance of recovery when natural flows increase and will help maintain River Red Gums, Coobahs, Black Box and other native vegetation
The sites also provide shelter for birds, frogs, lizards, turtles and fish, including the Regent Parrot, Painted Snipe, the Whistling Kite, the Southern Bell Frog, and the Murray hardyhead which are listed under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.
Some sites also support migratory birds, such as the Glossy Ibis, the White-bellied Sea-Eagle, the Caspian Tern, Latham’s Snipe and the Great Egret.
Paiwalla Wetlands prior to the release of 601 ML of Commonwealth environmental water
Most of the water (8.7 gigalitres) came from entitlements sourced from Toorale Station. A further 2.2 gigalitres was sourced from entitlements purchased by the Australian Government through the water buyback scheme.
Watering in early Autumn this year has already delivered benefits. Watering provided to Paiwalla Wetlands near Murray Bridge in South Australia attracted numerous water birds shortly after release in March.
The Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder and state jurisdictions will monitor the impact of environmental watering as part of its ongoing evaluation and assessment, to help shape future watering decisions.
Consultation about environmental watering and the water buyback program occurs through a number of mechanisms including the nine-member Water Recovery and Environmental Use Stakeholder Reference Panel whose members come from a broad cross-section of Murray-Darling Basin stakeholders including irrigators, environmentalist, water experts and community members. The Australian Government appointed the panel in June 2009.
For more details, visit: www.environment.gov.au/water/policy-programs/cewh/watering/
|Carpark Lagoons/Katarapko Floodplain||200 ML|
|Rocky Gully||11 ML|
|Chowilla Floodplain / various sites||1,786 ML|
|Markaranka Floodplain||2,236 ML|
|Overland Corner Floodplain||500 ML|
|Paiwalla Wetlands||601 ML|
|Murbpook Lagoon||1,400 ML|
|Hattah Lakes||2,124 ML|
|Lindsay Island||1,000 ML|
|New South Wales|
|Backwater Lagoon||1,000 ML|
Purchasing and allocating water to the environment is crucial in preserving the habitat and breeding grounds of birds, fish, lizards and frogs like this Southern Bell frog.
Through the water purchase tenders conducted under the Restoring the Balance in the Murray-Darling Basin program, the Australian Government has secured the purchase of 408 billion litres (408 GL) of water entitlements in 2008-09 at a cost of $613 million.
The Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts is also in the process of pursuing additional purchases from the 2008-09 tenders. Details of these purchases will be released on the Department’s website once contracts are in place.
As the financial year came to a close, so too did the most recent tender round for the Northern and Southern Basin water buy backs. The program, which received considerable interest from farmers and irrigators looking to sell their entitlements, provided an additional selling option.
This has been especially important over the past year and a half as many irrigation businesses are dealing with the impacts of the continuing drought on their business and the impact of climate change on water availability.
The entitlement purchases build on 2007-08 tenders which generated more than 24.3 billion litres of water entitlements worth $34.4 million. A further 14 GL of entitlements were acquired in return for the Australian Government’s contribution to the purchase of Toorale Station by the New South Wales Government.
The cumulative total of water entitlement purchases under the program stands at approximately 446 GL of water entitlements worth more than $660 million.
The Government has allocated $3.1 billion for water purchases with the aim of improving the balance between water for consumptive use and water for a healthy river system. In addition to tenders from individual entitlement holders, the Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts has also invited proposals from groups of irrigators looking to sell their water entitlements and retire their off-farm water delivery infrastructure.
Water entitlements are also being purchased from small scale irrigators through the Small Block Irrigators Exit Grant package, which closed on 30 June 2009. At this time 486 claims had been lodged, of these, 236 applicants had been assessed as being eligible to receive the package.
The eligibility of the remaining applications lodged with Centrelink is still to be assessed.
Due to the drought and low water allocations against the Commonwealth’s entitlements, there has been limited water available to release to the environment. However, 10.9 billion litres has been released to several sites in South Australia, Victoria and New South Wales.
Queensland gift of water entitlements
In 2008-09, the Government received 10.6 GL of water entitlements in unregulated rivers in the Northern Basin. Queensland gifted these entitlements to the Commonwealth, which has recorded them in the Government environmental water holdings.
In September 2008, the NSW Government purchased Toorale Station for $23.75 million. Under a landmark agreement, the Australian Government made a substantial financial contribution to this purchase in return for the Toorale water entitlements. The purchase will allow an average 20 GL of water to be returned to the Darling River each year, peaking at up to 80 GL in flood years.
Toorale’s environmental values are also well established. More than half of the property has been a gazetted Wildlife Refuge for more than 25 years. Environmental values include intact native vegetation types which provide a diversity of habitats, and wildlife corridor functions resulting from the property’s location at the junction of the Warrego and Darling Rivers. Once the station’s infrastructure has been decommissioned, the station will be incorporated into the National Reserve System.
Aerial view of the Northern Basin around Trangie & the Macquarie Marshes. The Marshes can expect to benefit from Twynam entitlements.
In the single largest purchase of water for the environment in Australian history, the Australian Government brought 240 gigalitres of water entitlements from Twynam Agricultural Group in May 2009. The $303 million purchase will be used to restore river and wetland health in numerous stressed catchments.
Twynam operates eight properties located on the Lachlan, Macquarie, Murrumbidgee and Gwydir rivers in NSW. As a consequence of the drought, Twynam has been progressively changing its production to winter dryland cereal crop. (See separate article for more details of the Twynam purchase.)
For more information about the water entitlement purchasing program, call 1800 218 478 or visit: www.environment.gov.au/water/policy-programs/entitlement-purchasing/
All figures as at 30 June
You can watch how water is released for environmental benefit thanks to a short video the Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts has produced and made available online.
The video showcases environmental watering at Lindsay Island in Victoria, using water purchased through the Government’s $3.1 billion Water for the Future buyback program. The site received 1,000 million litres (ML) of Commonwealth water and another 1,000 ML from the Victorian Government over several weeks in late Autumn and early Winter this year.
The two-minute video features an interview with Peter Kelly from the Mallee CMA and footage of Lindsay Island before, during and after watering.
Lindsay Island, part of a Living Murray icon site, contains large areas of River Red Gum, Black Box woodland and diverse wetland habitats. Watering will help maintain the River Red Gums and understorey vegetation which are threatened by depletion of soil mositure and underlying saline groundwater.
More images of environmental watering will follow and through the production of additional short videos it is hoped to create a better understanding of the work being done on Water for the Future.
Videos will be available on the water pages of the department’s website.
To watch the Lindsay Island video visit: Environmental watering at Lindsay Island
Panel Inaugural Meeting 17 June 2009
As outlined in the May edition of Water Matters, the Government is keen to consult and communicate extensively with stakeholders and regional communities on water issues through dialogue and the exchange of information.
The Government has established some important additional consultative arrangements, including stakeholder reference panels, to advise on water recovery and environmental use, irrigation efficiency and urban water reform. The Department will use the discussions, views and ideas of its stakeholder reference panels as inputs to ongoing program design, implementation and evaluation.
One of these panels, the Water Recovery and Environmental Use Stakeholder Reference Panel, first met in Canberra on 17 June 2009. The Panel has been formed to provide a forum for stakeholder discussion and feedback to the Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts on the Australian Government’s water buyback program and arrangements for the use of water for the environment.
What was discussed at the meeting?
At its first meeting, the Panel had a robust discussion of issues at the heart of the Government’s programs and initiatives focused on water buyback and environmental use. The meeting covered the structure of the water purchase program and the way it is being implemented in the context of the Government’s broader Water for the Future initiative. There was also discussion of the arrangements in place for using the Commonwealth’s environmental water holdings this year and the framework being developed for determining environmental water use in future years.
Chowilla Floodplain in the South Australian Murray River Catchment prior to water release in March 2009.
Matters discussed included:
- objectives of the water purchase program and the portfolio of water entitlements acquired to date
- the various approaches being used to purchase water
- how water purchase is integrated with complementary programs such as infrastructure investments to achieve more efficient delivery and use of water
- the role of the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder (who has the responsibility for managing the water acquired by the Commonwealth)
- how the Commonwealth works with state governments to determine watering priorities and ensuring best outcomes from the water available
- arrangements for delivering environmental water to target assets
- impacts of the water buyback in the context of broader adjustment pressures including the impacts of drought and climate change
- the role of the buyback in smoothing transition to the new sustainable diversion limits expected under the Murray-Darling Basin Plan
- the Department’s current approach to communication about water purchases, environmental water use and other water programs, and
- ideas from the Panel on how to improve communication with stakeholders across the Murray-Darling Basin including how Panel members themselves can assist with disseminating information about water programs in their communities.
Who’s on the Panel?
Panel members have been selected to bring together a range of different perspectives and community interests. The panel comprises people involved and interested in fields such as irrigation, environmental management, regional communities and local government, and members from a wide range of locations across the Murray-Darling Basin. The members are:
- Richard Anderson - Victorian Farmers Federation
- Arlene Buchan - Australian Conservation Foundation
- Ben Haslett - Renmark irrigation farmer
- David May - Wakool Landholders Association
- Ray Najar - Murray Darling Association
- Steven Ross - Murray Darling Basin Association, Murray Lower Darling Rivers Indigenous Nations
- Michael Schultz - Fivebough and Tuckerbill Wetlands Trust
- Rory Treweeke - Western Catchment Management Authority
- Tim Napier - Border Rivers Food and Fibre
What happens next?
The Panel will generally meet twice a year and the Department will keep members up to date with news and events in between face-to-face meetings. The next meeting is tentatively planned for late October 2009.
The future of Australia’s irrigation industries depends on the good management and wise use of our water resources in the face of a prolonged drought and long-term climate change. This future cannot be assured without investment in infrastructure to replace out-dated and inefficient water delivery systems.
To tackle this, the Australian Government has launched the $650 million Private Irrigators Infrastructure Program in New South Wales. The program aims to acquire water entitlements through water savings generated by projects which will improve the efficiency and productivity of water use and management, both off and on-farm, by private irrigation infrastructure operators.
Damaged irrigation channels at Murrimbidgee Irrigation.
These projects will allow private irrigation infrastructure operators and their customers to minimise water losses and manage water allocations more efficiently. Projects will also assist dependent irrigation communities to adapt to a future scenario of reduced water availability due to climate change.
To be eligible for funding private irrigation infrastructure operators must be based within the New South Wales section of the Murray-Darling Basin and own or operate infrastructure for the purpose of delivering water to other persons for the primary purpose of irrigation in the Basin.
Eligible projects include:
- upgrading, closure, restructuring or reconfiguration of water delivery systems
- upgrading of on-farm irrigation infrastructure for direct customers of eligible infrastructure operators
- upgrading or installation of delivery system operation technologies and bulk water meters, and
- changes to river operation or storages where there are both environmental benefits and water savings to be achieved (subject to state government approval).
The Private Irrigation Infrastructure Operators Program delivers on the Council of Australian Governments’ 2008 decision in the Basin reform agreement to make funding available for private irrigation infrastructure projects in the NSW Murray-Darling Basin.
For more information on the program and to download the guideline and application forms visit www.environment.gov.au/water/programs/ or call 1800 218 478.
Narran Lake Nature Reserve on the Gwydir River in NSW will benefit from Twynam water entitlements, along with a number of high-value aquatic ecosystems.
The Fivebough and Tuckerbil Swamps are expected to benefit from Twynam water entitlements.
J Muirhead & DEWHA
The single largest purchase of water for the environment in Australia, from Twynam Agricultural Group, illustrates the significant adjustments taking place in the farm sector in response to reduced water availability.
Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and the Minister for Climate Change and Water Senator Penny Wong announced the Australian Government’s purchase from Twynam of almost 240 billion litres (gigalitres) of water entitlements for the environment in late May 2009. The water will be used to restore the rivers and wetlands of the Murray-Darling Basin.
The water purchase, at a cost of $303 million, was part of the 2008-09 Murray-Darling basin water purchasing tender which closed on 30 June this year. Twynam is changing its extensive farming operations in the face of the prolonged drought from summer irrigated crops to winter dryland cereals, and this water sale to the Commonwealth Government will help the group in its transition.
Twynam Agricultural Group operates farming properties in New South Wales, with a total land area of approximately 285,000 ha on the Murrumbidgee, Lachlan, Macquarie Gwydir and Barwon river systems. The company’s rural enterprises include cattle and sheep production, dryland and irrigated cropping, and horticulture.
The Tywnam water purchase follows another water entitlement purchase by the Commonwealth as a result of farming enterprises undertaking significant adjustments to their operations.
The Australian Government provided financial assistance to the NSW Government to purchase Toorale Station in northern NSW in late 2008. The land is to be incorporated into the National Reserve System and the entitlements to harvest 14,000 million litres (ML) of water from the Warrego and Darling rivers and rights to harvest water from the floodplain were transferred to the Commonwealth.
These water entitlement purchases are contributing to the progressive adjustment of water use across the Murray-Darling Basin, ahead of the development of the first Basin Plan which is anticipated will set lower caps for surface and groundwater extraction.
By making purchases progressively, the Australian Government is contributing to a gradual adjustment across irrigation communities, which is preferable to abrupt and dramatic shifts to new sustainable limits under the Basin Plan. It is also building a portfolio of water entitlements which is being used to restore the health of rivers and wetlands across the Basin.
An agreement has also been reached between the Australian and Victorian governments to phase out the 4 per cent cap on water trades from irrigation districts over five years. The agreement with the Victorian Government is expected to enable the Commonwealth to purchase at least 300 GL of water entitlements from Northern Victoria over five years, over and above purchases already permitted under the existing 4 per cent limit. This agreement will ease the transition for farmers arising from the reconfiguration of irrigation districts in Victoria.
As with all Commonwealth water purchases, the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder (CEWH) will manage the water entitlements purchased from Twynam and will determine where allocations will be used with input from the Environmental Watering Scientific Advisory Committee and the Water Recovery and Environmental Use Stakeholder Reference Panel.
A number of high-value aquatic ecosystems are expected to benefit from the Twynam water entitlements. These include: the Macquarie Marshes; Fivebough and Tuckerbil Swamps in the Murrumbidgee River catchment; Gwydir Wetlands; Booligal Wetlands in the Lachlan River catchment; and Menindee Lakes in the Darling River catchment.
All four catchments were found to be in poor (Gwydir and Darling) or very poor (Murrumbidgee and Lachlan) ecological health in the first Sustainable Rivers Audit of the Murray-Darling Basin, released last year.
Critical drought refuges will be provided to threatened species like the Regents Parrot, pictured near the Markaranka Floodplain in SA, through environmental watering.
Water shortages and climate change have topped the list of environmental issues for Australians according to a report by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS).
Nine out of 10 Australians are concerned by water shortages with just over half (55 per cent) trying to reduce their water consumption. Most of these efforts are focused on household water use.
82 per cent of Australians concerned about the environment. However, young people (18-24 years) are the least concerned and less likely than other adults to say the natural environment is in a bad state.
The findings are contained in the 2007/08 ABS Environmental views and behaviour which can be found at: www.census.abs.gov.au/AUSSTATS/abs@.nsf/Lookup/4626.0.55.001Main+Features12007-08%20(2nd%20issue)?OpenDocument