Water Matters - Issue 7
Senator Penny Wong and Dr Mike Kelly at Hattah Lakes on the recent Southern Basin tour
Photo: H Conkey
This past year we have made real progress in laying the foundations for Australia's water future.
Through the Australian Government's 10-year $12.9 billion Water for the Future plan, we are determined to make the management of our rivers and water resources more sustainable, while assisting Australian communities to adjust to a future with less water under climate change.
Given the pressing need to address historic over-allocation, declining river health and climate change in the Murray-Darling Basin, a key component of Water for the Future is the Government's plan to put the Basin back onto a sustainable footing.
There are three essential elements to our approach:
- a new Basin Plan that will set new, scientifically based, sustainable limits on water use
- extensive investment in more efficient irrigation systems; and
- purchasing water from willing sellers to return to our rivers and wetlands.
With the establishment of the new independent Murray-Darling Basin Authority (MDBA), work is now well underway towards development of the Basin Plan. Its centrepiece will be new Sustainable Diversion Limits for the Basin's surface water and groundwater resources, drawing on the most up-to-date scientific and socio-economic information available.
A draft of the Basin Plan will be released in mid-2010 for extensive public consultation before it is finalised in mid-2011. Under the terms of the 2008 Inter-Governmental Agreement on Murray-Darling Basin Reform, the final decision on the Basin Plan rests with the Federal Water Minister.
In preparing Basin communities for the changes ahead, smarter and more efficient water management and use, both on and off-farm, is vital. To this end the Australian Government has so far committed $4.4 billion towards infrastructure projects that will also see a share of water efficiency savings returned to our rivers.
Purchasing water entitlement from willing sellers, at a fair market price, is another way of returning water to the rivers and wetlands of the Murray-Darling Basin. In all instances, water purchase priorities are based on environmental need and value for money. As at 30 October, the Australian Government had secured 638 billion litres of water entitlement worth $996 million.
Through this 'no regrets' approach to water purchase, the Australian Government is helping smooth the transition for irrigation communities in anticipation of new, lower limits on water use under the Basin Plan.
This record drought impacts on all water entitlement holders, including the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder. Even so, we've so far been able to allocate 26.7 billion litres of Commonwealth water to 25 sites in South Australia, Victoria and New South Wales.
Earlier this year whilst touring the southern Basin, I was able to see firsthand the results of environmental watering at the internationally significant Hattah Lakes complex in Victoria. Clearly, the provision of water to such sites is benefiting waterbirds, River Red Gums, our rivers and wetland ecosystems.
In communicating the Government's Basin reforms and investments, the Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts is holding a series of community information sessions around the Basin. Feedback from these well-attended sessions has been constructive, and more sessions will be held next year.
Many of Australia's cities and towns are also facing some big challenges in securing their water supplies as a result of extended drought and projected growth in demand. The already-emerging impacts of climate change add further urgency to this task.
In response, the Australian Government has committed $1.5 billion towards a range of initiatives towards securing urban water supplies, and reducing reliance on traditional rain-fed water sources.
To date significant funding has been directed to a number of wastewater recycling, stormwater harvesting and desalination projects around the country. Funding has also been made available to support individual Australians in taking action to conserve water resources by installing rainwater tanks and greywater systems.
You will find more detailed reports in this edition of Water Matters about the progress we are making in particular programs.
Whilst there is still much to be done, our Water for the Future plan is well underway. In the year ahead we will build on our achievements to date, working closely with our stakeholders in the water industry, agriculture, state and local government and the broader community.
I look forward to the new year ahead.
Senator the Hon Penny Wong
Minister for Climate Change and Water
Over the past month a series of community information sessions have been held in Deniliquin, Griffith, Shepparton, Swan Hill, Renmark and Mildura. The sessions aim to provide an opportunity for attendees to better understand the Australian Government's $12.9 billion Water for the Future initiative and to raise issues of concern to them.
Feedback from participants has been very positive. Much of the success has been attributed to the open format which allows plenty of time for people to ask questions of senior staff about the issues which are important to them such as water purchasing, infrastructure upgrade programs and environmental watering.
The Murray-Darling Basin Authority and the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries & Forestry have also attended the sessions to assist in answering questions relating to the Basin Plan and drought assistance measures.
In December events will be held in the following locations:
Dubbo - Tuesday 1 December 2009
Dubbo RSL Club Resort, Cnr Brisbane and Wingewarra Sts
Bourke - Wednesday 2 December 2009
Oxley RSL Club, Cnr Mitchell and Sturt Sts
Moree - Tuesday 8 December 2009
The Max Function & Conference Centre, Cnr Balo & Heber Sts
Goondiwindi - Wednesday 9 December 2009
Goondiwindi Training and Technology, 15-21 Russell St
St George - Thursday 10 December 2009
Balonne Skills Centre, 2/2 Victoria St
For more information on these sessions please visit
http://www.environment.gov.au/water/australia/community-input/information-sessions or call 1800 218 478.
From left to right: Dr James Horne (Deputy Secretary, DEWHA), Mr Anada Tiega (Ramsar Secretary General), Mr Kenny Wauchope (Chairman, Cobourg Peninsula Sanctuary Board, NT), Mr Peter Fitzgerald (Senior District Ranger, Garig Gunak Barlu National Park, NT) and Professor Max Finlayson (Director, Land, Water and Society, Charles Sturt University).
Photo: Imaging Services Section, DEWHA
Mr Anada Tiega, the Secretary General of the Ramsar Convention, visited Australia in late October and saw first-hand the work Australia is doing to protect its unique wetlands and implementing the Ramsar Convention.
The visit provided Mr Tiega with the opportunity to see some Australian Ramsar wetlands and meet with site managers and other key stakeholders to discuss the opportunities and challenges facing Australia in managing our wetlands. Mr Tiega visited the Boondall Wetlands Environment Centre, part of the Moreton Bay Ramsar site in south-east Queensland, the Macquarie Marshes and Towra Point Nature Reserve Ramsar sites in New South Wales, and the Coorong and Lakes Alexandrina and Albert Ramsar site in South Australia.
Whilst in Canberra on 30 October 2009, Mr Tiega met the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts, the Hon Peter Garrett AM MP, International Organisational Partners (IOPs) including World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Australia, Wetland International Oceania, Birds Australia, the Australian Committee for IUCN as well as the Australian Wetlands Alliance to discuss Australia's implementation of the Ramsar Convention.
Mr Tiega also addressed Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts staff at a morning tea to celebrate the 35th anniversary of the listing of Cobourg Peninsula as the world's first Wetland of International Importance. Mr Kenny Wauchope, Traditional Owner and Chair of the Cobourg Peninsula Sanctuary and Marine Park Board, and Mr Peter Fitzgerald, Senior District Ranger of the Garig Gunak Barlu National Park, attended the celebration.
The morning tea also saw the launch of the updated DEWHA wetland web pages including a redesigned Australian Wetlands Database. An important resource for wetland managers is sound data and information about the values of wetlands on which to base management decisions. This database provides online access to information on Australia's Ramsar wetlands and sites listed in the Directory of Important Wetlands of Australia, our internationally and nationally important wetlands respectively. The database is accessible through the wetlands web pages at www.environment.gov.au/wetlands.
Dr Mike Kelly exchanging gifts with Vice Minister Hu Siyi
The Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts hosted an Australia – China High Level Water Policy meeting on 27-28 October 2009.
Parliamentary Secretary for Water, Dr Mike Kelly AM MP, met the Chinese delegation, led by Vice Minister Hu Siyi of the Ministry of Water Resources at Parliament House.
“I hope that these important talks between our Ministries continue and we continue to build on our strong relationship,” Dr Kelly said.
The Chinese delegation then visited a number of sites of interest in the Murray-Darling Basin.
China and Australia share many issues of mutual interest in water resource management, and the meeting provided an opportunity to compare policy approaches.
The meeting involved senior representatives from Australian and Chinese government agencies, and promoted high-level water policy linkages and information exchange between Australia and China.
The meeting was funded through the AusAID Australia – China Environment Development Partnership.
Irrigation water providers, who operate water delivery systems within the Murray-Darling Basin, are eligible to obtain assistance for the development of a modernisation plan, through the Irrigation Modernisation Planning Assistance program. The program's objective is to assist irrigation water providers to identify and consider a range of options available to increase the efficiency of their irrigation systems and adapt to a future with less water.
Up to $2 million is available for eligible projects under this program, with funding of up to $350,000 available per irrigation water provider to complete a modernisation plan.
Nearly $5 million in projects has previously been funded under this program, involving 17 irrigation water providers, and 27 irrigation areas throughout Australia.
To be eligible for assistance, an applicant must:
- own or operate infrastructure within the Murray-Darling Basin for the purpose of delivering water to other persons for the primary purpose of agricultural irrigation
- be a legal entity capable of entering a Funding Agreement with the Australian Government (note: unincorporated associations are not eligible)
- be registered with the Australian Taxation Office for Goods and Services Tax purposes with a valid Australian Business Number (ABN), and
- provide a 20 per cent cash co-contribution to the total cost of the modernisation planning exercise (Funding from State or other Australian Government funding sources will not be considered as eligible co-contributions).
The most recent funding round opened on 29 October 2009 and will remain open to receive and assess applications until 29 October 2012, unless available funds are committed earlier.
More information on the program is available at www.environment.gov.au/water/programs or by calling 1800 218 478 or email: email@example.com
The bioremediation and revegetation project has so far been quite successful with larger than expected areas of seeded soil flourishing. Photo above is before seeding, and below is after successful seeding.
The exposed lake beds of the Lower Lakes showed improvements during the winter and spring as the Australian and South Australian Governments continue to manage the serious threat of acidification facing the Lower Lakes under the $10 million bioremediation and revegetation project.
Acid sulfate soils naturally occur where there are large amounts of sulfate and organic material in the water. As long as the soils are covered by water they are harmless to the environment, but if water levels drop and the soils are exposed to the air they react with oxygen to form sulfuric acid. When these soils are rewet the acid, metals and nutrients can be mobilised. This has the potential to decrease the pH in the water body as well as increasing the concentration of contaminants, which affects fish, animals and vegetation.
With water levels dropping below sea level due to low inflows, large amounts of actual and potential acid sulfate soils have become exposed on the lakebeds of the Lower Lakes.
To address this serious issue, urgent bioremediation and revegetation works have been taking place throughout 2009 to tackle the ecological threats facing Lake Alexandrina and Lake Albert. Approximately 5000 hectares of machine and aerial seeding was undertaken at the Lower Lakes in May 2009.
Most recently, seeding has begun along the lake bed of the Meningie foreshore using Puccinellia ciliate, a species of grass commonly used in agricultural areas around Lake Albert.
The seeding will help to manage the risk of acidification by stabilising the soil and providing organic material to return carbon to the sediment. The seeding will also help to reduce dust movement in high winds and increase habitat for wildlife, contributing to the long-term management of the internationally important wetland.
Further action under the project includes $220,000 which has been provided to the Milang Progress Association. This funding will help to establish the regional Lakes Hub in the town of Milang and employ key staff to help coordinate the on-ground implementation of the project.
The Lakes Hub will play an important role in keeping the community informed about the bioremediation and revegetation project and how they can become involved, and will act as a meeting place for the community and project coordinators.
The Hub will also provide a place for the community to gain further information about how they can become involved in the bioremediation and revegetation project.
Other actions taking place under the project include weed management and fencing, ecological monitoring and reporting, development of local action plans, workshops and training for local communities, and funding for the Ngarrindjeri community for bioremediation projects.
These works are part of the Australian Government's $10 million bioremediation and revegetation project, administered by the South Australian Government.
Before and after photos of the Katarapko Floodplain in South Australia, which has received environmental water from the Australian Government in 2009
Photo: DEWHA & M Mohell
Wetlands, River Red Gums, threatened species and migratory birds are expected to benefit from 15.8 gigalitres (billion litres or GL) of Commonwealth water to be released at more than a dozen sites in New South Wales and Victoria.
The allocations take the total volume of Commonwealth water returned to the environment under the Australian Government's Water for the Future initiative to 26.7 GL.
The first water allocations for Spring 2009 occurred in October at Yanga National Park near Balranald in the Murrumbidgee catchment of southern NSW. A total of 1.9 GL was released at Mercedes Swamp and Twin Bridges wetland on the Lowbidgee Floodplain. The NSW Government also contributed 1.5 GL towards this watering.
These sites are important breeding areas for the Southern Bell Frog, and species protected under international treaties on migratory birds have also been recorded there. Several nationally threatened species such as the Painted Snipe and Regent Parrot, may also benefit from the watering.
Hattah Lakes in north-western Victoria, which is listed under the Ramsar convention as a wetland of international importance, received 3.1 GL of Commonwealth water. The Victorian Government also provided 3.2 GL towards this inundation.
The lakes are important for maintaining the genetic and ecological diversity of the region because the floodplain complex supports a large variety and number of waterbirds and includes breeding habitat for many species. This watering follows an allocation of Commonwealth water to Hattah Lakes in autumn of 2.1 GL.
Wetlands in the Murray, Murrumbidgee and Macquarie valleys of NSW were allocated a further 10.8 GL of Commonwealth environmental water that is being released during November and December. This includes an additional 3.0 GL for wetlands in Yanga National Park.
Recently, 19.3 GL has been used at Macquarie Marshes by NSW, and the Commonwealth will be providing a small amount of water towards this event that will benefit Buckiinguy Swamp, Mole Marsh, Willancorah and the southern part of the North Nature Reserve.
Werai State Forest, a Ramsar site in the Murray catchment was allocated 4.5 GL, which is expected to flood approximately 500 hectares of River Red Gum forest.
Toupna Creek in Millewa State Forest, also a Ramsar site, was allocated 1.5 GL to provide habitat and drought refuge for the endangered Southern Pygmy Perch and to benefit in-stream macrophytes (aquatic plants) and fringing River Red Gums.
A total of 1.7 GL was allocated to 'top-up' various sites including Wee Wee Creek, Grand Junction, Nampoo Station and Adruco Lagoon all of which received NSW environmental water earlier this year. These 'top–up' waterings, on both the Murray and Darling rivers, are expected to provide increased opportunities for aquatic plant species to set seed, and assist populations of the Southern Bell Frog to complete their lifecycle.
All the sites were selected by the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder (CEWH) after receiving input from Basin state governments and local site managers and advice from the Environmental Water Scientific Advisory Committee.
More information about the sites and the Australian Government's environmental watering program can be found at:
Cobourg Peninsula recently celebrated its 35th anniversary of being listed as the world's
first Wetland of International Importance.
Photo: J. Muirhead
Wetlands are an important part of the Australian landscape. They protect our shores from wave action, reduce the impacts of floods, absorb pollutants and improve water quality. They provide habitat for animals and plants and many contain a wide diversity of life, supporting plants and animals that are found nowhere else.
The term 'wetlands' encompasses a vast range of water-based areas including swamps, marshes, billabongs, lakes, salt marshes, mudflats, mangroves, coral reefs, fens and peatlands.
World Wetlands Day 2010 is approaching. Celebrated internationally each year on 2 February, it marks the anniversary of the signing of the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance (Ramsar Convention) in Ramsar, Iran, on 2 February 1971.
The theme for 2010 acknowledges the current challenges the world's wetlands are dealing with in the face of climate change. The 'wetlands, biodiversity and climate change' theme encourages people to focus on wetland ecosystems, their biodiversity, how climate change is affecting these ecosystems and most importantly, what we can do to preserve and maintain our wetlands.
The Australian Government is consistently working towards improving the health and vitality of our Ramsar wetland sites and other wetlands, through a number of initiatives such as environmental watering under Water for the Future, and on-ground restoration projects through Caring for our Country.
Under Caring for our Country, aquatic ecosystems are recognised as significant environmental assets that provide a wide range of services fundamentally important to the Australian lifestyle and economy. A number of priorities under Caring for our Country are designed to make a real on-ground difference to wetland health, and ensure that funding goes to those areas and projects across the nation that best meet the ecological challenges we face.
Through Water for the Future, the Australian Government is acquiring water entitlements from willing sellers and allocating water to environmental assets in need of protection or restoration. Water for the Future is also investing in infrastructure efficiencies to achieve water savings, a share of these savings to be dedicated to the environment.
Celebrate World Wetlands Day on 2 February 2010 by undertaking actions to raise public awareness of wetland values and benefits and promote the conservation and wise use of wetlands.
For more information on wetlands and what is happening in your region on World Wetlands Day, visit www.environment.gov.au/wetlands to view the Calendar of Events.
If your community group or organisation would like your World Wetlands Day event advertised on the Calendar of Events, please email details of the event to firstname.lastname@example.org by 15 January 2010.
To celebrate World Wetlands Day 2010, WetlandCare Australia has organised an Australia-wide Art and Photography competition, offering categories for children and adults.
They are seeking artworks exploring the theme of wetlands, biodiversity and climate change.
Entry forms and more information is available at www.wetlandcare.com.au