This year marks 10 years of continuous flows to the Coorong since the Millennium Drought broke in 2010.
The iconic Coorong is Storm Boy country, a 140km stretch of estuarine habitat and home to over 80 species of waterbirds and 40 species of fish. Keeping the Murray flowing all the way to the Coorong has been made possible thanks to water for the environment.
Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder Jody Swirepik said the prudent use of water for the environment has kept the Coorong connected with the Murray over the last decade, which has been key to maintaining salinity levels in the Basin and improving the health of this internationally important wetland.
At the height of the Millennium Drought the end of the Murray was in dire trouble. Acid sulphate soils were exposed in drying lake beds and the Coorong became too salty for many plants and animals to survive. Despite the recent record-breaking drought, water for the environment has helped avoid the damage seen during the Millennium Drought.
The volume of water flowing through the barrages over the last decade is only a fraction of what it would have been under natural conditions. Monitoring shows environmental flows have played a critical role in maintaining the crucial link between saltwater and freshwater habitats many fish species need to survive.
“This is the Basin Plan in action. The same water released upstream to help wetlands and rivers in Victoria and New South Wales flows downstream to South Australia, bringing benefits all the way to the end of the River Murray system,” Ms Swirepik said.
Ngarrindjeri elder Ellen Trevorrow said the river system is vital for all River Murray communities, including First Nations people.
“The Murray is the heart of our people. When it was too dry for our reeds to grow, we couldn’t do our weaving. Weaving is where we come together with our young people to share stories and pass on culture. Keeping the Murray healthy keeps our people, and our culture healthy,” Ms Trevorrow said.
Local commercial fisherman Garry Hera-Singh said the natural productivity of the Coorong had improved significantly since water for the environment has been provided to the Coorong.
“We have taken 200 years to stuff this place up. We need to be patient. With provision of water for the environment at current levels, things will continue to improve over the next 10 to 15 years,” Mr Hera-Singh said.
- Since 2014 almost 4000 GL of water for the environment has flowed to the Coorong.
- Environmental flows have:
- made up over 80% of flow through the barrages, except during the 2016/17 flood, and been the only water to flow through the barrages into the Coorong for 4 of the last 6 years.
- exported over 1.25 million tonnes of salt through the barrages.
- prevented an additional 20 million tonnes of salt from seawater entering the Coorong.
- Without environmental water, there would have been an additional 20 million tonnes of salt enter the Coorong over the period 2014–2019.
- supported the first successful breeding of black bream in several years in the Coorong in summer 2017–18.
- fish species such as congolli and common galaxias are rebuilding – both species rely on connection and movement between fresh and salt water. supported rebuilding of native fish species such as congolli, lamprey and common galaxias that rely on connection between fresh and salt water. The greatest number of migrating lamprey since monitoring began (over 100 individuals) was recorded this spring.
Environmental flows through the barrages to the Coorong. The volume of water for the environment flowing through the barrages into the Coorong is only a fraction of what it would have been under natural conditions but is making a big difference for native fish and River Murray communities. (Photo credit: Geoff Gallasch)
Pelicans in the Coorong 2019. The Coorong supports over 80 species of waterbirds and is ranked in the six most significant waterbird sites in Australia. (Photo credit: CEWO)