Lignum at Back Lake (June 2020). Photo: CEWO
Why is Narran so important?
Narran Lakes (known as Dharriwaa to the Yuwaalaraay/ Euahlayi people) has been an important meeting place to Aboriginal groups for thousands of years.
Endangered waterbirds rely on the internationally significant lakes to breed and survive.
Prior to flows in early 2020, prolonged drought saw large areas of Narran Lakes without decent inflow since April 2013. Without flows, critical wetland habitat was dying and in desperate need of a drink.
What happened in 2020?
In early 2020, the Lower Balonne flow delivered 90 GL of water into the internationally significant Narran Lakes. 9 GL of the flow that reached Narran Lakes was from the pilot project where an upstream licence holder was reimbursed for not pumping.
What was the pilot project?
In 2020 the CEWO ran a pilot project. A water-licence holder in the Lower Balonne river system was reimbursed (via an ad-hoc grant) to not pump water they were legally allowed to pump from the river. This meant more water from inflows remained in the river and reached the lakes. This water helped revive critical habitat for waterbirds at Narran Lakes.
Why we are running a second grant in 2021
Due to summer rainfall, there were good flows into the Narran Lakes in early 2020 for the first time in seven years. Following this, some of the lakeside vegetation, that had been parched for years, started to bounce back. However, after seven years of drought, some plants did not respond as well as we hoped. The Murray-Darling Basin Authority identified that providing water to the Narran Lakes was an annual watering priority for the current year (2020-21).
Without this water, plants around the lakes, including key shrubs for waterbird nesting, will continue to struggle. The plants that started to recover may wither, the vegetation that did not respond earlier this year is unlikely to recover, and new plants are unlikely to come through to replace them. Additional flow will increase the chance of waterbirds breeding and bring benefits for other animals that reside around the lakes or visit them.
Back Lake (November 2020) Photo: CEWO
Struggling Lignum (September 2020) photo: University of New England
How will the second grant work
The second grant will work the same way as in the pilot, with some improvements made following an independent review. These include securing additional estimates of flows in the system.
If a medium sized flow event occurs, the CEWO will offer to reimburse water‑licence holders in the Lower Balonne river system (via an ad-hoc grant) to not pump water from the river. Once the arrangements have been agreed, the water will be left in the river to support the environment. The water-licence holders may prefer to grow crops rather than be paid to forego the water and therefore not accept the grant: that is their commercial choice. Participation by water-licence holders is entirely voluntary. The grant amount paid to those who opt-in will be based on an independent valuation.
The trigger flow volume will be between 250-500 gigalitres at St. George.
The flow needs to be ‘just right’
Rainfall and flow conditions would have to be ‘just right’ before the grant would be triggered. If a small flow occurs, water would be managed for critical human water needs and stock. The flow would not be big enough for the lakes to receive water. If large-scale flooding rains occur, the grant will not be required, as natural flows will refresh the habitat. This is possible in a La Nina year, but it is difficult to predict how many intense rainfall events will occur. If the right mid-sized flow event occurs, this would enable the CEWO to take advantage of the opportunity to water more habitat and proceed. Current rain forecasts indicate the grant may run between January and June 2021.
How will the second grant be monitored?
The CEWO has set up a program that includes monitoring of vegetation, fish and waterbirds. This will enable the measurement of the ecosystem response. Satellite images will be used to analyse the areas that receive water. Vegetation, water bird and frog responses will be photographed and assessed. This monitoring program will check to ensure water reaches the intended locations, track the environmental benefits of the project and support reporting to the community on the results.
Further information on the pilot project:
Further information on the grant:
This document details how the grant (available to water‑licence holders in the Lower Balonne river system) will be run
Grant opportunity guidelines (PDF - 330.24 KB)
Grant opportunity guidelines (DOCX - 292.1 KB)
This document provides independent advice regarding the price that can be reimbursed to water-licence holders in the Lower Balonne through the grant
Independent assessment of price for water foregone for pumping (PDF - 721.42 KB)
Independent assessment of price for water foregone for pumping (DOCX - 719.79 KB)
This report provides updated price advice that reflects current market conditions
Independent assessment of price for water foregone for Lower Balonne – March-June 2021 (PDF - 727.78 KB)
Independent assessment of price for water foregone for Lower Balonne – March-June 2021 (DOCX - 855.34 KB)