Murray Darling environmental water to give refuge to birds and wildlife during El Nino

Aerial view of Menindee Lakes

by Cherie McDonald, ABC rural

The Murray Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) has released new water guidelines in an effort to protect wildlife and plants in the basin during dry times.

The conservation priorities are intended as a guide for environmental water holders on how they will allocate water throughout the system.

MDBA executive director Jody Swirepik says fish and birds will need well-watered refuges to sit out sizzling hot weather conditions. 

“We’ve looked right across the basin to try to identify the big watering priorities for the upcoming year,” Ms Swirepik said.

“At the moment we’ve spotted seven key priorities under three themes, some of those based around areas such as the Gwydir wetlands, Macquarie River, the mid Murrumbidgee wetlands and the Murray. 

“Others are more general, for example in the north of the Basin, the Bureau of Meteorology are predicting a 70 per cent chance of El Nino.

“Therefore we think some of the priorities up there should be to look towards the kinds of refuges that plants and animals need to survive through those hot conditions.” 

Ms Swirepik says in far west New South Wales, the Menindee Lakes storage system is a key safe haven for birdlife. 

“The Menindee Lakes is specifically listed as one of the refuge places for waterbirds when there’s not a lot of breeding happening in big flood plain habitats,” she said. 

“Waterbirds flock back to some of those storages where there’s more persistent water conditions. 

“A few of those lakes dry out in very dry conditions, but a couple of them like Lake Wetherall and Lake Parmaroo will actually stay full and provide a very good refuge for plants and animals.” 

Ms Swirepik says an overall look across the basin raises concerns for some wildlife and vegetation. 

“There is quite a lot of plants and animals that are of concern as we know some of the populations are very small,” she said. 

“Our priorities aren’t about targeting individual species, it’s about the whole system. If they are implemented, then you’ll get outcomes across the whole system.

“For instance, the Murray priority talks about connectivity through the Murray and being able to support fish communities in the mid Murray and getting flows all the way down to the mouth to make sure we can keep the river discharging to the sea.”



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