MEDIA RELEASE: World’s largest river red gum forest needs flows to survive drought

MEDIA RELEASE: World’s largest river red gum forest needs flows to survive drought

Chris Walker

67 Posts



Commonwealth Environmental Water Office
28 October 2019

Media commentary suggesting water in the Barmah forest on the River Murray is causing environmental damage or is unnatural during the drought is wrong.

The facts are environmental water is making a real difference to the largest and most iconic River Red Gum forest in the world – helping it pull through the drought.

Water for the environment has been set aside for exactly this purpose – agreed by all Basin governments – so when it’s very dry, water can be used to support the health of our river systems. Environmental water use has no impact on water allocations for drought affected farmers.

The Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder, Jody Swirepik, said delivering water into the low-lying parts of the forest in winter and spring significantly boosts forest health and reduces pressure on the natural choke point in the river.

“River Red Gum forests need water to survive. The flows also pick up nutrients from the forest floor, wetlands and creeks and transfers them to the river, feeding iconic native fish like Golden Perch and Murray Cod.

“These flows are based on methodical planning, the best science, on ground conditions, and consider the needs of other water users.

“Monitoring shows this forest is one of the the healthiest of the red gum forests along the Murray and the science tells us that’s because the forest receives water,” Ms Swirepik said.

Local ecologist Ian Davidson recognises how important it is for the environment to receive water.

“The environment needs water in dry times. The River Red Gum forests and many of the native plants and animals that occur in them rely on regular water to stay healthy and survive. These natural environments exist here because water routinely flowed overbank across the landscape. We know from experience if these forests do not receive water their health will decline,” Mr Davidson said.

“These flows work their way through the forest, back into the river – benefitting native plants, animals and fish and improving water quality for communities along the entire length of the River Murray” Ms Swirepik said.

“Having done their job, the spring environmental flows are now receding, finishing well before the irrigation demand ramps up. This means we will not be in competition with other water users for space in the river channel” Ms Swirepik said.

Fast Facts

  • These river red gum forests regularly received water— in 19 out of 20 years—before construction of major upstream dams.
  • Recent environmental flows into the forest are only about half of what would have occurred naturally, even in a dry year like this.
  • The duration of the environmental watering this year lasted about half the time natural flows would have been over the river bank into the forest.
  • Flows for the environment are delivered in a variable pattern which helps stabilised and revegetate river banks.
  • Environmental water is used and re-used multiple times all along the River Murray to obtain multiple environmental benefits, not just in one location.
  • Environmental flows are protected from extraction by irrigators so those multiple uses and benefits can be realised throughout the length of the system.
  • Environmental water holders receive allocations on exactly the same basis as other entitlement holders.