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The upper Murrumbidgee River is iconic, not only being home to the few remaining natural and self-sustaining populations of Macquarie perch and Murray cod in the Murray Darling Basin, but also because it flows through our nation’s capital on Ngunnawal country.

The importance of the upper Murrumbidgee River to our capital region community was the subject of a stakeholder ‘Fish and Flows’ forum held in Canberra, at Namadgi Visitor Centre on the 2nd of June. Fish and flows are interdependent, and the workshop heard from a number of different experts about works underway to protect and support flows for fish, as well as gaps where more action is required.

The forum was held at the Namadgi Visitors Centre on Ngunnawal land. Photo: Mikayla Hyland-Wood.

The aim of the forum was to get all the stakeholders working on fish and flows together so everyone could get to know one another, share what they have been working on, get an understanding of what the issues are, and look at opportunities for greater collaboration. The upper Murrumbidgee flows through two state jurisdictions, NSW and the ACT, which adds a layer of complexity when it comes to ensuring that everyone caring for the river knows what others are doing.  As Antia Brademann, Facilitator for the Upper Murrumbidgee Demonstration Reach partnership said:

‘What happens upstream (in NSW) has flow on effects for what happens downstream (in the ACT and beyond) and so working together is really important for a healthy river system.’

 

Forum participants listening to the Native Fish Recovery Strategy presented by Antia Brademann. Photo: Mikayla Hyland-Wood.

Forum participants heard from a wide cross-section of groups and agencies who are all working on the upper Murrumbidgee to improve ecosystem health and mitigate threats to native fish. Some of these projects covered scientific work being carried out to conserve Macquarie perch (in NSW) and Murray cod (in the ACT), while others focused on the delivery of environmental flows to the upper Murrumbidgee from Tantangara Dam (which diverts the headwaters of the upper Murrumbidgee River as part of the Snowy Scheme).

Water Resource Plans that manage flows across NSW jurisdictions were also a key topic of conversation. The intent of Water Resource Plans is to implement the overall vision of the Murray Darling Basin Plan, which is to:

 ‘manage our rivers at a healthier and sustainable level, while continuing to support farming and other industries for the benefit of the Australian community.’

Water Resource Plans focus on achieving this vision, but at a regional level.

Networking opportunity for government and NGO attendees alike. Photo: Mikayla Hyland-Wood.
Lunch break! Delicious catered lunch to break between the morning presentations and afternoon small working group discussions. Photo: Mikayla Hyland-Wood.

Key messages from the Forum

Gathering people together who care about the Upper Murrumbidgee, fish and flows, was a great step forward in coordinating conservation efforts.   Some of the areas highlighted in discussions included:

  • Knowledge gaps, resourcing and flow management are important ongoing issues for ensuring a healthy upper Murrumbidgee River into the future.
  • Current flow management arrangements allow 96% of headwater flows to be extracted at Tantangara Dam.  As a result, the flows in the upper Murrumbidgee River are well below the scientifically accepted level required to maintain a healthy river ecosystem (maintaining 80th percentile flows for most of the time)
  • Limited river flows have compounding effects in a changing climate.  In turn, this will affect our fish populations as well as local communities. In the last few years, there have been =critical water shortages which left the village of Tharwa with inadequate water supply to protect homes during the Black Summer bushfires. Rural communities were unable to use water for stock and domestic purposes due to algal blooms and the river was closed for recreational activities due to high bacteria levels.
  • There is a need to raise awareness about the fact that environmental flows for the upper Murrumbidgee River are not protected from extraction under NSW water management arrangements once released from Tantangara Dam.
Jeniliee Delandre (ACT Landcare Facilitator), Ben Broadhurst (University of Canberra) and Woo O’Reilly (ACT Waterwatch) took part in forum discussions. Photo: Mikayla Hyland-Wood.

Moving Forward

These flow management issues are very topical, with the accreditation of the upper Murrumbidgee Water Resource Plan being a final step for the implementation of the Basin Plan.  As Antia noted:

‘When looking at the draft Water Resource Plan for the Murrumbidgee, one certainly cannot see how the issues raised at our forum will be addressed. My concern is that without healthier and sustainable flows in the upper Murrumbidgee, all the other work we are collectively doing to mitigate threats to fish and river health are compromised. Flow is not everything- but without flows we don’t have a river.’

There was a high level of agreement between stakeholders that a better understanding of the complexity of water management issues was needed, as well as action to create greater awareness in the upper Murrumbidgee community. There were ideas of research collaborations and engaging other relevant stakeholders, as well as the establishment of a formal upper Murrumbidgee alliance to act on behalf of the river to be eventuated in future forums.  Antia Brademann is hopeful that this will occur.  She said:

‘This workshop is one of the key outcomes for the UMDR’s new Upper Murrumbidgee Recovery Reach project, which we are proud to deliver thanks to funding from Murray Darling Basin Authority under the Native Fish Recovery Strategy.

Thankyou to everyone who participated in the upper Murrumbidgee Fish and Flows workshop.  To keep up to date with work in the Upper Murrumbidgee Demonstration Native Fish Recovery Reach please sign up to our quarterly newsletter.

Fish and Flow Forum participants in one of the discussion sessions. Photo: Siwan Lovett

Featured image: The mighty Upper ‘Bidgee flowing through the ACT landscape