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Victoria's rivers and wetlands are of great value to the community providing a connection to nature, social wellbeing, cultural values and recreational and economic opportunities. Water for the environment improves waterway health at sites like the internationally-recognised Gunbower Forest, so that everyone can enjoy natural heritage for the long term.
Water for the environment is essential to help Victoria's highly modified river and wetland systems to survive dry conditions. It helps waterways, plants and animals to build resilience to recover once dry conditions ease.
Gunbower Forest has been showing signs of stress after being in a drying phase for 18 months, including two very hot, dry summers. Without current environmental watering the forest and its wetlands would continue to degrade.
Due to human modifications, including to the Gunbower Forest, water management is not able to return 'natural' flow regimes. The aim of environmental watering is to deliver in a way that protects the remaining ecosystems, including plants and animals that are important to the community.
Environmental watering at Gunbower Forest is being undertaken as efficiently as possible. Up to 82 gigalitres of water for the environment is planned to be delivered to Gunbower Forest in 2018. This includes up to 20 gigalitres of VEWH water, with the remaining being water that is jointly held by the southern connected Basin states.
The same water is being used as many times as possible at multiple sites on the way to Gunbower Forest as well as downstream. Environmental structural works allow the watering of high-value sections of Gunbower Forest using much less water.
During the Millennium drought, Gunbower Forest took a big hit and is still recovering from the effects. Environmental watering will protect 3,000 hectares of high-value river red gum forest and wetlands, consolidating and maintaining the gains made in recent years. The water will boost the productivity of the forest, maintaining healthy native fish populations and providing habitat for waterbirds, including important migratory species. Most importantly, watering will help to build resilience that will be critical if dry conditions continue or worsen.
Gunbower Forest is a tourism hotspot, supporting economic and social activities in the community. The forest provides economic values through timber production, apiculture (bee keeping), education, recreation and tourism, for example.
Water for the environment also benefits communities by improving conditions for fishing, camping and canoeing, and improved water quality can have economic benefits for irrigation and urban water supply. A healthy environment underpins healthy communities, and in dry conditions, Gunbower Forest can be a haven for plants and animals, as well as for people.
The VEWH can only trade environmental water where it supports the health of Victoria's waterways.
The VEWH plans for drought, dry, average and wet scenarios, and is constantly assessing environmental water demand and supply to adapt its water use, carryover and trade to seasonal conditions.
The current demand-supply assessment shows that all available water is currently committed to priority environmental watering actions planned for dry conditions.
VEWH may sell some water in northern Victoria later this year if our demand-supply analysis indicates we have sufficient allocations to meet priority environmental watering and carryover needs. This will likely be known when environmental watering and inflows during spring are well underway.
Environmental watering actions are aimed at preventing the loss of plant and animal species and building the resilience of the ecosystem. This will help protect these key sites if dry conditions continue and will also ensure communities can continue to enjoy the economic, social and cultural benefits these waterways provide.
The VEWH specifically carried over some water into 2018-19 to meet environmental objectives early in the water year, when allocations can be low. The 15 gigalitres of water that was not needed to be carried over was sold in the second half of 2017-18. This provided additional water supplies for irrigators, who at the time were completing autumn watering under very dry conditions and looking to obtain water for carryover into 2018-19.
Factors that will influence the VEWH's ability to sell water in 2018-19 are:
Water trading is buying, selling or exchanging rights to water. The VEWH trades water allocations to ensure water for the environment is available when and where it is most needed to improve the health of Victoria's waterways.
The VEWH plans for drought, dry, average and wet scenarios, and is constantly assessing environmental water demand and supply to adapt its water use, carryover and trade to seasonal conditions. Trade and carryover are critical tools to help the VEWH manage variable water availability across years.
The VEWH publicly communicates its trade intentions at the start of each water year through an annual Water Allocation Trading Strategy. This strategy covers the trading activity that VEWH may undertake in each region, depending on priority environmental demands, climatic conditions and other factors.