Environmental water fighting decline of waterbirds
20 December 2016
Environmental watering is playing a critical role in fighting the decline of waterbirds in eastern Australia.
A new report, Reflections: Environmental watering in Victoria, demonstrates that during 2015-16 environmental water used in Victoria provided a mosaic of waterbird habitat, in the form of wetlands, in an otherwise dry landscape.
This watering was crucial because, according to a 2015 University of New South Wales study, the number of waterbirds in eastern Australia had fallen to the second-lowest level on record. The Birds of the Murray River Basin study also found that bird breeding rates have been down since 2011-12.
CEO at BirdLife Australia, Paul Sullivan, says with the onset of climate change – and the extreme weather events it's expected to bring – environmental watering is playing a critical role in conserving bird populations and is likely to be the key to survival in drought.
"Environmental watering is critical for birds in dry times. It ensures that birds have somewhere to go for food, nesting and raising young," Paul says.
"With the flow of so many rivers now regulated with dams and weirs, and with so much water extracted from the streamflow, many river wetlands are now almost never filled, leading to a huge loss of biodiversity."
In 2015-16, 972,000 million litres of water was provided to Victoria's most vulnerable and threatened plants and animals, with 73 wetlands and 73 river reaches receiving environmental water.
Victorian Environmental Water Holder Chairperson Denis Flett says Victoria is benefitting from a successful history of environmental watering, which was strengthened by the establishment of the Victorian Environmental Water Holder (VEWH) five years ago.
He says, "Not only have we seen great benefits of environmental water on waterbird populations throughout Victoria, environmental watering has also protected and re-established threatened species, re-invigorated declining rivers and creeks, and safeguarded and boosted internationally important wetlands."
Reflections: Environmental watering in Victoria also shows that over the long term, the Victorian environmental watering program has:
- Successfully nurtured one of Victoria's most threatened fish species, the Australian grayling
- Helped re-establish platypus populations following a drastic decline in numbers during the Millennium drought
- Safeguarded six internationally important wetlands at Hattah-Kulkyne, Gunbower Forest, Kerang, Bellarine Peninsula, Barmah Forest and Gippsland Lakes
- Averted the local extinction of moira grass at Barmah Forest, an internationally important Ramsar wetland and iconic Murray site
- Improved flows in six Victorian heritage rivers, rivers protected for their significant recreation, nature conservation, scenic or cultural heritage attributes
- Complemented river and wetland restoration works (such as revegetation, fencing and removal of fish barriers)
- Helped rivers and wetlands recover from devastating bushfires including the Goulburn-Broken wetlands
- Provided emergency watering in hundreds of drought refuge pools in northern and western rivers, enabling fish and other aquatic animals to survive through the hottest, driest parts of summer
- Prevented the extinction of the Murray hardyhead, a threatened species, in Victoria.
While environmental water is released for the benefit of rivers and wetlands and the plants and animals that rely on them, it also benefits communities including by providing fishing, camping, bird watching and canoeing opportunities.
More stories on the benefits of environmental water in Victoria are available in Reflections, Environmental Watering in Victoria 2015-16 .
The VEWH is an independent statutory body which prioritises and coordinates environmental watering in rivers and wetlands across Victoria.
For further information please call
03 9637 8951 or email