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Birchs Creek rises in the ranges north-east of Ballarat and flows north-west through Newlyn and Smeaton before joining Tullaroop Creek near Clunes. The target reach for environmental water is reach 3 because it contains the vulnerable river blackfish population, and most irrigation supply is diverted before the reach.

Birchs Creek is part of the Bullarook system which has two small storages — Newlyn Reservoir and Hepburn Lagoon — that fill and spill during winter or spring in most years with average or above-average rainfall. 

Environmental water is held in and delivered from Newlyn Reservoir. The VEWH is allocated 100 ML of water on 1 December each year unless seasonal determinations of high-reliability water shares in the Bullarook system are less than 20 percent. Any unused environmental allocation from 1 December can be carried over into the first five months of the following water year (that is, from 1 July to 30 November), but if Newlyn Reservoir spills during these months the volume held in carryover is lost. Any water remaining on 30 November is forfeited. When seasonal determinations are less than 20 percent, the VEWH is not allocated water and the system's resources are shared equitably to protect critical human and environmental needs.

Environmental watering objectives in the Birchs Creek

Water icon
Maintain suitable water quality to support river blackfish and other native fish

Environmental values

Birchs Creek supports native fish including a significant population of the regionally vulnerable river blackfish as well as mountain galaxias, flat-headed gudgeon and Australian smelt. Platypus are present in the creek in low numbers.

Social, cultural and economic values

Birchs Creek is popular among the nearby community for its aesthetic appeal and the intrinsic value of having water in the landscape. Water in the Birchs Creek system supports irrigated agriculture, particularly of potatoes. 

Birchs Creek holds significance for Traditional Owners. The creek is an important ceremonial place and for thousands of years has provided resources (such as food and materials) to the Traditional Owners now represented by the Dja Dja Wurrung Clans Aboriginal Corporation.

Conditions mid-2016

In 2015–16 the Birchs Creek catchment was very dry. Rainfall was substantially below-average in winter and spring and as a consequence inflows to storages were extremely low.

The trigger for allocating water to the the Victorian Environmental Water Holder's environmental entitlement was not met in the Birchs Creek system in 2015–16, and environmental water releases were therefore not possible. Water to the creek was supplied from localised surface and groundwater inflows through small allocations of consumptive water delivered through the system and through storage management that reserved water for delivery for critical human and environmental needs.

Scope of environmental watering

Table 1 Potential environmental watering actions and objectives for Birchs Creek

Potential environmental watering

Environmental objectives

One summer/autumn fresh (27 ML/day for 3 days in December–May)

  • Support native fish (including river blackfish) population structure, composition, age classes and abundance
  • Minimise risks to fish associated with low dissolved oxygen and high water temperature

Risk management

In preparing its seasonal watering proposal, North Central Catchment Management Authority considered and assessed risks and identified mitigating strategies relating to the implementation of environmental watering. Risks and mitigating actions are continually reassessed by program partners throughout the water year.

Engagement

Waterway managers meet communities on environmental watering regionally, although other program partners also play a role.

In each region of Victoria, community engagement on environmental watering happens when environmental watering objectives and priorities are scoped (long term and annually), when delivering environmental water, and when reporting on environmental watering results.

In the North Central region communities are involved in decisions about the Loddon and Campaspe river systems, Murray river system including Gunbower Forest and some of the wetlands connected by the Wimmera-Mallee pipeline. This happens through formal advisory groups: Environmental Water Advisory Groups including river and wetland focused groups and the Gunbower Island Community Reference Group.

Who is engaged and how

Recreational users

Through formal advisory groups, recreational users provide local advice and raise opportunities for potential 'shared benefits' from environmental watering. Through Environmental Water Advisory Groups, recreational users are informed of environmental water deliveries and provide data that assists with reporting on the outcomes of environmental watering.

Goulburn-Murray Water engages with recreational user groups (such as Save Lake Eppalock and Lake Meran Users Group) that use water storages for recreation through planned consultations and meetings to discuss storage levels and potential impacts of environmental water releases from storages.

Environment groups

Through formal advisory groups, environment groups provide local knowledge, land management advice and advocate for the environment. They are also informed of environmental water deliveries and provide data that assists with reporting on the outcomes of environmental watering (including citizen science monitoring data such as providing bird counts).

Landholders/farmers

Through formal advisory groups, farmers and landholders (including those who own private wetlands that receive environmental water) provide local knowledge and land management advice regarding environmental watering.

They are also informed of environmental water deliveries and provide data that assists with reporting on the outcomes of environmental watering. Goulburn-Murray Water engages (and often) with consumptive entitlement holders (often irrigators) and landholders (often with river frontages).

Traditional Owners

Through the North Central Catchment Management Authority Indigenous Facilitator, Traditional Owners from the Barapa Barapa, Dja Dja Wurrung and Yorta Yorta Nations are given the opportunity to provide input to seasonal watering proposals. The Catchment Management Authority and the Barapa Barapa Nation have conducted a cultural values mapping project in Gunbower Forest which will eventually enable cultural values to be incorporated in Gunbower environmental water planning. The Barapa Barapa and Yorta Yorta Nations undertake monitoring of cultural values in Gunbower Forest.

There are Dja Dja Wurrung and Yorta Yorta representatives from the North Central region who are members of the Murray Lower Darling Rivers Indigenous Nations. The Victorian Environmental Water Holder, the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder and the Murray Darling Basin Authority engage the Murray Lower Darling Rivers Indigenous Nations on strategic (often longer term) issues related to environmental watering.

Councils

Councils are invited to participate in formal advisory groups meetings. Goulburn-Murray Water  consults with the City of Greater Bendigo, Gannawarra Shire and Swan Hill Rural City Council regularly on water management, including on environmental water management.

General public

The North Central Catchment Management Authority communicates and engages with the general public through their website, media releases, newsletters, public notices, community forums, community events (such as tours of Gunbower Forest during environmental watering), social media and direct contact to interested parties by email distribution list.