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The Boort wetlands are on the floodplain to the west of the Loddon River, downstream of Loddon Weir. The wetlands are comprised of the Lake Meran complex of wetlands and also lakes Boort, Leaghur and Yando.

The natural water regimes of wetlands in the Loddon system have been substantially modified. Environmental watering aims to reinstate a more favourable hydrology to the Boort wetlands by providing wet and dry phases to improve environmental condition and habitat value.

Environmental watering objectives in the Boort wetlands

bird icon
Restore habitat and provide breeding opportunities
Plant icon
Assist growth of river red gum trees and aquatic vegetation

Environmental values

The Boort wetlands provide habitat for a range of plant and animal species, many of which are rare and considered threatened under state and Commonwealth legislation or international agreements. Bird species that have been recorded at Lake Boort and Lake Meran include the white-bellied sea eagle, Latham's snipe and eastern great egret. At Lake Meran the largest known population of the endangered hoary scurf-pea has become well-established in recent years. There are over 2,000 hoary scurf-pea plants which are also the caterpillar food plant for the chequered swallowtail butterfly.

Social, cultural and recreational values

The Boort wetlands provide recreation opportunities for campers, anglers and bird watchers. Lake Meran and Lake Boort are state game reserves where hunting is allowed. The Boort wetlands also contain resources traditionally used by Aboriginal people and there are numerous sites that have Aboriginal cultural heritage significance.

Conditions mid-2016

The Loddon catchment was extremely dry in 2015–16 and the Boort wetlands did not receive natural inflows. Lake Meran was the only lake in the system containing water at the end of 2015–16. A top-up to Lake Meran was supplied in autumn 2016 to maintain a minimum level and protect aquatic habitat, particularly for turtles.

Other lakes (such as Lake Boort and Leaghur) have benefited from drying in recent years which has allowed some vegetation to establish on the drying lake bed. Shrubs and herbs grow profusely in the wet soil of a drying wetland and these plants provide habitat for non-aquatic animals to complete life cycles.

Scope of environmental watering

Table 1 Potential environmental watering actions and objectives for the Boort wetlands

Potential environmental watering

Environmental objectives

Wetland watering

Lake Boort (partial fill in spring/summer)

  • Restore river red gum distribution and the associated plant community including rehabilitation of southern cane grass populations
  • Restore and rehabilitate vegetation species diversity typical of aquatic and semi-aquatic environments
  • Promote native vegetation growth to reduce the likelihood of recolonisation by mustard weed

Lake Meran (fill targeting 80.5–81.0 m AHD in spring or autumn)

  • Provide breeding opportunities for colonial nesting waterbirds around wetland verges and the southern basin of Lake Meran
  • Provide feeding and breeding opportunities for wetland birds including black swans, grebes and white-bellied seas eagles
  • Maintain the condition of adult and juvenile river red gum trees
  • Rehabilitate understory plant species in the intermittent swampy woodland

Lake Meran (partial fill in autumn to maintain minimum water level 77.3–77.8 m AHD)1

  • Provide habitat and refuge for turtles and native fish, particularly the Murray River turtle
  • Rehabilitate the extent of mudflat and flood-tolerant herbland vegetation associated with the lake bed herbland vegetation type (for example, hoary scurf-pea and downy swainson-pea)

Wetland drying

Lake Leaghur, Little Lake Meran and Lake Yando (promote natural drawdown and drying)

  • These wetlands will be in a drying phase throughout 2016–17
  • The drying will help maintain a diversity of habitats to support a wide range of wetland-dependent birds and animals and to promote the establishment and growth of vegetation in and around the wetland

1 A partial fill is not required if a fill of 80.5–81.4 m is provided in spring or autumn.

Scenario planning

Environmental watering is planned for lakes Boort and Meran in 2016–17.

Lake Boort is approaching its maximum recommended dry interval and therefore a partial fill is planned under all climatic conditions. The fill will provide water for river red gums already established in the lake bed. Watering of Lake Boort will also increase soil moisture and enable germination of river red gum seedlings as the water begins to recede over summer. The partial fill of Lake Boort is planned to start in spring. A top-up in early summer will be considered, depending on conditions at the time and environmental responses that are observed (for example, a top-up may be needed to support bird breeding).

If conditions are dry Lake Meran may be topped up to maintain the minimum target water level of 77.3 m Australian Height Datum (AHD). Under average to wet conditions (and depending on water availability and an assessment of the condition of wetland values), Lake Meran may be surcharged 80.5–81.0 m AHD in spring or autumn. A complete fill of Lake Meran will optimise conditions for river red gums and aquatic vegetation in the southern basin and set the lake up for a dry phase in the following years.

In all climatic scenarios the delivery of water to Boort wetlands may be limited from time to time due to system operating constraints. If it is a dry year there will be heavy reliance on Goulburn-sourced water via the Waranga western channel, but access to this water may be limited due to irrigation water delivery. In a wet year wetlands might be filled naturally and very little environmental water might be used, depending on the timing and magnitude of floods.

Table 2 Potential environmental watering for the Boort wetlands under a range of planning scenarios

Planning scenario

Dry

Average

Wet

Expected catchment conditions

  • No contribution from unregulated flows
  • No substantial unregulated flows with localised catchment contributions expected to provide minor inflows
  • Multiple spills from Loddon system storages will provide extended durations of high flows and overbank flows at any time of year
  • There may be an opportunity to divert flood flows into the Boort wetlands
  • Top-ups from environmental water are unlikely to be needed

Potential environmental watering

  • Lake Boort (partial fill in spring/summer)
  • Lake Meran (partial fill in spring or autumn to maintain minimum water level 77.3–77.8 m AHD)
  • Lake Boort (partial fill in spring/summer)
  • Lake Meran (fill in spring targeting 80.5–81.0 m AHD)
  • Lake Boort (partial fill in spring/summer)
  • Lake Meran (fill in spring targeting 80.5–81.0 m AHD)

Possible volume of environmental water required to achieve objectives

  • 4,000 ML
  • 4,800 ML
  • 6,300 ML

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.