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The Boort wetlands are on the floodplain to the west of the Loddon River, downstream of Loddon Weir. They consist of Lake Boort, Lake Leaghur, Lake Yando and the Meran Lakes complex of wetlands. Several other wetlands occur in the district but are currently not managed with environmental water.

The natural water regimes of wetlands in the Loddon system have been substantially modified by the construction of levees and channels across the floodplain and by the construction and operation of reservoirs and weirs along the Loddon River. Environmental watering in the Boort wetlands aims to manage wet and dry phases to improve environmental condition and habitat value.

Environmental watering objectives in the Boort wetlands

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Rehabilitate habitat and provide breeding opportunities to maintain local and regional populations of birds, fish, frogs and turtles
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Maintain or increase the growth of river red gums and aquatic and amphibious vegetation

Environmental values

The Boort wetlands provide habitat for a range of plant and animal species, many of which are rare and threatened. At Lake Yando, 12 rare plant species have been recorded including the jerry-jerry and water nymph. Bird species recorded at Lake Boort, Lake Leaghur and Lake Meran include the white-bellied sea eagle, Latham's snipe and eastern great egret. Little Lake Meran is a swampy woodland with black box trees on the highest wet margins and river red gums fringing the waterline. Dense mats of water milfoil grow in the shallow margins and on exposed mudflats as the lake recedes. These shallow areas also provide feeding habitat for waterbirds and shorebirds (such as musk duck and common greenshank).

Social, cultural and recreational values

The Boort wetlands provide numerous recreation opportunities. Lake Meran and Lake Boort are state game reserves and hunting is also allowed at Lake Yando and Lake Leaghur. The large expanse of open water at Lake Meran is very popular for boating, fishing and waterskiing, attracting many visitors during holiday seasons. Lakes Yando, Boort and Leaghur contain excellent environmental values and birdwatchers and field naturalists regularly visit the lakes when they are wet or dry. 

The Boort wetlands hold significance for Traditional Owners. The wetlands are important ceremonial places and for thousands of years have provided resources (such as food and materials) to the Traditional Owners now represented by the Dja Dja Wurrung Clans Aboriginal Corporation.

Conditions mid-2017

Major flooding in September and October 2016 filled all of the Boort wetlands apart from Little Lake Meran, which is disconnected from the natural floodplain. The floods met or exceeded all of the environmental watering objectives for the year and therefore no environmental water was delivered to Boort wetlands in 2016–17. 

The natural floods at Lake Boort and Lake Meran were well-timed and provided good outcomes for birds and vegetation. Substantial growth and flowering of river red gums was observed at both lakes, and bird breeding occurred. At Lake Yando, the floods drowned some juvenile river red gums that had recruited over the last couple of years, but the trees that survived have benefited from the watering and will likely be resilient to future floods. In January, a bloom of blue-green algae occurred at Lake Leaghur and there were fish deaths at Lake Meran. These events are an unfortunate consequence of the flood, which transported a large load of organic matter and nutrients into the lakes. 

Natural floods are essential for the health of the Boort wetlands. They provide a big input of carbon and nutrients that drive ecosystem productivity, but they need to be interspersed with drawdown and dry periods to maintain the full range of wetland ecosystems processes. Lakes Meran, Boort, Leaghur and Yando will all be allowed to draw down naturally over the next couple of years. Because the wetlands vary in size, some will dry before others and so collectively provide a range of habitat types across the landscape of which mobile animals can take advantage.

Scope of environmental watering

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

Potential environmental watering

Environmental objectives

Wetland watering

Little Lake Meran (partial fill in autumn)

  • Provide feeding and breeding opportunities for waterbirds
  • Provide open-water and mudflat habitats to support aquatic food webs and provide habitat for waterbirds
  • Increase the growth of river red gums

Wetland drying

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

  • These wetlands will be in a drying phase in 2017–18
  • The drying will help maintain a high diversity of habitats across the landscape that can support a wide range of wetland-dependent birds and animals
  • Gradual drawdown at each wetland will help rehabilitate vegetation zones in and around the wetland

Risk management

In preparing its seasonal watering proposal, North Central CMA considered and assessed the risks of environmental watering and identified mitigation strategies. Program partners continually reassess risks and mitigation actions 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.