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Natural inflows in the upper Campaspe River catchment are harvested into Lake Eppalock, which is located near the townships of Axedale and Heathcote. The main tributaries of the Campaspe River are the Coliban River, McIvor and Pipers creeks upstream of Lake Eppalock and Mount Pleasant, Forest and Axe creeks downstream of Lake Eppalock. Below Lake Eppalock, the major instream structure is the Campaspe Weir, which was built to divert water to the Campaspe Irrigation District. It is not used for water diversion now, but is a barrier to fish migration. Higher flows usually spill over the weir. The Campaspe Siphon, just downstream of Rochester, is part of the Waranga Western Channel which carries water from the Goulburn system to western Victoria. Water can be released from the Waranga Western Channel into the lower reaches of the Campaspe River, but the siphon is another barrier to fish migration at low-to-moderate flows.

The Campaspe River continues to be an important place for Traditional Owners and their Nations. The Registered Aboriginal Parties (RAPs) in the region are the Taungurung Clans Aboriginal Corporation, the Dja Dja Wurrung Clans Aboriginal Corporation and the Yorta Yorta Nation Aboriginal Corporation. Representatives from the three RAPs were engaged during the preparation of the Campaspe system seasonal watering proposal.

The Campaspe River has been identified as a priority for restoration under Water for Victoria. The Caring for the Campaspe project will deliver revegetation and fencing projects to protect and improve riparian land along the Campaspe River and its tributaries. Complementary water management activities such as these are needed to optimise the environmental outcomes achievable with environmental flows.

System map

Campaspe System
Grey river reaches have been included for context. The numbered reaches indicate where relevant environmental flow studies have been undertaken. Coloured reaches can receive environmental water.

Environmental watering objectives in the Campaspe River

Connected icon
Provide connection along the length of the Campaspe River and into the River Murray
Plant icon
Sustain adult river red gums and provide opportunities for successful recruitment Maintain the extent and increase the diversity of riparian vegetation Maintain or increase the extent of in-stream aquatic plants
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Provide habitat to help protect and increase populations of native fish Help native fish species (such as the trout cod, river blackfish and Macquarie perch) recolonise the river
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Increase the diversity and biomass of waterbugs to provide energy, break down dead organic matter and support the river’s food chain
Plant icon
Maintain and increase the cover of in-stream and riverside plants
Platypus icon
Maintain resident platypus population by providing places to rest, breed and feed, as well as opportunities for juveniles to disperse
Water icon
Prevent high salinity and maintain healthy levels of oxygen in deep pools

Environmental values

The Campaspe River below Lake Eppalock provides important habitat for several native fish species including Murray cod, silver perch, golden perch, Murray-Darling rainbowfish and flat-headed gudgeon. Notably the Murray-Darling rainbowfish, a listed species in Victoria and previously presumed lost from the system, has recently been recorded at many sites on the Campaspe River and is now abundant downstream of Elmore.

Maintaining flows is important for migration opportunities and dispersal of these fish species. Platypus, water rats, turtles and frogs are also present along the length of the river. The streamside vegetation zone is narrow and dominated by large, mature river red gum trees that support wildlife (such as the swift parrot and squirrel glider).

Social and economic values

The Campaspe River is an important source of water and a delivery mechanism for irrigation, industry and town water (including to Bendigo and Ballarat). Popular recreational activities along the Campaspe River include camping, boating, kayaking, fishing, swimming, bushwalking, picnicking and birdwatching. These activities draw locals and tourists alike, providing economic benefit to towns along the river.

Conditions 2018

Rainfall and climate conditions in the region were largely drier and hotter than the long-term average throughout 2017–18. There were few unregulated flows from tributaries, and Lake Eppalock did not spill. The dry conditions led to high consumptive water demand in the Murray and Goulburn systems. Large volumes of intervalley transfers were delivered from the Campaspe system to meet these demands, and despite the dry season flows in the Campaspe River was equivalent to wet-to-very-wet conditions in summer/autumn. For much of summer, flows in the Campaspe River were close to an order of magnitude greater than recommended for environmental purposes. Managers worked with ecologists to provide advice to storage managers to minimise risks to environmental values throughout this period.

The Campaspe River received several planned environmental flows events in 2017–18. Flows were provided with a combination of passing flows, consumptive water delivery and managed releases of water for the environment. Winter low flows were delivered between July and November 2017, with small, unregulated tributary flows providing additional variation. Two freshes were delivered during spring to trigger fish movement and spawning and to improve vegetation condition and the water quality and productivity of the aquatic ecosystem. The first fresh in early September 2017 reached 1,200 ML per day for two days. The second fresh was delivered as two consecutive peaks (of 1,400 ML per day for two days and 1,600 ML per day for two days) to encourage golden perch spawning. The summer inter-valley transfers were shaped to attract juvenile golden and silver perch from the River Murray into the Campaspe system. This event builds on the success of a similar event in the previous year.

Monitoring of native fish and vegetation continued in the Campaspe River in 2017–18. Highlights include the firstdetected Murray cod larvae since regular monitoring began and the detection of silver perch at more than half of the sites surveyed in reaches 3 and 4. Monitoring showed continued recovery of the vegetation after the Millennium Drought and bank-scouring floods of 2010-11, and five Victorian rare or threatened species including the small scurf-pea were detected.

Scope of environmental planning

Table 1 Potential environmental watering actions and objectives for the Campaspe River

Potential environmental watering

Environmental objectives

Summer/autumn low flows (10–50 ML/day in December–May)

  • Provide permanent connectivity to maintain water quality, particularly dissolved oxygen and salinity levels

Winter/spring low flows (50–200 ML/day in June–November)

  • Maintain connectivity of pool refuges for fish and improved habitat for water bugs 
  • Maintain connectivity to prevent a decline in water quality

Winter/spring freshes (2 events at 1,000–1,800 ML/day for up to 7 days each in June– November

  • Stimulate fish movement, allow movement to downstream reaches and provide spawning triggers 
  • Water riparian vegetation 
  • Maintain habitat for waterbugs 
  • Support platypus habitat and breeding opportunities including triggers for burrow selection 
  • Flush organics from bank and benches to reduce the risk of blackwater events in summer

Summer/autumn freshes (up to 3 freshes of 50–200 ML/day for up to 3 days each in December–May)

  • Provide longitudinal connectivity for fish in periods of low flow 
  • Maintain habitat for waterbugs 
  • Maintain water quality

1 'Or natural' means that flow rates may be above or below the specified target rates depending on inflows and climatic conditions.

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

Table 2 shows the partners and stakeholder organisations the North Central CMA engaged in preparing the Campaspe system seasonal watering proposals.

Seasonal watering proposals are informed by longer-term regional catchment strategies, regional waterway strategies, environmental flow studies, water management plans and other studies. These incorporate a range of environmental, cultural, social and economic perspectives and longerterm integrated catchment and waterway management objectives. For further details, refer to the North Central Regional Catchment Strategy and the North Central Waterway Strategy.

 Table 2 Partners and stakeholders engaged in developing the Campaspe system seasonal watering proposals

Partner and stakeholder engagement
  • Campaspe Environmental Water Advisory Group (comprising community members, Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning, GoulburnMurray Water, North Central CMA, the Victorian Environmental Water Holder and the Commonwealth Environmental Water Office) 
  • Coliban Water 
  • Dja Dja Wurrung Clans Aboriginal Corporation 
  • Dja Dja Wurrung Traditional Owners 
  • Taungurung Clans Aboriginal Corporation 
  • Yorta Yorta Nation Aboriginal Corporation