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The Goulburn River flows for 570 km from the Great Dividing Range upstream of Woods Point to the River Murray east of Echuca.

The construction and operation of Lake Eildon and Goulburn Weir have significantly altered the Goulburn River's natural flow pattern. Water harvesting during naturally wet periods and regulated releases to meet irrigation and other consumptive demand during dry periods mean flow downstream of these structures is typically low in winter and spring and high in summer and autumn. This effectively reverses the natural seasonal flow pattern. Land-use changes and the construction of small dams and drainage schemes have further modified the Goulburn River's flow regime. Levees and other structures prevent water inundating the floodplain. 

The regulated flow regime in the Goulburn River is partly ameliorated by inflows from tributaries (such as Seven Creek and the Broken River) that provide some natural flows downstream of Lake Eildon and Goulburn Weir. Large floods that cause these to fill and spill are also important for the flow regime.

Environmental water in the Goulburn system is held by the VEWH, CEWH and MDBA as part of the Living Murray program. The CEWH is the largest holder of environmental water in the Goulburn system. The availability and use of Commonwealth environmental water is essential to achieve environmental outcomes in the Goulburn River. Environmental water held on behalf of the Living Murray program may also help meet environmental objectives in the Goulburn system en route to icon sites in the Murray system (see Table 1.4.2). 

Environmental water may need to be delivered through the Goulburn system to meet a downstream environmental objective. Where possible, these releases are managed to achieve outcomes in the Goulburn system before being reused downstream. 

Environmental targets can also be met by water delivered from Lake Eildon to meet downstream consumptive demands in the River Murray (known as inter-valley transfers). Goulburn inter-valley transfers occur at times during the irrigation season, from spring to autumn. These flows may help achieve the desired environmental objectives without the need to release environmental water.

The priority environmental flow reaches in the Goulburn River are downstream of Goulburn Weir (reaches 4 and 5) as they are the most flow-stressed sections of the river and support more-abundant and diverse native fish communities. These two reaches are collectively referred to as the lower Goulburn River. Delivering environmental water to the lower Goulburn River also provides benefits to the mid Goulburn River between Lake Eildon and Goulburn Weir (reaches 1 to 3). Environmental water releases from Lake Eildon that target the mid Goulburn River (reach 1 in particular) are most beneficial between late autumn and early spring, when low river flows can occur. For most of the year (early spring to late autumn), transfers of consumptive water from Lake Eildon that are diverted out of the river at Goulburn Weir result in the flow exceeding the environmental flow targets for reaches 1 to 3.

System map

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 Goulburn River

Fish icon
Protect and boost populations of native fish (including golden perch) by providing habitat flows and encouraging fish to migrate and spawn
Insect icon
Provide habitat and nourishment for waterbugs which provide energy, break down organic matter and support the river’s food chain
Landscape icon
Maintain the form of the river bank and channel and a diversity of riverbed surfaces to support all stream life
Plant icon
Increase aquatic and flood-tolerant plants within the river channel and lower banks to provide shelter and food for organisms further up the food chain and to stabilise the river bank

Environmental values

The Goulburn River supports a range of native fish species including golden perch, silver perch, Murray cod, trout cod, Macquarie perch and freshwater catfish. Its aquatic vegetation, scour holes and submerged logs provide a high diversity of habitat for adult and juvenile fish. The bank vegetation is dominated by river red gums, which provide habitat for many species including the squirrel glider. Birds (such as egrets, herons and cormorants) use trees along the river to roost and feed, while frogs benefit from vegetation shallowly inundated along and adjacent to the river. 

Mid Goulburn River tributaries between Lake Eildon and Goulburn Weir are important Macquarie perch habitat, while freshwater catfish can be found in lagoons connected to the Goulburn River in reach 3. Monitoring in the lower Goulburn River below the Goulburn Weir shows successful spawning in response to environmental flows.

Social, cultural and economic values

The Goulburn Broken catchment covers two percent of the area of the Murray–Darling Basin and contributes 11 percent of the water for use in the basin, with the majority contributed from the Goulburn River. Most of this water is used by irrigated agriculture, with the rest providing water for towns and stock and domestic users. The Goulburn River is popular for recreation, fishing and boating. Fishing in particular provides substantial economic and social benefits to the area. The Goulburn River floodplain has many important Aboriginal cultural heritage sites such as scar trees, mounds, stone artefact scatters and middens. The Goulburn River continues to be a place of importance for Traditional Owners and their Nations in the region, including the Yorta Yorta and Taungurung peoples.

Conditions mid-2017

Environmental water combined with inter-valley transfers (Goulburn water being delivered to the Murray, mostly to meet Murray irrigation demand) to deliver summer low flows and a fresh in late summer/early autumn aimed to provide cues for fish movement into the Goulburn River from the River Murray. Preliminary monitoring results show that some golden and silver perch moved into the Goulburn River during the fresh. A winter fresh commencing in June 2017 is also planned to move sediment, inundate snags and replenish slackwaters, benefiting waterbugs, fish and native vegetation. The vast majority of environmental water delivered in the Goulburn River is reused at downstream sites along the River Murray. In 2016–17, Goulburn water was reused to meet native fish objectives in Gunbower Creek, along the River Murray and in the Lower Lakes, Coorong and Murray Mouth in SA.

Monitoring found continued improvement of bank plants with an excellent response of mostly native plants establishing on the lower bank. A second spring fresh was not delivered in 2015–16 as a result of reduced water availability and consequently golden and silver perch breeding was not recorded. However, perch are a long-lived fish and breeding was achieved in the previous two years so this was a lower priority under drier conditions and lower water availability.

Fish surveys continued to record native species such as the Murray cod, Australian smelt, golden and silver perch, trout cod and Murray–Darling rainbowfish. The introduced European carp are also prevalent. Of note, while in past years perch breeding has been successful, recruitment (when animals survive to settlement or maturity) has not been found in the Goulburn River, with an absence of young fish (one to two years old). The reason for this is unclear, though there is a high possibility that the eggs/juvenile fish move into the River Murray. If wet conditions occur in 2016–17, a trial of a summer pulse is proposed to determine if increased flows at this time will attract perch into the Goulburn.

All environmental water deliveries are managed to protect damage to the river banks. This is done by adding variation to stable flows and carefully controlling the rate of rise and fall of freshes. Monitoring of bank condition is showing very positive results with some areas showing thin layers of sediment left on the banks from the delivery of environmental water. This material is supporting the germination and growth of new bank plants.

Scope of environmental watering

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

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Potential environmental watering1

Environmental objectives

1

Year-round low flows (500 ML/day in reach 4 and/or 540 ML/day in reach 5)

  • Optimise habitat and movement opportunities for large- and small-bodied native fish
  • Provide conditions that support habitat and food for waterbugs including by maintaining suitable water quality, encouraging the establishment  of aquatic vegetation, submerging snags and encouraging plankton production
2

Autumn/winter/spring low flows (400 ML/day in reach 1 in April–September)

  • Maintain and improve habitat for small-bodied native fish, waterbugs andaquatic vegetation
3

Winter/spring fresh (1 fresh of up to 10,000 ML/day with flows above 5,600 ML/day for 14 days in reach 4 and reach 5 in June–November)

  • Support the establishment of flood-tolerant bank vegetation
  • Maintain macrophyte, waterbug and fish habitat by mobilising fine sediments, submerging snags and replenishing slackwater habitat
  • Initiate spawning and pre-spawning migration and support the recruitment of golden perch
4a

Winter/spring freshes (up to 2 events of up to 5,000 ML/day for 2 days in reach 4 and reach 5 in July to September)

  • Initiate pre-spawning migration of golden perch
  • Increase available feeding habitat for golden perch
4b

Spring/summer fresh (1 fresh of up to 15,000 ML/day for 2 days in reach 4 and reach 5 in November–December)

  • Initiate spawning and pre-spawning migrations and the recruitment of golden perch
  • Maintain macrophyte, waterbug and fish habitat by mobilising fine sediments, submerging snags and replenishing slackwater habitat
5

Increased year-round low flows (830 ML/day in reach 4 and/or 940 ML/day in reach 5)

  • Optimise habitat and movement opportunities for large- and small-bodied native fish
  • Provide conditions that support habitat and food for waterbugs including by maintaining suitable water quality, encouraging the establishment of aquatic vegetation, submerging snags and encouraging plankton production
  • Submerge additional snags to provide food and habitat for waterbugs
  • Maintain pool depths and distribute sediment
  • Provide slackwater habitat in spring/summer to support spring-spawned larvae and juvenile fish
6

Winter fresh (1 fresh of up to 15,000 ML/day with flows above 6,600 ML/day for 14 days in reach 4 and reach 5 in June–August)

  • Maintain macrophyte, waterbug and fish habitat by mobilising fine sediments, submerging snags and replenishing slackwater habitat
7

Summer/autumn fresh (1 fresh of up to 5,600 ML/day for up to 10 days in reach 4 and reach 5 in February–April)

  • Maintain macrophyte, waterbug and fish habitat by mobilising fine sediments, submerging snags and replenishing slackwater habitat
  • Support the establishment of flood-tolerant bank vegetation
  • Stimulate the migration of native fish from the River Murray into the Goulburn River

1 Environmental water may be used to slow the recession of unregulated flows or operational releases to reduce damage to banks and vegetation from rapid drops in water levels. This also helps prevent waterbugs and fish from being stranded in small pools on river banks or benches following higher flows.

Risk management

In preparing its seasonal watering proposal, Goulburn Broken 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 Goulburn Broken region communities are involved in decisions about the Goulburn River and wetlands, Broken River and wetlands and the Murray River and wetlands. This happens through formal advisory groups: Environmental Water Advisory Groups focusing on rivers, a wetland advisory group and the Barmah Millewa Operations Advisory Group.

Who is engaged and how

Recreational users

Through formal advisory groups, recreational users provide local advice and raise opportunities for 'shared benefits' including whether the timing of environmental watering may align with key recreational events such as cod and duck opening. Recreational users are informed of environmental water deliveries and provide data that assists with reporting on the outcomes of environmental watering.

Goulburn-Murray Water directly engages with recreational user groups that use Goulburn-Murray Water 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.

Landholders/farmers

Through formal advisory groups, farmers and landholders (who often own land with river frontages) provide local knowledge and land management advice. They are also informed of environmental water deliveries and provide data that assists with reporting on the outcomes of environmental watering.

Traditional Owners

Through the Goulburn Broken Catchment Management Authority Indigenous Facilitator, the Yorta Yorta Nation (responsible for managing some land and reserves in the region) is given the opportunity to provide input to seasonal watering proposals through annual briefings with the Catchment Management Authority.

There are Yorta Yorta representatives from the Goulburn Broken 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 Murray Lower Darling Rivers Indigenous Nations on strategic (often longer term) issues related to environmental watering.

Councils

Through the wetland advisory group (due to their role as land managers for some wetlands), Councils provide local advice.
They also support local advertising during water delivery and share data for reporting.

Goulburn-Murray Water consults with the Greater Shepparton City Council and the Moira Shire Council regularly on water management, including on environmental water management.

General public

The Goulburn Broken Catchment Management Authority communicates through their website, media releases, advertisements in local papers, a column in Country News, in the Goulburn Broken Catchment Management Authority bi-monthly newsletter, social media, radio, community forums and partnered research.