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The Loddon River flows north from its headwaters near Daylesford towards the River Murray. Tullaroop Creek is the main tributary in the upper Loddon River system. The middle section of the Loddon River includes Serpentine Creek and is characterised by many distributary streams and anabranches flowing north across a broad floodplain. The lower Loddon River is joined by Pyramid Creek at Kerang and at this point the Loddon becomes part of the River Murray floodplain.

The major storages in the Loddon River system are Cairn Curran, Tullaroop and Laanecoorie reservoirs. Downstream of Laanecoorie Reservoir the river is further divided into sections due to the Bridgewater, Serpentine, Loddon and Kerang weirs. 

Environmental water can be delivered to the Loddon River from Cairn Curran or Tullaroop reservoirs or from the Goulburn system via the Waranga Western Channel (which intersects the Loddon River at Loddon Weir). Water is provided to Pyramid Creek from the Murray system via the National Channel. Water is diverted from the Loddon River to Serpentine Creek and to the Boort Irrigation District to supply agriculture. 

The water distribution system in the Loddon is very complicated due to modifications to the natural waterways for irrigation supply. The modifications to waterways and irrigation infrastructure provide challenges and opportunities for effective environmental water management. The highly regulated system makes it possible to manipulate the timing of releases at multiple locations, providing opportunities to accomplish environmental outcomes at discrete locations. However there are also many barriers that limit continuity and constraints that affect the volume and timing of environmental water releases. 

The highest-priority reach for environmental watering is from Loddon Weir to Kerang Weir, because there is good potential to rehabilitate environmental values and because the reach doesn't carry irrigation water. Environmental water releases to this reach aim to improve the condition of riparian vegetation and increase the abundance of native fish. Environmental water is also delivered to the upper Loddon River, Tullaroop Creek and Serpentine Creek to maintain or increase populations of river blackfish and platypus.

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 Loddon River

Fish icon
Protect and increase populations of native fish by providing flows for them to move upstream and downstream, and encourage spawning
Plant icon
Maintain river red gum, tea tree and lignum and provide opportunities for new plants to germinate and grow
Platypus icon
Create opportunities for young platypus to disperse to new, high-quality habitat so they are not competing for space and food and become more resilient to threats (such as predation from foxes)

Environmental values

The Loddon River system supports platypus, river blackfish and small native fish (such as flat-headed gudgeon, Australian smelt and mountain galaxias). While fish are most abundant and diverse in the upper reaches of the Loddon River and in Tullaroop Creek, river blackfish are also found in Serpentine Creek and rare Murray–Darling rainbow fish are found in the middle sections of the Loddon River. Pyramid Creek supports large-bodied fish (such as golden perch, Murray cod and silver perch) and is an important corridor for fish migration to and from the Loddon and Murray systems. 

A major threat to fish in the Loddon system is the many barriers caused by weirs and reservoirs. In recent years the North Central CMA and Goulburn-Murray Water have upgraded infrastructure to improve fish passage at the chute, Box Creek regulator and Kerang Weir. 

The condition of streamside vegetation throughout the Loddon system varies from bad to good depending on the recent water regime and the extent of clearing, grazing and weed invasions. The intact stands of streamside vegetation in good condition support a variety of woodland birds and other native animals.

Social, cultural and economic values

The Loddon River supplies the Boort irrigation district and is essential for prosperity in the region. Murray cod and golden perch are stocked in the Loddon River and are important recreational fishing species. Bridgewater on Loddon attracts visitors to waterskiing and triathlon competitions. 

The Loddon River holds significance for Traditional Owners. The river contains important ceremonial places and for thousands of years provided resources such as food, materials and medicines to Traditional Owners now represented by the Dja Dja Wurrung Clans Aboriginal Corporation.

Conditions mid-2017

In July 2016, water resources in the Loddon system were critically low. There was a high risk that allocations would start at zero, and because Goulburn-Murray Water did not have enough reserve to operate the system for the whole water year, water entitlement holders (including the environment) would not be able to access their full carryover volume from previous years, and passing flows would be reduced. Planning at that time focussed on protecting refuge habitat and optimising the availability of water in the system for all users. High rainfall in July, August and September averted the problem and delivered one of the biggest floods recorded in the Loddon system. 

The floods significantly improved the condition of aquatic and floodplain vegetation, and reed beds that had grown in the parts of the channel during the preceding dry years were scoured clear, which increased the quality and quantity of habitat for fish and other aquatic biota. The low dissolved oxygen blackwater events that killed fish in other river systems did not occur in the Loddon River after the floods.

As a result of increased water availability, more environmental water releases were provided in 2016–17 than originally expected. In December 2016, environmental water was released to Serpentine Creek for the first time. Environmental water was also released over summer to reduce the risk of a blackwater event. In April 2017, a coordinated release of water from the Loddon River and Pyramid Creek provided a high flow to stimulate fish migration through fishways at Kerang Weir on the Loddon River and the newly completed fish lock at Kow Swamp.

Scope of environmental watering

Table 1 Potential environmental watering actions and objectives for the Loddon River system

Potential environmental watering

Environmental objectives

Loddon River (reach 1)

Year-round low flows (10– 80 ML/day year-round)

  • Allow fish movement through the reach and maintain depth of pool habitat for native fish
  • Facilitate long-distance movement of male platypus in the August–October breeding season
  • Maintain suitable water quality in pools in summer

Summer/autumn freshes (up to 4 freshes of 35–80 ML/day for 1–3 days in December–May)

  • Promote movement of fish so they access alternate habitats
  • Wash organic matter into the stream to drive the aquatic food webs
  • Mix and re-oxygenate pools and dilute concentrated salt
  • Inundate lower banks to wet the soil and promote the establishment, growth and survival of sedges and reeds

Winter/spring freshes (1–2 freshes of 400 to 700 ML/day for 1–5 days in July–October)

  • Promote recruitment of riparian vegetation
  • Stimulate movement of native fish and enhance Murray cod breeding
  • Flush accumulated leaf litter from banks and low benches into the channel to drive aquatic food webs

Tullaroop Creek (reach 2)

Year-round low flows (5–40 ML/day year-round)

  • Allow fish movement through the reach and maintain the depth of pool habitat for river blackfish
  • Facilitate long-distance movement of male platypus in the August–October breeding season
  • Maintain suitable water quality in pools in summer

Summer/autumn freshes (up to 4 freshes of 30–40 ML/day for 1–3 days in December–May)

  • Promote movement of fish so they access alternate habitats
  • Wash organic matter into the stream to drive aquatic food webs
  • Mix and re-oxygenate pools and dilute concentrated salt
  • Inundate lower banks to wet the soil and promote the establishment, growth and survival of sedges and reeds

Winter/spring freshes (1–2 freshes of 200 to 400 ML/day for 1–5 days in July–October)

  • Promote recruitment of riparian vegetation
  • Stimulate the movement of native fish and increase the breeding success of Murray cod
  • Flush accumulated leaf litter from banks and low benches into the channel to drive aquatic food webs and increase ecological productivity

Loddon River (reach 4)

Summer/autumn low flows (25–50 ML/day in December–May)

  • Maintain water quality in pools
  • Maintain pool habitat for large-bodied fish (such as Murray cod, golden perch and bony herring)
  • Maintain shallow water habitats for small-bodied fish (such as flat-headed gudgeon)
  • Maintain connecting flows for aquatic plant propagules to disperse and establish

Summer/autumn freshes (up to 3 freshes 50–100 ML/day for 3–4 days in December–May)

  • Facilitate the upstream movement of juvenile golden perch to increase the size of local populations
  • Wet submerged wood and flush silt and biofilms from hard surfaces to promote the growth of new biofilm and increase waterbug populations
  • Facilitate the downstream dispersal of juvenile platypus in April–May

Spring high flow (1 high flow of 450–750 ML/day with a 7-day peak in September–October)1

  • Inundate banks, floodrunners and low-lying parts of the floodplain to promote growth and recruitment of riparian vegetation
  • Provide a cue for golden perch and Murray cod to migrate and breed
  • Flush leaf litter and organic material from the banks to drive aquatic food webs

Autumn high flow (1 high flow of 400 ML/day with a 6-day peak in April–May)

  • Provide a cue for fish from the River Murray to swim upstream and colonise the Loddon River
  • Help juvenile platypus disperse from the upper Loddon River to the lower Loddon River and the River Murray

Winter/spring low flows (50–100 ML/day in June–November)

  • Prevent terrestrial plants from encroaching into the channel
  • Increase the growth of fringing vegetation (such as sedges and reeds)
  • Maintain platypus populations by providing foraging and resting habitat

Serpentine Creek (reach 1)2

Summer/autumn low flows (10–20 ML/day in December–May)

  • Maintain connectivity between pools to maintain habitat for fish, turtles, platypus and waterbirds
  • Maintain water quality
  • Maintain aquatic vegetation

Winter/spring low flows (20–30 ML/day in June–November)

  • Maintain spawning habitat and water levels for river blackfish
  • Provide flow variability to maintain vegetation fringing the bank
  • Inundate snags to maintain biofilms and foodweb productivity

Summer/autumn freshes (up to 4 freshes of 40 ML/day for 1–3 days in December–May)

  • Flush accumulated sediment and scour biofilms to replenish the food chain
  • Maintain vegetation fringing the bank

Winter/spring fresh (1 fresh of 40–150 ML/day for 2 days in June–November)

  • Improve habitat to increase the abundance of native fish and biomass of waterbugs 
  • Maintain habitat for turtles
  • Scour organic matter that has accumulated in-channel

Serpentine Creek (reach 3)2

Summer/autumn low flows (5–30 ML/day in December–May)

  • Maintain connectivity between pools and habitat for fish, turtles, platypus and waterbirds
  • Maintain water quality
  • Maintain aquatic vegetation

Winter/spring low flows (30–40 ML/day in June–November)

  • Maintain spawning habitat and water levels for river blackfish
  • Provide flow variability to maintain vegetation fringing the bank
  • Provide depth to inundate snags and maintain biofilms

Summer/autumn freshes (up to 4 freshes of 40 ML/day for 3 days in December–May)

  • Flush accumulated sediment and scour biofilms to replenish the food chain
  • Maintain vegetation fringing the bank

Winter/spring fresh (1 fresh of 100–200 ML/day for 2 days in September-November)

  • Improve habitat to increase the abundance of native fish and biomass of waterbugs
  • Maintain habitat for turtles
  • Scour organic matter that has accumulated in-channel

Pyramid Creek and Loddon River (reach 5)

Winter low flow (90–200 ML/day May–August)

  • Maintain system connectivity and water quality
  • Maintain fringing vegetation on the lower banks of the channel

Spring high flow (1 high flow of 700–900 ML/day for 10 days in September to November)

  • Trigger and facilitate fish movement and breeding, particularly golden perch and silver perch, to increase local populations
  • Recruit and maintain riparian vegetation
  • Flush accumulated leaf litter from banks to provide carbon for aquatic foodwebs

Autumn high flow (1 high flow of 700–900 ML/day for 10 days in March–May)

  • Trigger and facilitate the movement of juvenile fish

1 Due to potential inundation of private land, environmental flows above 450 ML per day in reach 4 will not be provided without agreement of potentially affected landholders.

2 Flows in Serpentine Creek will be shepherded through the system and allowed to run down in Pennyroyal Creek and Nine Mile Creek with the

agreement of landholders.

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.