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The Applied Aquatic Ecology Hub recently hosted a two-day forum on managing waterways through drought with a focus on how to select and protect critical refuge habitats.

Waterway managers from across the state, the Victorian Environmental Water Holder (VEWH) and the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DEWLP) all came together to dig deep into some of the key issues around prioritising drought refuges and work towards devising strategic ways to manage them.

But what are the best strategies for managing these sites under prolonged drought/dry conditions?

The focus for waterway managers can shift from trying to increase populations of native plants and animals to maintaining critical habitats to prevent significant population declines and the catastrophic loss of key species.

Subject experts were invited to share their knowledge on a variety of topics during day one helping to provide a strong knowledge foundation for day two.  A variety of great topics were explored including:

  • What are climate predications telling us?
  • What might a change in rainfall mean for stream flow
  • How does groundwater interact with refuges and how might we be able to use it in the future to help support refuges?
  • Which tools are available to help us identify potential refuges?
  • How do refuges connect in the landscape
  • Which species would need protecting and why?

Day two focussed on the needs of waterway managers.  The day began with waterway managers presenting their experiences and approaches to managing waterways through drought.  Participants then participated in facilitated discussions that built on the material presented throughout the forum to:

  • highlight knowledge, strategy and policy focussed actions that could improve drought management approaches, and
  • develop some preliminary guidelines that managers may use when identifying and managing refuge habitats.

Forum numbers were kept small so participants could delve into some of the ideas, exploring them through meaningful discussion.  Some of the key themes explored were: how management might change during drought or as refuges become dryer; what are the key objectives to manage for and why have they been chosen; and what are the opportunities for Traditional Owner groups and communities to help in identifying potential refuge habitats.

The outcomes of the forum are currently being synthesised and will be shared with partner agencies soon.

Brainstorming key discussion points during the forum

Brainstorming key discussion points during the forum, by VEWH

Waterway managers discussing drought refuge habitat

Waterway managers discussing drought refuge habitats, by VEWH