River regulation and water extraction from the Latrobe, Thomson and Macalister rivers have reduced the frequency of small and medium-sized floods that naturally wet the lower Latrobe wetlands. The construction of levees and drains and the filling of natural depressions have also altered water movement into and through the wetlands. The drainage and flooding regime in all three wetlands is now managed to some extent with regulators connected to the Latrobe River.
Environmental watering objectives in the lower Latrobe wetlands
Avoid catastrophic water quality conditions (such as acid sulfate soil exposure) (Heart Morass)
Maintain or restore the diversity, condition and/or extent of native streamside vegetation fringing wetlands
Discourage the introduction and spread, or reduce the extent and density of undesirable/ invasive plants (Sale Common)
Sale Common is one of only two remaining freshwater wetlands in the Gippsland Lakes system. It provides sheltered feeding, breeding and resting habitat for diverse waterbirds, including the Australasian bittern.
Dowd Morass is a large, brackish wetland that regularly supports rookeries of colonial nesting waterbirds, including Australian white ibis, straw-necked ibis, little black and little pied cormorants, royal spoonbills and great egrets.
Heart Morass is also a large brackish wetland, with open expanses providing shallow feeding habitat for waterbirds, including black swans, Eurasian coots and various duck species. The lower Latrobe wetlands function as a diverse and complementary ecological system. Colonial nesting waterbirds breed among swamp paperbark trees at Dowd Morass in spring. Migratory shorebirds feed on the mudflats that are exposed as the wetlands draw down and dry over the summer. Waterfowl and fish- eating birds use open-water habitat at the wetlands year-round. The wetlands also support threatened vegetation communities, including swamp scrub, brackish herbland and aquatic herbland.
Traditional Owner cultural values and uses
The lower Latrobe wetlands are a place of spiritual and cultural connection for the Gunaikurnai people. Over many thousands of years, customs and lore have been passed orally between generations about the cultural values and uses of the wetlands and their importance to all Gunaikurnai people. The wetlands are on the lands of the Brayakaulung clan of the Gunaikurnai.
For the Gunaikurnai, the overarching objective for the wetlands is to provide and maintain healthy Country. Healthy Country includes the importance of place and the health of the entire ecosystem, including maintaining water quality, controlling pest species and maintaining a natural, seasonal flow regime and overbank flood events.
Environmental objectives for the delivery of water for the environment for the lower Latrobe wetlands should take a cultural landscape approach.
Watering requirements to support cultural values and uses include:
- timing the delivery of water for the environment planned in partnership with the Gunaikurnai Land and Waters Aboriginal Corporation (GLaWAC) to support a seasonal flow regime and wet and dry periods that embody healthy Country
- maintaining freshwater supply to the Durt-Yowan (Latrobe River) estuary, Dowd Morass, Sale Common and Heart Morass and associated freshwater habitats
- providing connectivity between reaches and onto floodplains and maintaining water quality to support cultural values and uses of significance to the Gunaikurnai.
The lower Latrobe wetlands support many keystone species important to the Gunaikurnai. Borun (pelican) and Tuk (musk duck) are the father and mother in the Gunaikurnai creation story. If Borun and Tuk are living and breeding at the wetlands, it is a sign that Country is healthy. If they are not, flows should be provided to promote required habitat and ecosystem services.
Other birds are important for woorngan (hunting) and food, including nalbong (water hens), gidai (black swans), boyangs (eggs) and koortgan (ducks except for tuk). Gidai require submerged and softer emergent vegetation to make nest mounds, placing them on a small island or floating them in deeper water. Gidai breed in late Winter to early Spring after the water level rises. Actions that fill the large wetlands and support the growth of loombrak (water ribbon) and submerged aquatic plants will support gidai. Ensuring that the lower wetlands and floodplain depressions (for example, billabongs) receive freshwater flows in Winter/Spring will provide the conditions for submerged and emergent aquatic plants to grow and provide food and nesting materials for the waterbirds.
GLaWAC is developing a vision for the wetlands that aligns with the Gunaikurnai Whole-of-Country Plan. Key aspects of the vision include:
- healthy Country: reflecting the spiritual and cultural values of the Gunaikurnai custodians; healthy Country contributes to the wellbeing of the Gunaikurnai
- water access: access to water is crucial for many cultural values, including identity and relational values, future economic values and place values, among many others. Access to water, through ownership or management, means that water is made available to the Gunaikurnai on the Latrobe and Thomson systems to provide freshwater to the wetlands. Every effort should be made to maintain freshwater-dependent values, which in turn deliver cultural values
- cultural and economic use: returning to cultural practices and Gunaikurnai-informed management at the lower Latrobe wetlands is key to returning to a more freshwater habitat for cultural uses and cultural species. It will also provide for water- based tourism, cultural education and ecotourism (camping) experiences
- connection: GLaWAC takes its responsibility to work closely with the people it represents on management decisions concerning Country and the health of Country very seriously. Gunaikurnai cultural obligations reflect Gunaikurnai views on healthy Country and, in turn, help the Gunaikurnai continue their ongoing connection to the land and waters of Country
- climate change: the Gunaikurnai have cared for Country for thousands upon thousands of years through many cycles
of climatic change, and they understand how to manage the landscape as it too changes. When cared for using traditional knowledge, Country can be healed. Mitigation of climate change impacts affecting the lakes, rivers and other waterways of the lower Latrobe wetlands can be effective with resources and empowerment provided to the Gunaikurnai.
Increasing the involvement of Traditional Owners in environmental flows management and progressing opportunities towards self-determination in the environmental watering program is a core commitment of the VEWH and its agency partners. This is reinforced by a range of legislation and policy commitments, including the Water Act 1989, the Victorian Aboriginal Affairs Framework, the 2016 Water for Victoria, the 2022 Water is Life: Traditional Owner Access to Water Roadmap and in some cases, agreements under the Traditional Owner Settlement Act 2010.
Where Traditional Owners are more deeply involved in the planning and/or delivery of environmental flows for a particular site, their contribution is acknowledged in Table 2.2.3 with an icon. The use of this icon is not intended to indicate that these activities are meeting all the needs of Traditional Owners but is incorporated in the spirit of valuing that contribution.
Watering planned and/or delivered in partnership with Traditional Owners to support cultural values and uses
GLaWAC and West Gippsland CMA are exploring opportunities to align environmental flows with Gunaikurnai outcomes in the lower Latrobe wetlands. In 2023-24, a Gunaikurnai cultural event is planned at Dowd Morass. This event will be jointly managed with WGCMA and will coincide with delivery of water for the environment. The timing of the event will be decided by GLaWAC, after some water quality and fish monitoring.
In early 2023, the West Gippsland CMA met with GLaWAC to discuss 2023-24 environmental watering priorities in the lower Latrobe wetlands, with further engagement planned in the 2023-2024 water year.
Social, recreational and economic values and uses
In planning the potential environmental watering actions in Table 2.2.3, the West Gippsland CMA considered how environmental flows could support values and uses, including:
- water-based recreation (such as canoeing and fishing)
- riverside recreation and amenity (such as birdwatching, bushwalking, camping and duck hunting)
- socioeconomic benefits (such as commercial eel and carp fishing and tourism).
Scope of environmental watering
The term ‘environmental watering’ refers to the active delivery of water for the environment to support particular environmental objectives by altering the flow in a river or the water level in a wetland. While other terms are also used to describe the delivery of water for the environment, ‘environmental watering’ is deliberately used here and in seasonal watering statements to ensure consistency in the legal instruments that authorise the use of water for the environment in Victoria.
Table 2.2.3 describes the potential environmental watering actions in 2023-24, their expected watering effect (that is, the intended physical or biological effects of the watering action) and the longer-term environmental objectives they support. Each environmental objective relies on one or more potential environmental watering actions and their associated physical or biological effects.
Table 2.2.3 Potential environmental watering actions, expected watering effects and associated environmental objectives for the lower Latrobe wetlands
Potential environmental watering action
Expected watering effects
Top-up (anytime, following bird breeding event if required)
Partial fill (in July to August1 with top-ups as required to maintain water depth of at least 0.3 m AHD and surface coverage year-round)
Fill (with top-ups as required during August to November, to maintain water depth of 0.4 m AHD for two months)
Trigger-based fill or top-up to 0.5 m AHD (during December to January)
Partial drawdown (during December to March)
Top-up (any time, following bird breeding event if required)
Fill to control salinity (anytime)
Partial fill (with top-ups as required to maintain a water depth of 0.3 m AHD during July to December 2023 and April to June 20242)
Fill (with top-ups as required to maintain water depth of 0.6 m AHD during August to November)
Partial drawdown (during January to March)
Top-up to permanently maintain water level above -0.3 m AHD (anytime)
Top-up (anytime, following bird breeding event if required)
Fill and partial flushing flow (during July to November4)
Partial fill (with top-ups as required to maintain a minimum water depth of 0.3 m AHD during August to December1)
Partial drawdown (during January to March)
1 If salinity level in the Latrobe River exceeds 15,000 μS/cm, a fill will not be provided.
2 This is the likely timing in the drought scenario. In the average or wet scenarios, a fill event may occur during this period, as detailed in Table 2.2.4.
3 If the salinity level in the Latrobe River exceeds 10,000 μS/cm, a top-up will not be provided.
4 If a partial flushing flow is not possible until the end of November, top-ups will be provided to maintain a fill with a minimum water depth of 0.5 m AHD.
Page last updated: 01/07/22