The Basin Plan 2012 and the Basin-wide environmental watering strategy (second edition, 2019) guide the long-term planning of water for the environment in the Murray-Darling Basin. Under the Basin Plan, environmental objectives are met by achieving outcomes for connectivity, native vegetation, waterbirds and native fish.
Objectives and outcomes under the Basin Plan reflect local site- and state-based objectives, though site-based objectives are often broader in scope and cover additional values (such as frogs, turtles, waterbugs and physical processes like sediment movement). Watering actions that support Basin Plan outcomes have significant benefits for many other species that rely on the surrounding landscape (such as squirrel gliders living along the lower Campaspe River or flocks of regent parrots moving into the Hattah Lakes floodplain after watering).
The VEWH coordinates its activities with other environmental water holders in northern Victoria, NSW and South Australia to achieve environmental outcomes at the southern connected Murray-Darling Basin scale. Collaborative planning focuses on how upstream and downstream objectives align and how the broader operation of the Murray River system can help
support environmental outcomes, as well as complementary outcomes for Traditional Owners (as set out in the ‘Statement on environmental water use in 2022-23’ on pages XX) and local communities.
Annual planning is documented in basin annual environmental watering priorities (by the Murray-Darling Basin Authority under the Basin Plan), in annual portfolio management plans (by the Commonwealth Environmental Water Office) and the VEWH’s annual seasonal watering plan (this document). The Southern Connected Basin Environmental Watering Committee publish its annual operational scenarios for environmental flow coordination in the Murray River. In Victoria, all water for the environment must be delivered in line with the VEWH’s seasonal watering plan, meaning coordination during annual planning is fundamental to successful basin-scale outcomes.
Delivery coordination and monitoring
Environmental water holders in the Murray-Darling Basin are increasingly emphasising the coordination of water deliveries to achieve landscape-scale environmental outcomes. Examples include:
- delivering a winter fresh in the Goulburn River, which subsequently passed through to the Lower Lakes in South Australia and through the barrages to the Coorong to trigger upstream migration of fish (such as lamprey)
- delivering a spring flow from Hume Dam to support floodplain sites (such as Barmah-Millewa Forest) and the river channel from the mid-Murray to the lower Murray all the way to the Lower Lakes and Coorong in South Australia. This event carries carbon and nutrients from the floodplain to the river and transports them through the system, increasing food availability, helping native fish to move and breed and supporting native aquatic plants in the river channel.
To assess the effectiveness of landscape-scale responses to environmental flows, the Southern Connected Basin Environmental Watering Committee developed the River Murray Channel Monitoring Plan 2021-22 to 2025-26. The plan focuses on productivity and fish indicators to inform the management of environmental flows. This monitoring complements site-based monitoring programs across the Murray system.
Water holder partnerships and collaboration
The VEWH holds Victorian environmental entitlements for water recovered under interstate projects and agreements — Living Murray and RMIF entitlements — and these require coordinated decision-making about where they are used. The primary objective of Living Murray entitlements is to support Murray icon sites, which include the Barmah Forest, Gunbower Forest, Hattah Lakes and the Lindsay Mulcra Wallpolla islands in Victoria. RMIF also supports environmental objectives along the Murray system in Victoria, NSW and South Australia. The Southern Connected Basin Environmental Watering Committee recommends how the Living Murray allocation, RMIF and RMUF should be coordinated and used.
The VEWH partners with the Commonwealth Environmental Water Office to optimise the benefits of water for the environment held by the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder (CEWH) and delivered in Victoria. Delivery of the Living Murray’s and the Commonwealth’s environmental Water Holdings to meet Victorian environmental flow objectives is included in relevant system sections in the following pages of this plan.
Water for the environment delivered through northern Victorian waterways can often be reused to achieve further environmental benefits downstream. If return flows are not reused at Victorian environmental sites, VEWH, the Living Murray and CEWH return flows continue to flow across the border to South Australia, where they will be used to provide environmental benefits along the Murray River and in the Coorong, Lower Lakes and Murray Mouth icon sites.
The VEWH may order, or authorise waterway managers to order, Living Murray and Commonwealth water for the environment for environmental outcomes at downstream (non-Victorian) sites. The VEWH may also order water for delivery in the Murray system to non-Victorian sites under river operating rules that help improve environmental outcomes while maintaining the reliability of entitlements for all water users. In previous years, this has included deliveries to the Murray from the lower Darling, orders for delivery from Lake Victoria and orders for delivery to the Murray River.