Frequently Asked Questions

The VMFRP will get much needed water back onto nine high-value floodplains along the Murray River. Without this water, these iconic landscapes will continue to decline – along with the many native trees, animals and plants that depend on them.

The VMFRP is a partnership between Lower Murray Water, Goulburn Murray Water, Mallee Catchment Management Authority, North Central Catchment Management Authority, Parks Victoria and the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning.

The VMFRP will remove blockages that stop floodwater naturally flowing into creeks, and build infrastructure such as flow regulators, channels and containment banks to water the floodplains. Removing these blockages will also allow the water to be released back into the Murray River once it’s done its job. This work will help us to directly deliver the right amount of water at the right times to help our most valuable floodplains and the many species that depend on them.

The floodplains along the Murray River have evolved to periodically receive water. Historically, the river would spill onto the floodplains as often as 8 out of every 10 years, creating rich, lush landscapes full of life.

As our towns, cities, agriculture and industries have grown over time, we have changed the way the river flows to suit our purposes by using weirs and dams.

While this has benefited regional communities and economies, water no longer flows naturally as it once did and the Murray River can no longer water these floodplains often enough to keep them healthy.

The works and infrastructure will help us get water back onto these floodplains and hold it there for longer. This water will bring new life, improve the condition of vegetation and provide habitat for native animals like fish, birds, frogs and turtles.

It will help these nine ecologically significant floodplains to survive and cope with dry conditions and drought, so they can continue to be enjoyed by future generations.

These works will also bring substantial financial investment into the region, creating jobs and helping local economies, and attracting tourism dollars for generations to come.

The nine sites are now going through the various environmental, planning and works approval processes.

Check out our project timeline.

Once all relevant approvals are in place, construction will start in 2023 with all sites operational by mid-2024.

The nine sites were selected because they are:

  • likely to show tangible environmental improvements from these works and increased watering
  • difficult (if not impossible) to water in other ways
  • ecologically significant and home to many native animals and plants, including threatened species like the regent parrot
  • recreational hotspots that are much loved by locals and tourists.

Healthier floodplains are good for:

Local communities and visitors

Healthy floodplains are beautiful places to visit and are great for recreation like boating, fishing, birdwatching, hiking, kayaking and camping.

Traditional Owners

Traditional Owners have cultural, spiritual, and economic connections to land, water and resources through their relationship with Country, having managed land and water sustainably over thousands of generations.

Local wildlife

Lots of species rely on floodplains for food, habitat and breeding, from microscopic creatures to frogs, fish, birds, bats and other mammals.

We expect to see increased frog and fish populations, improved productivity of wetlands and improved breeding habitat for waterbirds and other waterway species.

Vegetation

Flooding brings vegetation back to life, creating habitat, foraging and food for floodplain creatures. Some flood-dependent species like river red gums and black box trees rely on the bigger floods that used to happen every 10 years. Animals like bats and birds nest in the hollows of these trees.

Local economies

Projects will bring substantial financial investment into the region, creating jobs and helping local economies. Improving the health and condition of river landscapes can also help attract visitors to the region.

Long-term monitoring of ecological, cultural and social outcomes before, during and after flood events will be used to check that we are getting the right results from these projects. If we are not seeing as many benefits as planned, we can adapt our approach over time and adjust future watering plans to achieve the VMFRP objectives.

Every element of each project is structured to ensure net benefit to the conservation values of the floodplains through the improved ability to efficiently deliver water.

As much as possible, we plan to build infrastructure on existing access tracks and previously disturbed areas to minimise the impact on the surrounding area. We have assessed the potential impacts on native flora and fauna and how we can minimise losses, particularly during construction.

This assessment shows that impacts will not be significant and mainly relate to vegetation clearance within a relatively small and defined footprint. Ultimately, we expect all plant and animal species to benefit from a return to a more natural flooding regime.

Projects must also go through an 18-month environmental assessment process with substantial community consultation before they get approval to go ahead. This process includes an independent assessment of project benefits weighed against potential and real impacts.

After construction, the sites will have operating plans with controls in place to monitor during flood events.

Longer term monitoring will also be in place to assess the environmental response and adapt watering plans accordingly.

We are currently doing a lot of work to understand what a more natural watering regime looks like at the different levels of the floodplain. We are working out which species of plants and animals we will target, how much water these species need, what time of year the water is needed, and how long the water needs to stay in the floodplains before it can be released back into the Murray River. These decisions will be informed by environmental studies and surveys, as well as the development of environmental water plans.

We will monitor how often natural flooding occurs and release water in the years where the environment needs a ‘top up’ to keep it healthy. We will not release water every year unless the floodplain needs it.

The watering plans at each site will be flexible; each year and each watering event will be tailored depending on things such as the conditions of the floodplain, water availability, river flows and timing since the last flood or watering.

The projects are designed to maximise naturally occurring flood events, enabling us to temporarily hold the water in the floodplain after a flood before releasing it back into the Murray River. However, during dry conditions and low river flows we will have the flexibility to pump water in from the Murray River if a flooding event does not fill the floodplain naturally. This pumping may only be needed during periods of prolonged drought.

Since the early 1990s, the Victorian Government has partnered with stakeholders and communities to manage water to balance social, economic and environmental outcomes. This includes releasing ‘water for the environment’ into rivers and wetlands to mimic some of the flows that would have occurred naturally before the construction of dams, weirs and channels.

This water helps protect the plants, animals and overall health of rivers, wetlands, floodplains and estuaries. A substantial body of research exists to support this work.

Infrastructure like regulators and fishways are already used across Victoria to improve river connectivity and flows. For areas that are difficult to reach with environmental water, improved water infrastructure will play a key role in supporting floodplain and wetland ecosystems.

Similar infrastructure projects have already been successfully implemented at four Victorian sites along the River Murray – Gunbower Forest, Hattah Lakes, Lindsay Island and Mulcra Island – under the Living Murray program. They are delivering great outcomes without allowing flood events that could impact regional communities and landholders. VMFRP projects will build on this work already completed.

According to a Living Murray Icon site condition report in 2018, of the sites with environmental works, sites that have used works to deliver environmental water over successive years are performing better against their ecological objectives than sites that haven’t.

The VMFRP will help meet Victoria’s ecological objectives under the Murray–Darling Basin Plan. It will build the resilience of floodplains to cope with climate change and low river flows, while also keeping irrigation water in the hands of farmers and the community.

The Basin Plan sets sustainable diversion limits (SDLs), which are limits on how much water can be used in the Basin, while leaving enough water to sustain the environment. Victoria has nine SDL projects, all of which are being delivered under the VMFRP.

A total of 36 SDL projects were incorporated into the Basin Plan in 2018. This project will enable Victoria to meet its commitments to the Basin Plan objectives while balancing the needs of all Victorian water users.

Total cost is estimated to be about $300 million.

The Australian Government will fund this project.

Water corporation customers will not fund these works and their tariffs will not be affected. Future operational costs will be externally funded and water customers will not be impacted.

These projects will get water back onto parts of the floodplain for the time and frequency needed to keep the environment alive and healthy. Projects have already been through substantial planning which involved looking at different infrastructure scenarios and choosing the best option for each site.

The other way to get water back onto the floodplains would be to raise water levels in the Murray River so it overspills its riverbanks and floods the plains naturally. But many businesses and communities live along the Murray River and at some of the nine sites we would see widespread and unsustainable flooding of farms, roads and houses.

Furthermore, we would need more water than is currently available, which would mean potentially buying back water used by irrigators to grow food. This would be a disaster for rural communities as it would reduce the water available to grow jobs and industry.

As we face a future with less water, projects like these will help our unique floodplain ecosystem to bounce back and survive for future generations.

The preferred design of the works is the result of detailed assessments drawing on extensive investigations at the site and overseen by ecological, hydrological and engineering expert review panels. This design will be finalised in 2021–22 during the environment assessment process in response to environmental and heritage assessments and stakeholder and community consultation.

The other alternative is to do nothing, but the targeted inundation areas are already showing significant evidence of ecological stress caused primarily by river regulation. If we don’t deliver these projects, we will continue to see ongoing deterioration of these floodplain ecosystems.

The project sites have already gone through extensive planning, but no approval has been granted and construction has not started. We must meet a range of Commonwealth and State statutory approvals before proceeding to construction, including:

  • Victorian environmental assessments
  • Commonwealth environmental approvals
  • Victorian planning approval
  • Cultural Heritage Management Plans

In December 2020, the Victorian Minister for Planning confirmed the environmental assessment pathway for the nine sites. This process ensures that projects are subject to a thorough, integrated and transparent assessment of any potential effects on the environment.

Read more about the approvals process.

No, the projects will use existing environmental water entitlements.

Together, these projects have the potential to achieve similar environmental benefits to a natural flood, using much less water. This will enable Victoria to meet its commitments to the Murray–Darling Basin Plan objectives while balancing the needs of all Victorian water users. It will protect farmers and irrigators, as it will improve the environment without need to buy back more water – a win-win for the Murray River and its communities.

Previous watering programs such as The Living Murray show that environmental water can have some risks of increased impacts from weeds, pest animals and overabundant native plants.

The VMFRP will work with land managers to help them secure future funding to manage known risks of environmental water delivery.

This regional approach has already proven successful through collaborating to attract funding for pest plant and animal control where it is needed most.

We know that native animals occupying farmland is an existing problem for landowners, with or without environmental watering. While floodwater causes native animals to seek higher ground, they may also be attracted to irrigated paddocks and growing pastures due to the lack of food in dry and deteriorating forests.

The proposed environmental watering events will not inundate every inch of the forests and there are significant areas of higher ground where kangaroos and other species can go to. Native animals will benefit from the watering events as it will give them food in the forest which hopefully will keep them there. This will be something to monitor over time and the community can help with this.

Mosquitos breed in the warmer months. By releasing water in early spring and winter and removing water by summer, we should not see an increase in mosquito activity.

We’ve done a preliminary salinity assessment for all VMFRP projects according to the statewide salinity assessment guidelines (which includes groundwater tables and salinity levels, surface water salt wash and salt load). Based on this assessment, the projects will not generate a salinity impact to the Murray River or surrounding areas.

Additional groundwater monitoring bores have been installed at some sites to allow the project to monitor groundwater levels before and after watering to confirm these assessments.

Darker water that is full of nutrients and carbon is often confused as ‘black water’. In fact, this darker water provides much needed benefits to the river, fish and macroinvertebrates, such as nutrients and food. Gum-leaf litter for example is full of nutrients and is the best kind of fish and plant food you can get.

But if leaf litter is not washed off a floodplain or riverbank regularly, and there is a summer flood, organic matter can be washed into the river. As the litter breaks down, it chews up all the oxygen, making it hard for fish, Murray crays or other organisms to breathe. If they can’t escape to a fresher section of the river, they can die.

Regular flows at the right time of year can gradually wash all this leaf litter away. Flows in spring and autumn mean the litter is not flushed out during the hotter months – reducing the likelihood of toxic blackwater events.

We can manage the risk of blackwater events by controlling the duration and frequency of water flows in and out of the floodplain. These projects are designed to give us the flexibility to operate the infrastructure as we need to, depending on the watering needs of the floodplains at any given time.

Ecological monitoring will play a critical role in managing water quality at the project sites. Regular water quality testing will be undertaken to monitor things like oxygen levels in the water. This monitoring will inform the timing of water releases back into the Murray River so we can avoid the risk of blackwater events.

Construction is expected to start in January 2023 and must be completed by June 2024 to meet Murray–Darling Basin Plan commitments.

The construction phase may temporarily disrupt access to some parts of the Murray River and its floodplains. We will work with the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning and Parks Victoria to maintain access to some sections of the park during construction, to minimise disruptions where possible and to make sure the community and stakeholders are aware of them ahead of time.

These floodplains are great places to camp, fish and bushwalk, and are vital for local businesses. Keeping these floodplain forests healthy is a big part of attracting tourism to our region.

So, while there will be some disruption in the short-term, these projects will improve visitor experiences over the longer term and protect our floodplains for future generations to experience and enjoy.

We know these floodplains are enjoyed by many users and are important to our communities in a number of ways. Throughout project planning and design, we will engage closely with the community and stakeholders to understand what’s important to them, and how their aspirations for the site can be incorporated into the project design and operations.

Find out how to get involved with the project and the environment assessment process.

Traditional Owners have cultural, spiritual, and economic connections to land, water and resources through their relationship with Country, having managed land and water sustainably over thousands of generations.

The VMFRP is actively approaching key stakeholders, including Traditional Owners and the community throughout this process to ensure they are included, so these projects not only deliver environmental, socioeconomic and community outcomes, but also respect cultural values.

This work includes developing Cultural Heritage Management Plans (CHMPs) for each of the nine sites – a written report containing the results of an assessment and conditions to be complied with before, during and after an activity to manage and protect Aboriginal cultural heritage in an identified area.

For more information on CHMPs, visit Aboriginal Victoria.