Floodplain studies and monitoring

The Murray River and its floodplains are part of a highly interconnected ecosystem. Historically, the river would spill onto the floodplains as often as 9 out of every 10 years, nourishing both the floodplain and the river, and supporting an extraordinarily rich tapestry of life.

Over time, we have changed the way the Murray flows to suit our needs, building weirs, dams and levees. We’ve benefited in many ways from regulating the river, but it has come at a serious ecological cost.

River regulation has caused blockages to flow and reduced the frequency, duration and extent of flood events. It has also caused increasingly long dry periods between floods, making it harder for floodplains to bounce back.

Varying degrees of stress are already apparent across our floodplains. The tree canopy lacks vigour and flood-tolerant vegetation are stressed, which reduces habitat and food available for animals that rely on healthy floodplains. If we do not intervene, these iconic landscapes will continue to decline, potentially beyond the point of rejuvenation.

We know from our existing environmental water programs and from infrastructure built under The Living Murray program that we can reverse this decline and restore our floodplains.

The decision to release water at a site is based on monitoring of floodplain conditions and is part of a holistic approach to keeping the Murray and its floodplains healthy.

Here we provide some information about the studies and monitoring we are doing to continually improve our understanding and management of floodplains.

In December 2020, the Minister for Planning determined that the floodplain restoration work proposed at the nine VMFRP sites would be assessed under either an environment effects statement (EES) or an environment reports (ER). You can read more about this process on our Planning/Approvals page.

The EES/ER process requires us to assess the potential impacts and benefits of these works, and how we propose to manage them. Areas of impact include biodiversity and habitats, water quality, cultural heritage, social, economic and amenity impacts, and waterway use and infrastructure.

The matters to be investigated are set out in the scoping requirements:

Various specialist investigations are already under way. We are documenting our findings in preparation for the EES/ER public exhibition that will take place in mid-2022.

If you have any thoughts or questions on the technical studies, email the project team at info@vmfrp.vic.gov.au and we’ll put you in touch with the right person.

Floodplain infrastructure is designed to target specific ecological results at each site. Objectives have already been identified for key ecological themes, including vegetation health, birds, fish, frogs, carbon, and water flows.

Monitoring these objectives helps site managers keep an eye on the health of the floodplain and informs decisions about future watering and land management activities at the site. It allows us to see changes at each site and adaptively change watering and land management practices to respond appropriately.

Monitoring involves scientists visiting the sites and recording data about the ecological themes. For example, the relationship between floodplain watering and the response from waterbirds is well understood. Objectives for waterbird abundance and breeding have been identified for wetlands at each site. To monitor whether these objectives are being met, scientists will visit selected locations at each site and record the number of species present, evidence of breeding and how much time each species spends feeding.

Catchment Management Authorities (CMA) are responsible for the ecological monitoring program for VMFRP sites in their area.

Ecological monitoring programs began at the nine VMFRP sites in 2021

The VMFRP watering infrastructure is planned to be operational by 2024 (pending government approvals). It is important to start this ecological monitoring now, so we can collect a few years of baseline data before we start watering the sites. This information will help us understand the health of the floodplains before and after VMFRP watering begins.

North Central CMA

North Central CMA is responsible for ecological monitoring at two VMFRP sites – Guttrum-Benwell Forests and Gunbower National Park.

North Central CMA began its ecological monitoring program in Autumn 2021.

Mallee CMA

Mallee CMA is responsible for ecological monitoring at seven VMFRP sites – Lindsay Island, Wallpolla Island, Hattah Lakes, Belsar-Yungera, Burra Creek, Nyah and Vinifera.

In 2021, Mallee CMA engaged a number of contractors to complete ecological monitoring. Works began in late September and will involve short periods of monitoring through to Autumn 2022.

Proposed Mallee CMA flora and fauna survey sites

The Living Murray (TLM) was a joint initiative funded by the New South Wales, Victorian, South Australian, Australian Capital Territory and the Commonwealth governments, coordinated by the Murray–Darling Basin Authority (MDBA).

Infrastructure such as regulators, weirs and fishways were built at six icon sites chosen for their environmental, cultural and international significance. Sites have been operational since around 2012.

Ongoing monitoring at these sites shows us that these types of projects do help restore river connectivity and health and deliver great outcomes for plants and animals. Monitoring reports can be found on the MDBA website.

We are currently reviewing the ecological outcomes from watering at TLM sites and publishing results on this website:

TLM fact sheets and information

Fact sheet: Black Box tree response to TLM infrastructure (PDF, 2 MB)

Case study: Environmental works a lifeline for our floodplain Black Box trees at Hattah-Kulkyne National Park (PDF, 1.5 MB)