Murray Darling Wetlands Working Group Chair
Ian Davidson Murray Darling Wetlands Working Group Chair © Richard Mintern / CEWO

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Water fund demonstrates a new way to share water in the Murray-Darling

Endangered fish have returned to wetlands in New South Wales thanks to water provided by a unique water fund that balances the needs of the environment and agriculture. Water provided by the Murray-Darling Basin Balanced Water Fund is seeing the return of a locally extinct fish species to Murray River waters in New South Wales for the first time in more than a decade.

The Fund is a partnership between The Nature Conservancy (TNC), the Murray Darling Wetlands Working Group and Kilter Rural. It invests in permanent water rights in the Southern Murray-Darling Basin. When water is abundant and agricultural demand is lower, the Fund makes more water available to wetlands. When water is scarce and agricultural demand is higher, the Fund provides more water for irrigation. This unique approach reinstates the natural wetting and drying rhythms of the basin, resulting in a win-win for people and nature.  

The latest wetland to benefit from this water is at Frenchman’s Creek on Wingillie Station, far western New South Wales in partnership with the Commonwealth, NSW and South Australian governments.  

Rich Gilmore, Director of TNC Australia said, “Thanks to the Fund’s clever design, there is enough water to deliver it to wetlands that support species and habitats in need of special protection and support agriculture, even in a time of drought.”

Return of the endangered Murray Hardyhead

The water supplied to Wingillie is being used to support the reintroduction[1] of the endangered Murray Hardyhead (Craterocephalus fluviatilis). This native fish has not been recorded in rivers or wetlands in New South Wales for more than 10 years.

“The Fund’s environmental water donations have improved the environmental value of floodplain and wetland habitats on Wingillie for several years in preparation for the reintroduction of the Murray Hardyhead”, said Dr Deb Nias, CEO of the Murray Darling Wetlands Working Group. “This was followed recently by the successful translocation of 780 Murray Hardyheads from a population in South Australia – the first attempt in New South Wales to re-establish a freshwater fish species that is likely to have been locally extinct.”

The Fund has an ongoing commitment to supply water to this site in coming years to provide the best hope for a viable self-sustaining Murray Hardyhead population in the area and promote the development of its food and breeding habitat. 

In total, approximately 240 megalitres of water – enough to fill 100 Olympic swimming pools – has been supplied to Wingillie Station this financial year for the conservation of the Murray Hardyhead and its habitat, which also supports a diverse range of other species. This is part of a total of 900 megalitres that has flowed into Murray-Darling wetlands as a result of the Fund with a further 100 megalitres traded to cover the costs of conducting the watering events.

A further 8,200 megalitres has so far gone to farmers this year as a result of the Fund.

Two additional watering events flowing from Murray-Darling Basin Balanced Water Fund are planned for late autumn in north-central Victoria.

[1] The fish reintroduction is a joint project involving the Commonwealth Environmental Water Office, the NSW of Primary Industries (Fisheries), Western Local Land Services, the SA Department of Environment and Water, Aquasave - Nature Glenelg Trust, the Murray Darling Wetlands Working Group, and Wingillie Station, with support and additional water provided through the Murray-Darling Basin Balanced Water Fund.

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