Grant to support waterbird breeding
In early 2022, the Commonwealth Environmental Water Office prepared a grant program to enable access to water from private on-farm storages on the Narran River to maintain water levels in Dharriwaa (Narran Lakes) where waterbirds started breeding in mid-January (2022).
For the first time in ten years, colonial waterbirds are breeding at the internationally significant Narran Lakes Ramsar site (known as Dharriwaa to the Yuwaalaraay/ Euahlayi people). Widespread rainfall across the Northern Murray-Darling Basin in late spring and early summer 2021-22 has led to large flows across the Condamine-Balonne, including the largest inflows into Dharriwaa since 2012.
A shortage of waterbird breeding across the Basin over the last thirty years, and likely climate change impacts in the future, increases the urgency of achieving waterbird breeding in 2022.
As this is the first colonial waterbird breeding event at Dharriwaa in a decade, a ‘release from private on-farm storage’ arrangement was established to reduce the risk of nest abandonment and enhance overall success of the breeding event. The arrangement, which was to be administered through a grant program, was activated in early 2022 to maintain water levels until the baby birds could fledge and leave their nests.
If water levels dropped too quickly, there was a risk breeding birds may have abandoned their nests or chicks. To mitigate this risk, a grant arrangement was established to access water from on-farm storages on the Narran River to maintain water levels within the Narran Lake Nature Reserve to support the breeding waterbirds. Through the grant arrangement, once all the conditions had been met, the water licence holder would have been reimbursed for water released from their storages.
A similar action was successfully implemented in 2008 to maintain the water level in Back Lake, which allowed for the completion of a large-scale waterbird breeding event.
However, local rainfall and heavy falls across Queensland and northern NSW at the end of February and into March have meant water levels at Dharriwaa are now stable and the urgent need for water to be released through the grant has passed.
Why is Dharriwaa so important?
- Dharriwaa has been an important meeting place to First Nations people for thousands of years.
- As member country Australia has obligations to maintain the ecological character of the internationally significant Narran Lakes Ramsar site.
- Dharriwaa is one of the most important waterbird breeding sites in Australia including for endangered waterbirds.
- More than 50,000 nests have been found at the site during previous large floods. Dharriwaa has also recorded some of the largest gatherings of waterbirds in Australia - 200,000 in 1983 and over 100,000 waterbirds in 2011.
- Dharriwaa experienced seven years of drought conditions up until early 2020, including some of the worst conditions on record. Large scale waterbird breeding last occurred at Dharriwaa in 2012.
The grant arrangement follows from previous efforts at Dharriwaa
Following seven years of drought, in 2020 the Commonwealth Environmental Water Office ran a pilot project to help revive critical waterbird habitat at Dharriwaa. This involved reimbursing a water-licence holder in the Lower Balonne River system (via an ad-hoc grant) not to pump water from the river. This meant more water from inflows, approximately 9 gigalitres, flowed down the river and into the lakes. This water helped revive critical Dharriwaa waterbird habitat.
CEWO also ran a second grant process in early 2021 to help vegetation recover further. However, the eligible entitlement holders chose not to participate in the grant at that time. The flows during early 2021, although relatively small, built on the flows of 2020 and vegetation continued to recover, despite the grant not being activated.
Core documents from the 2022 grant
This document details the operation of the grant (available to suitable water‑licence holders along the Narran River).
This document sets out the water quality code of practice for water released from private storage.
Independent assessment of the price for water released from private storage in the Lower Balonne – February-April 2022 (PDF - 1.8 MB)
Independent assessment of the price for water released from private storage in the Lower Balonne – February-April 2022 (DOCX - 1.7 MB)
This document provides independent advice regarding the price for water released from private storage in the Lower Balonne.
Environmental watering priorities 2021-22:
This document sets the environmental demands for water at Narran Lakes. The demand for waterbird breeding habitat is high to critical and for large scale waterbird breeding is critical following the recent drought. These water demands are set to maintain the ecological character of the site.
This document sets the Annual watering priorities for the Basin, which includes providing water to support colonial nesting waterbird breeding and recruitment triggered by natural flows in the Basin’s significant wetlands such as Narran Lakes.