Protecting the gem in Victoria’s crown
Gunbower Forest is the Kakadu of the south, created by millions of years of large floods that historically spread up to 50 kilometres either side of the Murray River.
It is an internationally important system of floodplains, creek and wetlands, spanning 20,000 hectares, and home to one of the few significant remaining areas of river red gums in Australia.
“As one of the most popular camping, bush walking and bird watching spots in the region, Gunbower Forest is a special place, for both locals and visitors, ” North Central Catchment Management Authority (CMA) Acting Project Manager Genevieve Smith said.
“As an iconic site of the Murray-Darling Basin, it is treasured by the surrounding community, as well as the rest of the world.
“It’s home to many endangered plants and animals, such as the giant banjo frog and intermediate egret, and is an important seed bank for other wetlands downstream. It also contains significant sites of Aboriginal and European cultural heritage.”
However, river regulation in the Murray-Darling Basin since European occupation, and a changing climate, has meant natural floods occur less frequently, are typically smaller and often don’t last long enough to fully replenish the forest’s water needs.
This has impacted on the forest’s diverse plant and animal life, including the iconic river red gums.
“Without the ability to deliver water for the environment, many of the rare plants and animals in the forest will disappear, as the time between drinks stretches beyond their tolerance for dry periods,” Ms Smith said.
“Since the 2016 natural floods, Gunbower Forest has experienced two hot and dry summers, as well as one of the lowest winter/spring rainfalls on record in 2017.
“On top of this, Gunbower Forest is still recovering from the Millennium Drought. It’s time to give the forest a drink.”
Up to 82 GL of water will be delivered through the forest via the Hipwell Road Channel and regulators along the lower Gunbower Creek from mid-June to early November.
“The watering will put these areas of the forest and wetlands in great condition for the community to enjoy this coming summer,” Ms Smith said.
“Water supply to irrigators will not be affected by the flow and most of the forest will remain open. Most of the water will be delivered in the off-irrigation season, and during irrigation season we will continue to deliver water for the environment to the forest at lower flow rates to accommodate for irrigation demand in Gunbower Creek.
“This is water that cannot be brought into the area for any other reason. It is water that would otherwise sit in storages outside the region, and will create economic, social and environmental opportunities for the whole district.”
The flow rate during the off-irrigation season will be mostly up to 750ML a day, with up to 800ML a day for five days during this period to test capacity of in-forest waterways.
“This year’s delivery of water for the environment will water about 3,000 hectares of forest and use less than the first delivery in 2014 (109 giglalitres). Water delivered will help the forest thrive and provide a boon for plants, animals and visitors alike,” Ms Smith said.
“In fact, there are great opportunities to see the watering in action over the spring school holidays, by canoeing, bush walking, bird watching and kayaking. The Gateway to Gannawarra Visitor Centre at Cohuna can be contacted for information on the best places to go.”
Access to parts of the forest may be temporarily restricted over winter and spring due to water across access tracks. However, there will still be access to many popular camping and fishing spots along Gunbower Creek and the Murray River. The Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning’s facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/DELWPLoddonMallee/) will provide regular track closure updates.
“A healthier Gunbower Forest means a healthier community and increased recreation and tourism opportunities,” Ms Smith said.
“Water for the environment is the life support for Gunbower Forest. It is providing Mother Nature with a much-needed helping hand.”
For more information about the delivery of water for the environment visit North Central CMA’s website at www.nccma.vic.gov.au or the Victorian Environmental Water Holder www.vewh.vic.gov.au; for tourist information, including recreational opportunities, visit Gannawarra Shire’s Gateway to Gannawarra Visitor Information Centre at 90 King St, Cohuna or call (03) 5456 2047; for information regarding forest access and track closures, see Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning Public Access Map, and For park access and track information contact Parks Victoria on 13 1963 or www.parks.vic.gov.au.
The Flooding for Life project is delivered by the North Central Catchment Management Authority (CMA) in partnership with Goulburn–Murray Water, Murray-Darling Basin Authority, DELWP and Parks Victoria. It is part of The Living Murray program, a joint initiative of the New South Wales, Victorian, South Australian, Australian Capital Territory and the Commonwealth governments, coordinated by the Murray–Darling Basin Authority (MDBA).