It’s time to give Gunbower Forest a much-needed drink
The message from expert ecologists is clear. Four years without water is impacting the health of some of the iconic red gums on the Gunbower Forest floodplain, and we are taking action to halt their decline.
Victorian Environmental Water Holder (VEWH) commissioners have given the green light for the internationally recognised site to receive water for the environment this season.
North Central Catchment Management Authority (CMA) Chief Executive Officer Brad Drust said water will begin to flow onto the lower floodplain wetlands from May 27, with the Hipwell Road regulator expected to be turned on in late June.
“The local community loves Gunbower Forest. It’s a truly special place,” he said.
“Water for the environment is about making sure these floodplains, the forest we love so much, and the animals that rely on them to survive, are around for all our families to enjoy for a long time.
“The Gunbower floodplain ecosystem is struggling under the impacts of a changing climate. Water for the environment is doing its bit to help it survive.”
Mr Drust said with the help of natural floods and water for the environment, the health of the floodplain had improved over the past 12 years since the Millennium Drought.
However, after several years without a large flood, it is now starting to show signs of decline.
“Despite all the recent wet weather, most of the broader floodplain hasn’t had any water on it for four years,” he said.
“Without any substantial natural flooding since 2018, the gains made with water for the environment in 2014, 2015, and 2018, and a natural flood in 2016, are being lost.
“Interestingly, rainfall and streamflow records indicate that without river regulation, these floodplains would have had water across them from last July to January this year. It’s time to give them a drink.
“We have been working closely with committed local community members and Traditional Owners, and they agree, the time to water the floodplain is now.”
VEWH Co-Chief Executive Officer Dr Sarina Loo said: “The flows will target the full environmental water footprint, which is approximately 23 per cent of the whole forest or about 4,500 hectares.”
“Previous experience suggests that we can expect about 40 per cent of the water put on the floodplain to flow back out to the Murray River, providing some amazing food for our native fish.”
Mr Drust said popular camping and fishing areas along the Gunbower Creek and the Murray River will still be accessible during the flow.
“Last year’s watering targeted key wetlands and their fringes. This flow will move across a broader section of the floodplain,” he said.
“Wetlands primed in spring 2021 will be filled, and water will flow to key river red gum communities, including the aquatic understorey.
“The watering will fill forest wetlands attracting waterbirds and allowing plants to flourish,” he said.
“The forest will be a beautiful place to visit, especially during spring and early summer when the trees and wetlands are looking at their best.”
Up to 74GL will flow across the floodplain from now until November.
The North Central CMA manages environmental flows on behalf of the VEWH. They are authorised by VEWH in line with its Seasonal Watering Plan 2021-22.
The Gunbower Island water for the environment project is part of The Living Murray program, a joint initiative of the New South Wales, Victorian, South Australian and the Commonwealth governments, coordinated by the Murray Darling Basin Authority.
For detailed information about forest access and track closures during the flows, follow the DELWP Loddon Mallee Facebook page.