Getting to know the Murray: barrages

Want a day-trip with a difference? Head to Goolwa to see how infrastructure helps keep the River Murray healthy.

Looking to do something a little bit different on the weekend? Take a trip to the Goolwa Barrage and see the River Murray in action.

Located near the top end of the Coorong National Park, the Goolwa Barrage is built across the water between South Australia’s mainland and Hindmarsh Island as a way of regulating the river’s flow.

It might not sound like much to point your camera at, but if you’re interested in how things work, want to know what it takes to keep the river in shape, or just like to do something a bit different on your weekends, it’s actually well worth a visit.

Visitors can enjoy a leisurely stroll across the barrage, taking in the surrounds of the lower River Murray, with views across to Hindmarsh Island. You’ll most likely see other families enjoying the day on jet skis and canoes, and plenty of fishing boats. It’s an easy walk, which means the whole family can take part.

There’s plenty of birdlife around the place, and you can often spot some cheeky pelicans fishing for their lunch. Speaking of lunch, there’s a barbecue and shelter nearby so you can have a feed without having to leave.

You can also explore the barrage by boat, either your own, or hopping on one of the cruises that runs in the area.

But what does the barrage do?

The barrage may be a great spot to visit, but it’s not just a pretty face. It’s one of five structures – known as the Goolwa Barrages – that play an important role in the health of the lower part of the River Murray.

Since the start of intensive development like taking river water to irrigate crops, and the construction of dams and other water regulating infrastructure along the River Murray, the volume of water flowing down the river across the SA border has been significantly reduced. 

When there isn’t enough water coming down the river, we can use the gates in the barrage to reduce or completely stop the flow of water out to the sea.

When flows are high, gates are opened and water is allowed to flow over the barrages and into the Coorong. During periods of low flow to SA, like during the Millennium Drought when practically no water flowed down the Murray from interstate, the gates are kept closed.

The barrages also help us protect the special plants and animals in the Lower Lakes and Coorong by managing the delivery of environmental water.

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