The Living Murray Chowilla Floodplain Icon Site

Australians want a healthier River Murray. The Living Murray is playing a role in the return of the health of the system by focusing effort on the efficient use of recovered environmental water at the six ‘icon sites’ along the river. 

Chowilla Floodplain is one of the icon sites and is one of the last parts of the Lower Murray that retains much of its natural character. It is: 

The floodplain has experienced severe ecological decline, due to long periods without flooding. This decline was made significantly worse by the millennium drought.

Three high level ecological objectives have been set for the Chowilla Floodplain by the Murray-Darling Basin Ministerial Council:

  1. Maintain high-value wetlands. 
  2. Maintain the current area of river red gum forest.
  3. Maintain at least 20 per cent of the original area of black box vegetation.

The Chowilla environmental water management plan sets more detailed objectives and targets to achieve the restoration of the floodplain.

The Living Murray is a joint initiative funded by the New South Wales, Victorian, South Australian, Australian Capital Territory and Commonwealth governments and coordinated by the Murray-Darling Basin Authority (MDBA). See the MDBA's description of the Chowilla Floodplain project.

What we’re doing

Under The Living Murray, almost 500 gigalitres of environmental water has been secured. A program of works has been implemented to ensure that this extra water is used at the icon sites as efficiently as possible to achieve maximum benefit for the environment.

How do we obtain the extra water the icon site needs to thrive? Proposals are developed each year to seek environmental water allocations from the MDBA and the Commonwealth Environment Water Holder.

Our work at Chowilla includes:

  • Environmental watering and monitoring to protect priority wetland sites as refuge for plants and animals, and to better understand the condition of the floodplain and how to best manage this precious area 
  • Engagement with the community to ensure long term benefits can be achieved and sustained
  • operation and management of floodplain infrastructure to enable us to make the best possible use of any environmental water available.

Our strategy

The ecological health of the Chowilla Floodplain has undergone severe decline due to a decrease in the number of high flow events, and a significant reduction in flooding across the floodplain. Floods that naturally occurred about 45 times in 100 years now occur only about 12 times in 100 years. This has resulted in:

  • rising soil salinity
  • the death of trees particularly the majestic river red gum and the black box
  • fewer breeding opportunities for floodplain wildlife

The Chowilla Floodplain project aims to reverse this decline by enabling inundation of large areas of the floodplain at frequencies more like the natural conditions under which plants and animals have evolved. 

The activities underway are directed by the Chowilla environmental water management plan. The environmental water management plan documents the sites water requirement and outlines how the regulator and other measures will be used to meet those needs. The plan describes the preferred operation and the monitoring required to support the icon sites future management.

The Living Murray is a major river restoration program playing a major role in restoring the health of the River Murray. Other Living Murray Icon Sites in South Australia are the Lower Lakes, Coorong and Murray Mouth and the River Murray Channel.