Unpacked: South Australia’s ‘Low flows’ program and how it returns more water to the catchment
21 Apr. 2021 4 min read
Want a simple explanation of the work underway to return water to local catchments? Here’s what you need to know.
It’s well-known that many water catchments in South Australia’s Eastern Mount Lofty Ranges are in poor condition.
Some parts of the region, which extends from the Marne River catchment in the north to the Currency Creek catchment in the south, are struggling without flowing water or with significantly reduced flow for longer than they’ve ever experienced in the past.
There’s a number of factors contributing to this, most notably the fact there are more than 8000 dams in the region impacting upon the health of watercourses.
So what can be done to help return more water to the catchment systems? That’s where SA’s Flows for the Future program comes in.
How does SA’s Flows for the Future program work?
The program aims to ensure critical ‘low flows’, which make up just a small part of the total water flow in each catchment, are passed around barriers such as dams and watercourse extraction points to continue down watercourses in the same pattern that native fish, animals and plants have become adapted to over thousands of years.
By funding the design and restoration of ‘low flow solutions’, the program aims to restore more natural stream flows throughout the systems that bring life to the region.
But what do we mean by ‘low flow solutions’?
They’re specially designed devices that are installed on landholders’ properties that allow low flows of water to pass around dams and go into the watercourse downstream during natural periods of flow, such as via rainfall and other water runoff.
By diverting a small part of the total water flow past each dam and back into the environment, landholders can help bring enough water into these watercourses to keep them healthy for native fish, frogs, water-dependent plants and native animals, and ensure we keep watercourses healthier for users further down the catchment.
What are the benefits of the Flows for the Future program?
Low flows are only a small proportion of the total natural water flow passing through a catchment but they have a big impact on water-dependent ecosystems by keeping catchments wetter for longer.
The Flows for the Future program helps restore a more natural flow regime for endangered native fish species, including the southern pygmy perch and river blackfish, as well as providing aquatic refuges for animals to survive summer and dry times.
Feedback from landholders has shown the positive impacts the program is having on the environment. Creeks and waterways are now flowing at times of the year when they would normally be dry and there’s an increased quantity of native vegetation along the waterways.
How did the program come about?
The Flows for the Future program came about after the community expressed a desire to share the responsibility of passing environmental flows down the catchment, so the program is helping fund that for the community.
It’s a key focus to ensure the Flows for the Future program balances the water needs of communities, industries and the environment by returning more water to our catchments while still maintaining water security for landholders.
The Flows for the Future program is funded by the Australian and South Australian governments.
Which areas are taking part?
The Flows for the Future program was successfully rolled out across the region’s Angas, Bremer and Marne Saunders catchments commencing in 2017.
The team is now working with landholders with priority dams and watercourse diversions around the Finniss, Tookayerta, Currency Creek and surrounding catchments to achieve key environmental watering targets.
Are landholders obliged to take part?
Flows for the Future is a completely voluntary program, and landholders are under no obligation to participate.
The team works closely with each landholder to tailor a solution specific to their individual property and needs.
Want to know more about the importance of natural flows? Read how heavy rains and increased flows helpadd to the River Murray’s charm.