Environment SA News

Coorong community celebrates 10 years of environmental flows

The Coorong and Lower Lakes community has celebrated a major milestone with 10 years of continuous connectivity between the River Murray and Coorong following the Millennium Drought.

Coorong community celebrates 10 years of environmental flows
Hilton Taylor, Assistant Secretary, Commonwealth Environmental Water Office and Tony Herbert, Manager Environmental Water, Department for Environment and Water, at the Goolwa Barrage.

The local community held a celebration event on 23 October at Goolwa barrage to mark the 10-year milestone, which coincided with World Fish Migration Day.

The delivery of water from the River Murray to the Coorong is critical in supporting ecological outcomes, and the two waterways were disconnected for three years during the worst of the drought.

Program Leader CLLMM (Coorong, Lower Lakes, Murray Mouth) Adrienne Rumbelow said the local ecology and community had recovered significantly in the past 10 years, thanks to the delivery of water for the environment flowing down the river.

“We have seen significant improvement in the ecological health of the Coorong and Lower Lakes in the 10 years since the Millennium Drought,” Adrienne said.

“The iconic wetland also plays an important social, economic and cultural role for the local community, which is why we need to do everything we can to protect it.

“This recovery has only been made possible because of the delivery of environmental water under the Murray-Darling Basin Plan and because of local river recovery programs such as Project Coorong.

“The ecological recovery is highlighted by recent improvements in aquatic vegetation in the Lower Lakes, as well as increased abundance of many native fish species such as congolli, lamprey and black bream.

“Both congolli and lamprey were on the brink of local extinction during the Millennium Drought and this year we have actually seen record numbers of lamprey moving into the Murray.

“The ecological recovery and other improvements have been enabled by a lot of hard work and strong collaboration between governments, the local community and scientists.

“While we have had some periods of good flows, much of the site, particularly the Coorong, is still in a period of recovery and there is still lots of work to be done.”

The Murray-Darling Basin experienced an extended period of drought from 1997 to 2010 and water levels in the Lower Lakes receded, resulting in no flow through the barrages to the estuary from 2007 to 2010.

The ecology of the region suffered considerably with escalating salinity; no migration opportunities for the native fish which migrate between fresh and salt water; little to no food resources for migratory shorebirds and other waterbirds; depletion of invertebrate and plant species and increased acid sulfate soils in exposed lake bed sediments.

Chair of the Coorong, Lower Lakes and Murray Mouth (CLLMM) Community Advisory Panel, Bill Paterson, said the drought was a terrible time but there had been good progress.

“There are many good news stories - both for the environment and for the people who rely on it - which we are acknowledging today,” Mr Paterson said.

Since the Millennium Drought the delivery of water for the environment has helped achieve the following outcomes in the CLLMM:

  • Barrage fishways continuously open and operating since September 2010.
  • A recovery from near local extinction of the native fish congolli.
  • A significant recruitment event for the Coorong black bream population in 2017-18.
  • Increased detection of pouched and short-headed lamprey undertaking winter migration.
  • An increase in abundance and diversity of invertebrates in the Coorong North Lagoon.
  • A steady increase in diversity and extent of aquatic plants in the Lower Lakes.
  • Improvements in recruitment of Murray hardyhead fish in the Lower Lakes.