Environmental watering at the Chowilla, Pike and Katarapko floodplains has come to an end after a successful four month period which has delivered many important ecological outcomes.
From August to late November 2021, the floodplain regulators at Chowilla, Pike and Katarapko were operated concurrently for the first time, along with weir pool raising at Locks 6, 5, 4 and 2.
The Department for Environment and Water’s Jan Whittle said the delivery of water for the environment has provided the floodplains with a much-needed drink in between the natural high flows needed to push water out over the floodplains that now occurs much less frequently.
“This is the first time we’ve run operations at the three sites simultaneously, it’s really rewarding from a water management perspective that we’re already seeing such great outcomes in the local environment,” Jan said.
“The Chowilla floodplain saw water levels raised within Chowilla Creek and through the Anabranch by 3.2 metres above the normal height.
“The floodplain trees and other vegetation are responding with new growth and flowering.
“Eight frog species, including the threatened southern bell frog, have been recorded at Chowilla and confirmed to be breeding which is great news. Many thousands of waterbirds, comprising 44 species have also been recorded in the Chowilla wetlands including migratory wader species.
“The animal residents of the Pike floodplain including frogs, turtles, and birdlife have really been thriving throughout the spring watering.
“The additional water is bringing the floodplain back to life. Throughout the landscape the smaller understorey vegetation and other plants such as lignum have responded extremely well to the watering, many turning bright green and putting on new growth.
“The water levels within the Pike system reached were raised by 1.25 metres above the normal height with plans for higher level operations in future years.”
Jan explained that the watering on the Katarapko floodplain has spread water across many locations, supporting a fantastic response in floodplain plants and providing habitat for a range of wildlife all of which is creating exciting new opportunities for recreational use.
“With the additional water at the site, the community have been able to get out and about in nature, exploring the water within flood runners and wetlands, paddling over roads and canoeing and boating under old river red gums,” Jan said.
“The watering raised levels by 3.2 metres within the floodplain creeks, which along with the Lock 4 weir raising has delivered water across over 1,100 hectares of floodplain throughout spring.”
Jan said the positive responses that have been achieved throughout the environmental watering are fantastic, and data collected from the current event will be used to inform planning for floodplain operations in 2022.
“With the operation of the floodplain regulators now finished, water levels within the floodplains have now returned back to near normal, however, water levels do remain up due to the continuing good flows in the river,” Jan said.
The operations were supported by water for the environment provided by the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder and The Murray-Darling Basin Authority’s The Living Murray program, as well as by the natural flows from upstream rainfall.
The environmental infrastructure, was delivered through the South Australian Riverland Floodplains Integrated Infrastructure Program (SARFIIP), a $155 million investment program funded by the Australian Government and implemented by the South Australian Government to improve the watering and management of River Murray floodplains in the Riverland.