Environment SA News

Scientists head to River Murray to study environmental impacts of flood

Scientists have launched a series of research projects to determine how River Murray environments are responding to the once-in-a-generation flood.

Scientists head to River Murray to study environmental impacts of flood
Scientists monitoring dissolved oxygen levels in the River Murray.

The Department for Environment and Water (DEW) is working with the Goyder Institute for Water Research and its partners to fill knowledge gaps to inform the future management of riverine, floodplain and wetland habitats.

Researchers will capture data while high flows continue to exit the Murray Mouth to better understand environmental responses to the flood. This is in addition to the work being undertaken to further enhance river monitoring and flood forecasting.

Outcomes of the research will improve understanding of environmental responses to a wider range of flow conditions, which in turn will inform future environmental water management, including improved forecasting of river conditions, monitoring and environmental watering priorities.

The findings will help shape future responses to flood events in South Australia, where latest climate trends project more intense heavy rainfall events to 2050 and beyond.

This research will focus on four key areas:

  • The water quality of the River Murray flow, and the influence of the freshwater flows on marine habitats and species outside of the Murray Mouth
  • How salt moves and is flushed from the floodplain into groundwater during and after extensive flooding
  • The risks associated with blackwater
  • Responses in carp breeding and abundance

DEW Manager of Environmental Science and Research Partnerships Dr Jennie Fluin said the flood has created some difficult challenges for our South Australian communities, but the flows represent a once-in-a-generation opportunity to understand how such a flood event affects the river and surrounding environments.

“While the high flows will create many positive environmental responses, blackwater events and potential pest species may pose a significant risk to endangered and threatened species,” Dr Fluin said.

“Improving our understanding of ecological responses to a wider range of flow conditions will be important in how we manage the River Murray in our changing climate.”

Interim Director of the Goyder Institute for Water Research Dr Alec Rolston said the Institute is delighted to work with DEW and it’s research partners to deliver this critical work to inform the state’s future management of river flows and environmental watering.

“Future changes in our climate will likely increase the duration and intensity of extreme flood and drought events,” Dr Rolston said.

“Understanding responses to events such as these high flows is important for improving our water management to ensure the environmental, economic, cultural and social values of our waters are maintained.”