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Topics > River Murray floods

River Murray floods: FAQs

River Murray flood information and maps

What is the latest flow forecast for the River Murray?

The current flow event has passed through the Edward-Wakool system and the Department for Environment and Water is becoming increasingly confident in the accuracy of the projections being made about its magnitude. This has resulted in the narrowing of the scenario band this week.

There remains a high probability forecast of 175 GL/day at the SA border for the first week of December, with a moderate probability of 190 GL/day and a low probability forecast of 200 GL/day.

It is predicted that the river is set to rise rapidly over the next fortnight before briefly flattening and rising again in late December.

Current forecasting for this second peak flow is within the range of the previous peak flow forecasts, with a high probability of it reaching at least 185 GL/day, a moderate probability of 200 GL/day and a lower probability of 220GL/day).

Flows above 150 GL/day are likely to continue until mid-January and flows above 100 GL/day are likely to continue until mid-February.

As always, these projections are subject to future weather conditions, be it ongoing rainfall or a return to conditions that more closely resemble late Spring / early Summer in Australia.

The Department for Environment and Water receives advice from a range of sources including the MDBA, BoM and upstream water delivery authorities in preparing these forecasts, and we will continue to provide updates when new information comes to hand.

The Lower Lakes are not currently forecast to experience flood levels, as it is expected that the peak can be successfully managed through barrage releases. However, it should be noted that short-term lake level changes may result from local weather events.

Why has the flow forecast changed again so quickly?

We have emphasised that during the past few weeks that the main Murray flood peak is passing through the broad floodplain which lies between the Murray and the Edward and Wakool River system, which is incredibly complex.

There are several other tributaries that enter the River Murray which have experienced major flooding recently – but it is not simply a matter of adding up the various flows coming in to arrive at a downstream flood peak in the Murray.

The interaction of the various river peaks and importantly, the total volume of water that spreads out over this part of the floodplain has a significant influence on what the peak flow downstream will be.

It should be noted that the major flooding on the Lachlan River is not expected to affect the forecast flood peak at the SA border in early December. While the Lachlan River is part of the Murray-Darling Basin, it flows into the vast Cumbung Swamp in its lower reach and only rarely connects to the Murrumbidgee River. The flood peak on the Lachlan River will be significantly attenuated (ie reduced and extended) by the Cumbung Swamp.

What’s the State Government doing to help prepare river communities for potential flooding?

The SES, SA Police, the Department for Environment and Water and a range of other SA Government agencies are working closely with local government to ensure that the community, businesses and visitors are well prepared for the higher water levels that are currently forecast to reach South Australia.

Councils, the SES and the Department for Environment and Water have been assessing the integrity of levee systems across the region. Councils have commenced work on their levees, reinforcing those that are structurally unsound.

An online Flood Awareness Map is available for the community and shows the potential inundation expected at a range of flows. This allows residents along the river to check if their property is likely to be affected at various flow levels.

Are there differences between Victoria and South Australia?

Most South Australian townships along the River Murray are either located mostly outside of, or higher on the floodplain, and therefore it takes a much larger flow for towns to be affected. However, we do anticipate many shack areas, roads, some caravan parks and community facilities, including parks and sporting areas, may be inundated. If a peak flow at the higher end of the forecast range eventuates, some low-lying parts of townships may be impacted.

Where can I find information to help me prepare for high flows?

You can find a range of information and links on how you can prepare for high flows on the State Government central website: River Murray high flows 2022.

The SES website provides a list of current warnings with near real-time information on current warnings, incidents and, when available, sandbag collection locations (should that be required).

DEW has:

  • an interactive Flood Awareness Map that shows the modelled areas of expected inundation at each of the potential flow rates provided
  • estimated travel times of flows – between key locations within the River Murray system, including between the SA border and locations in South Australia
  • estimated water levels in the River Murray corresponding to various flow rates as an illustrative map and in a table– for key locations along the River Murray
  • estimated arrival times and durations of flows – these are based on water that is already in transit to SA and do not include future rainfall, release from storages and the timing of flow along the different river systems in the broader Murray-Darling Basin
  • inundation mapping for major towns, to help assess the possible extent of inundation for different flow scenarios including 200 GL/dayfor major towns along the River Murray
  • River Murray infrastructure mapping, to view structures on the River Murray floodplain that could now be submerged due to high flows in the river.

DEW also issues a weekly River Murray Flow Report with information about water levels, flow rates and barrage operations, as well as navigation issues and construction activities.

For the latest rainfall, river conditions and flood warnings upstream of the SA border visit the Bureau of Meteorology.

Are there any maps available that show where flooding is likely to occur?

DEW’s online Flood Awareness Map is available for the community and shows the inundation areas expected at a range of flows. This allows residents along the river to check if their property may be affected at various flow levels.

To see if your property may be impacted at various flow levels you can follow these steps:

  1. Open the Flood Awareness Map and agree to the terms and conditions
  2. Search to your property via the search box at the top of the map or via council area or suburb drop down lists
  3. In the box titled ‘Flood Studies’ select ‘Flood Mapping of the River Murray 2014’
  4. Then select, the inundation extent you wish to see.

Where do I sign up for updates on river flows?

DEW issues a weekly River Murray Flow Report with information about water levels, flow rates and barrage operations, as well as navigation issues and construction activities. This currently includes the weekly High Flow Advice.

The public are also encouraged to regularly check the SES website, which includes a list of current warnings with near real-time information.

Levee banks

What is happening with the Department for Environment and Water, council and private levees?

DEW maintains levee banks on Crown Land along the Lower Murray. We have confidence in their performance in a flood event up to the levels and flows for which they are designed. It's important to note however that even if structurally sound, levee banks can only perform their role up to that designed level.

While the State Government does not generally have a role in ensuring private or council-owned levees are maintained, it seeks opportunities to partner with councils and private landholders to access funds to improve or upgrade levee banks where the need is identified.

For comments on the operation of levee banks in an emergency flood situation please contact the SES.

Is there a guide for earthen levee embankment inspection and repairs?

An 'Earthen Levee Embankment Inspection and Repair Guide’ has been developed to assist councils and landholders with the inspection and repair of levee embankments. It is not intended to replace expert advice. It is recommended that landowners obtain advice from an experienced levee embankment or dam engineer, or other relevant expert.

Can I still access the government owned levees for recreational activities such as walking?

DEW is preparing to close all government owned levee banks along the Lower Murray from Mannum to Wellington from 21 November 2022.

Recreational activity along the levee banks will not be allowed during this time. Local Irrigation Trust members and contractors will have continued access and are encouraged to take all necessary precautions when working on the levees, particularly during or following wet weather.

Access to the following levee banks is closed for public recreation from Monday 21 November 2022:

The department is taking these preventative measures to minimise risks to public safety. We are being proactive in closing the levee banks temporarily so when the flows do recede, we can reopen in a timely manner once water levels have fallen sufficiently.

We acknowledge that there are privately owned levee banks along the Lower Murray. As they are managed and maintained by private landholders, access to their levee banks may be closed at the discretion of the landholder.

Has work started on the levee repairs around Renmark and are they likely to be finished in time?

Yes – refer to the Renmark Paringa Council website for details on levee repair work.

Waste disposal stations

Will river waste disposal stations be closed?

As the flow to South Australia begins to rise, DEW is preparing to decommission river vessel waste disposal stations below Lock 1 to Murray Bridge from Monday 21 November 2022.

All waste disposal stations above Lock 1 along the river in SA are already offline.

The river vessel waste disposal station at Goolwa will remain open at this point, however we will be monitoring this station on a regular basis.

The department is taking these proactive and preventative measures to minimise risks to public safety and water quality and ensure infrastructure is protected.

The temporary closure of this infrastructure is to ensure that when the flows do recede, the systems can go back online in a timely manner.

In the interim while flows are high, commercial options are available for businesses to utilise temporarily at houseboat owners and operators expense while the disposal stations are closed.

The Department for Infrastructure and Transport has recommendations on how river vessels are to navigate during high river events.

To keep up to date with the River Murray flow conditions, subscribe to the River Murray Weekly Flow Report to receive updates each week.

If you have any questions, contact the DEW Engagement Team on DEW.WIOCommunications@sa.gov.au.

Significance of the flows

How does this flow event compare to other years?

Historically, October to November is the most likely time of year that high flows occur.

In 2016, flows reached 95 GL/day at the South Australian border and in 2011 they reached 94 GL/day.

Going back to 1993, flows were about 112 GL/day and the next largest flows before that were about 160 GL a day in 1975 and about 180 GL per day in 1974.

The two largest events since the regular records began were in 1931 when flows were about 210 GL/day and 1956 when flows reached about 341 GL/day. Large floods also occurred in 1917 (approx. 217 GL/day) and 1870 (approx. 310 GL/day).

Do we know how long these floodwaters are likely to stay around for - days, weeks, months?

As a guide, flows are not expected to drop back below 150 GL/day until well into January 2023, with flows as high as 100 GL/day expected to continue for an extended period after that.

There is also further rainfall in the order of 25mm to 100mm forecast for the upper reaches for the Murray Catchment over the coming week, which has the potential to extend the duration of high flows.

How are River Murray locks and weirs being managed under the current high flows?

SA Water operates the locks and weirs in South Australia on behalf of the Murray-Darling Basin Authority and in consultation with DEW.

During periods of normal river flow, the locks and weirs are operated to maintain relatively steady upstream water levels for irrigation, water supply and navigation.

During high flow and flood events it is not possible to operate the locks and weirs, so regulator stop logs and navigation passes are removed. This allows the increased river flows to pass through, to ensure that there is no damage to the infrastructure, which is reinstated as the flow returns to normal operating conditions.

As of November 2022, all relevant weir sections have been removed at all of the six locks and weirs on the River Murray in South Australia. Navigation can now occur freely across all structures.

The locks and weirs have no impact on water levels during floods, nor can they be used to mitigate flooding.

Managing the Lower Lakes, barrages and Murray mouth

Why isn’t there any flood information for the Lower Lakes?

It is expected that barrage operations will be able to safely pass the forecast flood peak and maintain average lake levels below 1.0 m AHD. Because flooding is not expected to occur at the Lower Lakes, flood warnings for the River Murray and flood inundation maps only extend as far downstream as Wellington.

How will the barrages be managed during the flood?

Barrage releases will continue to be managed to provide air space in the Lower Lakes when conditions allow. Rapid increases in water level (such as what occurred early November 2022) should be expected during periods of storms/high tides/swells, followed by more gradual decreases in level as barrage releases are increased and airspace is created. There are 593 available openings over the combined five barrages. If required all openings and spillways will be used to safely pass the expected flows.

Why are lower lake levels fluctuating?

The barrages are operated to not only manage lake levels but also to prevent excessive amounts of sea water from entering the Lakes. Winds and tides are important considerations in planning daily operations. Barrage gates may need to be closed for short periods during storms and high tides to prevent seawater ingress into the Lakes, which can lead to rapid increases in water level while high flows are entering the lakes from the river. Additional barrage gates will be opened to release the surcharged water when it is next operationally possible.

During strong weather events, persistent wind over the lakes can also cause water levels to increase on one side of the shoreline temporarily, sometimes spiking above 1.0 m AHD in localised areas.

Lake communities and users should be aware of the potential for rapid, temporary rises in lake level.

Why aren’t the Lower Lakes being drained to help with flood mitigation?

The Lower Lakes are being managed to target a water level of 0.65 metres AHD as much as possible, which is lower than normal for this time of year when the lakes tend to be surcharged to hold extra water in the lead-up to summer. However, there may be times that lake levels rise temporarily due to local weather events or short closures of barrage gates during very high tides. Additional gates will be opened (when operationally possible) to release more water to maintain this target water level.

It would be ineffectual to target a level lower than 0.65 m AHD at the present time because of elevated downstream water levels in the Coorong North Lagoon and Murray estuary, which would make it difficult to make releases from the barrages at levels below 0.65 m. The water level in the weir pool below Lock 1 also needs to be maintained above certain levels so that irrigators, SA Water and other users can continue to access water supply.

Lowering the lake level below the normal operating range is not an effective strategy for managing water levels during the flood. During floods, the distance that the lake level will influence upstream water levels is substantially reduced compared to regulated flow conditions.

Why aren’t more barrages open?

SA Water operates the barrages on behalf of the Murray-Darling Basin Authority and in consultation with the Department for Environment and Water. Decisions on the number of gate openings at each barrage are made daily, with releases currently being made to target an average Lake level of 0.65 m AHD. If too much water is released too quickly, water levels will drop too low. Current barrage operations are successfully passing the River Murray flow entering the Lower Lakes from Lock 1. On a daily basis, barrage outflows can vary considerably due to tide and weather conditions, but over a longer period, outflows are matching inflows.

As the flow into the Lower Lakes increases over the coming weeks, the number of barrage gates open will be increased to pass the higher volume of lake inflow and minimise any unnecessary rise in water levels and inundation of foreshore areas.

Why aren’t barrages operating on the weekend?

There are hydraulically operated gates installed at most of the barrages and these can be/are operated over the weekend. Traditionally there is only one barrage attendant rostered to work weekends and the task of operating the manual barrage gates is a minimum 2 person task. However, if gate changes are necessary over a weekend as the flow increases, more staff will be rostered on.

While the general public only has viewing access at Goolwa barrage, there are four other barrages that are releasing flows to the Coorong, even when the Goolwa barrage is closed.

Why has the dredging of the Murray Mouth stopped?

The Murray Mouth is currently in a good condition and with the sustained high flows this is expected to be maintained over the coming months. A dredge has been maintained on standby should it be required at the site.

SA Water is undertaking fortnightly surveys of the Murray Mouth and will monitor its condition and resume dredging should conditions require it.

How often is the Murray Mouth being assessed to ensure that it doesn’t fill with sand?

Fortnightly surveys are being undertaken to assess the condition of the Murray Mouth. This will continue throughout the high flow event.

Riverland national parks

Can I still visit Riverland national parks?

Yes - All Riverland Parks along the Murray are open for day visitors, but are closed to overnight camping. This is a special time to visit parks in the Riverland as they are thriving this spring with water from unregulated high flows spilling out across the floodplains and filling creeks and wetlands.

Although our campsites and some access tracks and trails are closed there is still plenty to do and see. Visit the National Parks website for details.

Will I still be able to visit areas along the River Murray when the flood waters arrive?

Yes- Local towns and tourism operators are keen promote the opportunity to visit the area – including day trips to the National Parks – DEW will continue to keep our website updated with all of the latest information on high flows and river levels.

Please check the SES website for up to date information on flood alerts and warnings and information about the River Murray floods.

What’s a safe spot that I can view the high flows from?

There’s a number of lookouts along the Murray where you might get a good view of the high flows. Spots to consider include Headings Cliff lookout at Murtho, Holder Lookout at Waikerie, Big Bend lookout at Nildotti and Tailem Bend for a nice high view over the river. Craggs Hut Walking Trail lookout offers a panoramic view of flooding over the wetlands and floodplains of Katarapko in Murray River National Park.

Flood protection works undertaken by property owners

How can I protect my infrastructure and assets from floods on Crown land?

DEW supports temporary mitigation measures on Crown land to assist in protecting infrastructure and assets on Crown land or private property adjoining.

You can use temporary measures to protect your infrastructure including sandbags, water bladders or plastic sheeting.

Infrastructure on Crown land could include pumps and pipelines, shacks, pontoons, retaining walls, boat ramps and houseboat moorings.

Temporary mitigation measures include:

  1. Using sand bags on Crown land for protection works
  2. The temporary removal of infrastructure to protect it from the rising flood waters

Owners who wish to undertake temporary mitigation measures on their own private land (freehold and leasehold) should contact their local council for advice.

How do I ensure my activities do not impact on Aboriginal Heritage located on Crown land?

Land surrounding South Australia’s waterways and Rivers are of high importance to Aboriginal people and their communities with numerous examples of historic activities undertaken by elders and descendants.

Native Title rights continue to exist and land adjacent the River Murray and within its floodplains hosts numerous culturally significant sites, some dating back as far back as 40,000 years.

It is important that any activity occurring along the River Murray does not adversely impact on these sacred sites that are of high value to Aboriginal people and their communities.

For further information please visit the DEW website for Crown lands.

What if my infrastructure is damaged by the flood event or receding flood waters?

Should you experience any damage as a result of rising or receding flood waters, if it is safe to do so, you should make immediate attempts to secure your infrastructure to assist in preventing any further damage to it along with other structures and/or visitors within the vicinity.

Your insurance company will be able to assist with repairs and/or removal of the damaged infrastructure.

Should an emergency situation arise as a result of infrastructure located along the river you should call 000 for life threatening situations or SA State Emergency Service on 132 500.

Infrastructure and Assets on Crown land

Who is responsible for infrastructure located along the river?

Recreational infrastructure (such as jetties, pontoons and retaining walls) and agricultural infrastructure (such as pumps, pipelines and pump sheds) on Crown land are owned by members of the public who usually own the adjoining property.

The responsibility for the maintenance and management of this infrastructure, including during high flow and flooding events remains with the owner of that infrastructure. Those owners are obligated to adequately insure their infrastructure as outlined in their Crown land licence’s terms and conditions.

Mooring Houseboats

Where can I moor my houseboat along Crown land?

You may moor a houseboat for a temporary stay of up to 21 days on Crown land.

The permanent mooring of houseboats on Crown land is not permitted, except where authorised by the appropriate tenure or in a designated marina.

Some parts of the river are held under freehold title to the water's edge. You are not permitted to moor a houseboat in these locations without the permission of the landowner.

Councils have taken steps to close dedicated Crown land under their management based on the increase in River Murray flows. Local councils can provide further information on these closures.

DEW is assessing key Crown land sites and will take steps to restrict access to the area or facilities should this be required.

Water levels are changing on a regular basis and houseboat owners are encouraged to regularly check their vessels and adjust mooring ropes as necessary. This is not only important as river levels rise but also when waters recede due to the risk of strandings.

Houseboat owners should not rely on mooring to trees during this time, with an increased risk of trees being susceptible to collapse due to increased forces being applied from the moored vessel, the inundation softening the ground and/or erosion around their roots. A collapse risks direct damage to the vessel or through it becoming adrift.

The mooring of houseboats to existing structures along the river may result in damage to that structure and/or the houseboat. You may be liable for any damage resulting from your effort to secure your houseboat.

Flood waters are likely to extend past previously accessible waterfront public land and onto private land and you may be required to seek permission to moor your houseboat from the landholder or responsible land manager.

Visiting and accessing Crown land

What area along the River Murray in South Australia is Crown land?

Both the banks and the bed of the River Murray are Crown land and are subject to the rules that apply to Crown land and may be subject to native title.

In a majority of locations, this is an area of approximately 30 m to 50 m from the water’s edge, but may extend further inland where there is a significant wetland, swamps or conservation areas.

However, there are a few areas where private ownership exists to the water’s edge.

Where can I find information about river safety?

If you are visiting the River Murray, it’s important to do your research on the places you’ll be visiting so you can be best prepared.

Check out useful links to river safety information. Your safety is our concern but ultimately your responsibility.

How will the River Murray high flows impact Crown land?

Much of the land along the River Murray and its floodplains is Crown land or land proclaimed within the State Reserve system.

The River Murray high flow event is seeing water spilling from the River channel out onto these floodplains and waterfront land. As a result there are various levels of impact occurring to waterfront and floodplain Crown land.

The high flow event provides a fantastic environmental opportunity to assist in restoring the River Murray floodplain and ecosystem health. It does however bring safety risks to users and visitors who should show caution when visiting Crown land and interacting with the River Murray environment during this time.

How will I know if Crown land remains accessible?

The SES website provides a list of current warnings with near real-time information on current warnings, incidents and, when available, sandbag collection locations (should that be required).

DEW also has an interactive Flood Awareness Map that shows the modelled areas of expected inundation at each of the potential flow rates provided.

DEW also issues a weekly River Murray Flow Report with information about water levels, flow rates and barrage operations, as well as navigation issues and construction activities. This currently includes the weekly High Flow Advice.

For the latest rainfall, river conditions and flood warnings upstream of the SA border visit the Bureau of Meteorology.

How can I check if roads are closed due to flooding?

Visit the SA State Emergency Services website and Department for Infrastructure and Transport websitefor information on road closures.

DEW is assessing key Crown land sites and restricting access as required, however as inundation levels increase over the coming months, it is likely more of these tracks are impacted by floodwaters. Visitors to Crown land are reminded to:

  • consider safety when visiting sites that have some level of flooding
  • not to drive through flood areas due to the risk of being bogged on River Murray floodplains
  • plan your trip so that you do not become stranded with access cut off from rising flood waters
  • not to camp to close to the edge of flood waters.

Can I still visit and/or camp on Crown land?

The River Murray high flows will impact on Crown land in different ways. The River Murray floodplains are likely to see high levels of flooding and remain inaccessible until waters recede however some of the higher waterfront Crown land parcels may only sustain minor to moderate flooding. Visitors to Crown land are reminded to:

  • consider safety when visiting sites that have some level of flooding
  • not to drive through flood areas due to the risk of being bogged on River Murray floodplains
  • plan your trip so that you do not become stranded with access cut off from rising flood waters
  • not to camp to close to the edge of flood waters.

Blackwater

What is blackwater?

Blackwater is a natural phenomenon that can occur after heavy rainfall when organic material such as leaves and wood from floodplains is washed into waterways, resulting in low dissolved oxygen levels.

High levels of organic matter washed into waterways is then consumed and broken down by bacteria. Particularly when combined with warm weather, this can cause oxygen levels in the water to drop, potentially stressing or killing fish and other creatures in the river.

What is being done to manage blackwater?

A blackwater taskforce has been established and is chaired by PIRSA. It includes staff from various agencies and meets on weekly basis. Further information can be found on PIRSA’s website.

Any fish kills observed in the wild should be reported to the FISHWATCH 24-hour hotline on 1800 065 522. Further information is available from the Biosecurity page of PIRSA’s website.

Environmental benefits

What are the environmental benefits for the River Murray channel and floodplains

Environmental flows are important for native fish spawning, bird breeding and plants thriving.

This natural high-flow event is likely to provide much needed water to areas of floodplain that have not received water for over 40 years. Black Box woodlands and other native vegetation that have been struggling in recent years will receive a much-needed boost. A flow of 120 GL per day is likely to see over 80% of the floodplain inundated, which is particularly important for black box trees as less than half of all black box woodlands on the floodplain will receive water if flows remained below 100 GL per day.

When stressed lignum shrublands and red gum and black box woodlands receive water, it improves the condition of the plants which in turn provides better feeding and breeding habitats for many species of frogs, fish and birds.

Reconnecting the floodplains and wetlands to the main river will allow plants and animals to move throughout the river systems and colonise new areas. Connectivity also supplies organic matter and nutrients to the River system, which increases productivity and the transfer of energy up through the aquatic food web.

Higher flows also stimulate breeding by native fish species such Murray cod, silver perch and golden perch, and will improve the chances of successful recruitment by improving habitat availability and food resources.

Fish and frogs will move from the deeper river into the food-rich waters of these shallow habitats to breed and, in turn, provide more food for birds, turtles and yabbies.

What are the environmental benefits for the Coorong, Lower Lakes and Murray Mouth

The Coorong, Lower Lakes and Murray Mouth form an internationally significant Ramsar listed wetland, which continues to recover from the impacts of the Millennium drought.

These higher flows will have great benefits for this part of the river system. The flushing flows will also help scour out the Murray Mouth and if the flows are high enough, may even reduce the need to dredge for a period of time. Flow through the Murray Mouth is important in keeping water levels and salinity in the Coorong at healthy levels.

It will also support habitat for native frogs such as the southern bell frog, small-bodied fish such as the southern pygmy perch and boost invertebrates that are food for wetland birds. These flows will even benefit endangered migratory birds that travel across the world from as far as Siberia to feed and breed in the area.

Why do we need ‘water for the environment’ to help floodplains between high flows?

There is no longer a seasonal flow pattern that supports native animal and plant life, which is why water for the environment is still needed to help our waterways continue to function and flow.

The need for an effective, efficient and seasonal approach to managing water for the environment continues to be critical as the effects of climate change creates increasingly variable conditions.

Lower Murray grazing areas

Are the dairy cows at risk of drowning if the grazing areas along the Lower Murray are flooded?

No, the increase in river flow occurs relatively slowly and this provides adequate time for dairy cows to be moved to other locations well ahead of areas being inundated. Dairy cows graze the flat because of the high quality pasture that is available. Twice every day they are moved off of the flats to be milked, so they know the way already and can be moved very easily.

Information on water levels and flow rates is provided each week through the SA River Murray Flow Report, which you can sign up to receive a copy each week.

Wildlife in floods