Caring for Katarapko
Katarapko is located near Berri and Loxton and covers more than 9,000 hectares. Most of this is in the Murray River National Park, with the rest being a mix of private land, Crown land and the Gerard Aboriginal Reserve.
It is a special place because of its cultural, ecological and recreational value. It is home to threatened species and includes a range of habitats, with lagoons, swamps, wetlands and creeks. The area also attracts up to 40,000 visitors each year.
The ecological condition of Katarapko has been declining because of altered flow regimes, obstructions to fish passage, and pest plants and animals.
Environmental floodplain watering at Katarapko Spring 2020
How we are caring for Katarapko
Community and government agencies are working together to look after Katarapko. Work began with the Katfish Reach community project as part of the Native Fish Strategy of the Murray-Darling Basin Authority. This project set up a large-scale demonstration site that aims to show the community that coordinated activities can help native fish habitat and populations to recover. The name ‘Katfish Reach’ was coined from the words Katarapko and fish demonstration reach.
Improving the health of Katarapko means managing flows into and around it in a more natural water regime. Water flows into the Katarapko-Eckerts Creek system from the River Murray above Lock 4. The creeks then flow through the floodplain, bypassing Lock 4, and eventually flow back out to the River Murray in weir pool 4. Infrastructure has been improved to enable better management of these flows. Works included removing barriers and constructing fishways so fish downstream of Lock 4 can migrate upstream through Katarapko. These works form part of the Riverine Recovery Project and the SA Riverland Floodplains Integrated Infrastructure Program, being delivered by the Department for Environment and Water.
The Katarapko Floodplain project
This is the journey of the South Australian Riverland Integrated Infrastructure Program (SARFIIP) and the valuable legacy it will leave behind for future generations. The environmental program delivered by the Department for Environment and Water included construction of regulators, fishways and blocking banks at the Katarapko floodplain to improve the overall health and resilience of the landscape. A short film has been created to share the great results of the program and the benefits to the Katarapko floodplain and ecosystem.
Our aim for Katarapko
How we are protecting Katarapko:
- managing water to create a more natural cycle of flooding and drying
- increasing native fish numbers
- improving the ability of native fish to move through Katarapko
- improving the diversity of native plants
- improving habitat for native animals including threatened species
- recognising the importance of traditional Aboriginal culture and European heritage
- making the best use of environmental water
- improving water quality
- managing pest plants and animals.
What has been done?
On-ground completed works include:
- Construction of major regulators, that are used to control the delivery of environmental water, at the Splash, Sawmill Creek, Piggy Creek and Carpark Lagoons
- Construction of new regulators with fishways within the Katarapko Eckert Creek system to support fish movement
- Construction of smaller structures to help us hold the water on the floodplain
- Upgraded infrastructure to manage the habitat of the Murray hardyhead listed nationally and internationally as an endangered species
- Removal of barriers to improve native fish passage and flow of water
These works have improved:
- Native fish passage and flows through 38 kilometres of waterways
- Water quality and connectivity with the river channel
- Environmental flow to the Katarapko Island Drainage Basin.
What happens now?
The improved infrastructure will be operated to manage water flows to the Katarapko Floodplain. An extensive ecological monitoring program will track the condition of the floodplain, vegetation, plants and animals. This information will provide data to inform decisions about floodplain watering events and track the improvements over time.
Floodplain watering at Katarapko Spring 2020
What are the expected benefits?
- Improve connectivity between riverine and floodplain habitats
- Localised freshening of groundwater systems
- Watering of native vegetation including red gums, black box and lignum
- Improve soil conditions as floodplain watering events flush out salt
- Increase sustainability of the tree population by being able to support seedlings with more frequent watering
- Increase food resources, such as waterbugs and aquatic plants, for animals such as fish, yabbies and waterbirds
- Increase food resources and habitat for native terrestrial animals such as bush birds, reptiles and bats, through improving the condition of the floodplain woodlands.
What to expect during an operation?
Floodplain watering effects vary depending on the level of operation:
- Low: raised water levels in anabranches and creeks
- Medium: water flows out into low-lying wetlands and floodplains
- High: large-scale watering of wetlands and floodplains.
Natural flooding delivers more widespread watering.
How often will infrastructure operations take place?
Decisions to operate infrastructure depend on the health of the floodplain as well as water quality and flow levels in the River Murray. A high-level watering event may be pursued if the condition of the higher elevation floodplain is declining and there are sufficient water flows available. In years of low-river flows, watering events will be less extensive and of shorter duration, and will improve the resilience of trees and plants located along the creek system.
Can I still visit Katarapko?
Katarapko will remain open for the public to enjoy recreation activities including canoeing, camping, bushwalking and bird watching. Visit the Murray River National Park to learn more about how to enjoy the natural beauty of Katarapko and don’t forget to book your camping spot online. When the regulator is not operating, visitors will be able to access the floodplain and creeks as usual and boats will be able to pass between the piers of the Splash Regulator. During a watering event, or periods of naturally high river flow, boat passage through the regulators will not be possible. The creeks and waterways upstream of the regulators will remain open for boating, canoeing or walking. These short-term restrictions will ultimately improve the health of the floodplain and ensure visitors can enjoy this unique environment in the future.
How can I stay informed about watering events?
The River Murray Flow Report is a weekly publication that outlines when water levels will rise, water level depths and the expected duration. Sign up to receive a copy of the weekly River Murray Flow Report, or view previous reports.
How can I find out about current operations?
The Natural Resources Centre Berri can provide information on watering events and where the floodplain can be accessed. You can also check the most recent edition of the River Murray Flow Report.
How does this affect irrigators?
Water available for irrigation will not be affected because specific environmental water allocations will be used to operate the regulator. Operations will be carefully managed to mitigate the risk of potential water quality issues such as algal blooms or black water events.
Will operations affect river salinity?
Floodplain watering events may increase salt volumes entering the River Murray in the same manner as natural floods by causing saline groundwater to flow into the river. Steps will be taken to reduce the impact of any short-term increase in salinity including reducing the level and length of floodplain watering events when there are salinity risks. Operations will only take place when there are sufficient water flows to dilute salt levels downstream of the regulator. Salinity levels will be tracked to ensure they remain under established thresholds. In the long term, watering events will reduce the build-up of salt in the soil and improve the health of the floodplain and river system.
Landscape SA Murray-Darling Basin, Department for Environment and Water, Australian Government, Murray-Darling Basin Authority, SA Water; Friends of Riverland Parks, Primary Industries and Resources of South Australia, South Australian Research and Development Initiative, Berri Barmera Local Action Planning, Loxton to Bookpurnong Local Action Planning, Gerard Aboriginal Community.
RRP is a $91 million Australian Government initiative to improve the health of the River Murray and its wetlands and floodplains from the South Australian-Victorian border to Wellington.
SARFIIP is 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 South Australia’s Riverland.