Featured National Park

Ross McDonnell, Former NSW NPWS Regional Manager and long term NPA Member

Many reserves have a myriad of management arrangements related to the protection of historical, cultural, recreational and natural values. While these arrangements generally impact in a positive way they can be complex to administer. One example of a complex set of arrangements is with the environmental water allocations (EWAs) for the Murray Valley National Park.

The reserve consists of separate precincts between Mulwala to Moama and Deniliquin, all of which were transferred to the NPWS in 2010. The precincts occur adjacent to the either the Murray or Edward rivers and contain wetland biota which require periodic flooding and drying. The reserve is known for its river red gum forests, RAMSAR protection, and was created following a lengthy NPA campaign, a 2009 Natural Resource Commission report and subsequent NSW Government legislation.

The 38,058 ha reserve is dominated by river red gum forest and woodland, wet grasslands and marshes located on a floodplain. Frequently inundated channels, drainage depressions and oxbow lagoons support reed beds, sedgelands and wet grasslands. The wetland habitats support internationally significant populations of wetland birds and fish, three species of mammal, seven frog species, three freshwater turtle species and a number of reptile taxa closely associated with wetland and aquatic habitats. The reserve also a breeding site for colonial nesting waterbirds with breeding events linked to natural flows often supported by targeted post flood EWAs.

One specific management complexity for the MVNP relates to how access to EWAs occurs, the decision paths involving state (NSW and Victoria) and Commonwealth agencies, and their processes and timeframes. Water delivery involves utilising constructed banks and regulators under various jurisdictions followed by ongoing and detailed monitoring to review the effectiveness and efficiency of each watering event. You can also add water licencing arrangements, review and use of water entitlements, interagency fund transfers, and ongoing repairs and maintenance to water supply and distribution infrastructure. Then there are the community relations aspects of how environmental flows are perceived by adjacent landholders and communities as reflected in the media and on advisory committees, often with polarised views on the benefits, costs and so called third party impacts.

The planning context is also complex in that the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) is not the sole agency involved, with any NPWS plan needing to be consistent with other jurisdictional plans, some of which are draft and evolving. These can be as broad as the quantity and timing of EWAs available in the Murray Darling Basin, to the annual management agreements within the Victorian/NSW Barmah Millewa Icon site, and to the ever-changing water availability consequence of droughts and flooding rains.

One important aspect of the MVNP is that of water flow timing. Consumptive flows to irrigators usually means high flows are directed down rivers and channels at times of the year not ideal for wetlands, and consequently, over time, most MVNP banks and regulations have been constructed to keep water out of the reserves. Allowing wetlands to dry is just as important as the wetting cycle.

While the above ongoing arrangements may sound daunting, once a planned watering event occurs, resulting in a targeted natural response such as a successful waterbird breeding event, the effort is obviously worthwhile and is rejoiced. The positive spinoff to the wetland dependent biota becomes evident and subsequently reported as part of the monitoring program. Those involved in the post watering monitoring have a wondrous task boating or wading through wetlands and witnessing nature’s splendour, however the experience is also open to all reserve visitors.