Murrumbidgee Monitoring, Evaluation and Research Program
The Monitoring, Evaluation and Research (MER) program builds on the previous Long Term Intervention Monitoring (LTIM) program which operated from 2014 to 2019. In order to protect the integrity of the long-term dataset that was developed under the earlier program, most of the methods used in the new MER program are a direct continuation of those used previously.
The MER program has been developed in consultation with NSW environmental water managers, landholders and managers of NSW and Commonwealth estates, including the Murrumbidgee Valley National and Regional Parks, Yanga National Park and Nature Reserve, and the Nimmie-Caira System Enhanced Environmental Water Delivery Project.
This new MER program will now be the primary means to evaluate the outcomes of Commonwealth Environmental Water (CEW) actions undertaken between 2019 and 2022. The MER program will be implemented in the Murrumbidgee and six other Selected Areas over a three year period (2019 - 2020 to 2021 - 2022) to deliver five high-level outcomes:
Monitoring and evaluation are vital to support effective and efficient use of Commonwealth environmental water. They provide important information to support the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder (CEWH) to meet their reporting obligations as well as demonstrating overall effectiveness at achieving ecological objectives.
The Murrumbidgee catchment in southern NSW is one of the largest catchments in the Murray-Darling Basin. Wetlands make up over 4 per cent (370,000 ha) of the catchment, and with over 1000 identified wetlands, the mid-Murrumbidgee and Lowbidgee floodplain represent a region of nationally significant wetland environments.
Flows within the Murrumbidgee River have undergone significant long-term changes since the construction of large headwater dams and in-channel weirs which allow the river flows to be regulated and water to be diverted to meet agricultural and consumptive needs. Commonwealth environmental watering actions are being delivered to restore natural flows and improve overall wetland vegetation condition, as well as enhance bird breeding habitat and threatened species populations.
In such highly regulated systems water is actively managed in order to achieve the desired ecological outcomes, and monitoring is a critical component of this process. Active water management is particularly important in supporting waterbird breeding. For example, the Nimmie-Caira floodplain supports some of Australia’s largest breeding colonies of straw-necked ibis that are particularly sensitive to sudden changes in water level around their nests. Information on the status of nesting birds and water levels is needed during breeding events to support real-time adaptive management of environmental water. Top-up flows are also critical in maintaining successful breeding by the vulnerable southern bell frog across the Lowbidgee floodplain. During return flows from wetland and/or floodplain to the river, monitoring activities are also critical in providing real time information on risks associated with hypoxic black water, exotic fish movement into the river channel, as well as identifying needs for return and reconnection flows when significant recruitment of native fish is observed on the floodplain. Adaptive management and frequent communication between monitoring providers and a range of stakeholders are critical for the success of environmental watering actions.