Key catchment Macleay River

The Macleay catchment is on the New South Wales (NSW) mid-north coast. The catchment of 11,450 square kilometres includes extensive areas of the northern tablelands, a sparsely populated escarpment area and a coastal area ranging from foothills to coastal plains. From the gently rolling hills of the tablelands, the central catchment is mountainous with deep gorges. The lower catchment comprises wide floodplains extending to the coast and includes Kempsey and South West Rocks.

Major towns

Armidale, Walcha, Guyra and Kempsey.

Rivers and tributaries

The Macleay is a major river on the NSW north coast. It rises in the Northern Tablelands and flows south-east through a coastal floodplain to South West Rocks, where it meets the Pacific Ocean. Important tributaries include the Apsley, Chandler, Styx, Tia, Dyke and Yarrowitch rivers, and the Commissioners Waters. These tributaries pass through a number of spectacular gorges and waterfalls in the Oxley Wild Rivers National Park.

Real-time flow data

The department monitors the conditions of river systems in NSW and provides regular updates on water levels, rainfall, water temperature and electrical conductivity.

View real-time data from the Macleay catchment on this website.

Major water users

Land and water users in the catchment include local councils, water utilities, conservation, livestock grazing including dairying, dryland agriculture, some forestry and tourism.

Key water management issues

Due to a high density of rural settlement, the region's rivers and estuaries tend to be affected by changed run-off conditions caused by land clearing, agricultural use, human settlement and recreation.

Most of the rivers and creeks in the Macleay River basin are unregulated, without major storages to capture and control flows. Most water users rely on natural flows or small structures, such as weirs for their water supplies. As with many unregulated rivers, flows are most affected during relatively dry times, when water is low and demand high.

Environmental values

Macleay Estuary is a significant ecosystem for a range of aquatic and terrestrial flora and fauna. Natural resource issues range from New England Dieback, dryland salinity and soil degradation to acid sulphate soils, streambank erosion and fish habitat destruction.

Much of the tablelands has been cleared of trees and is now covered in native and introduced pastures. Rainforest and wet sclerophyll forests occur in the steep slopes and gorges of the escarpment. The lower ridges support wet and dry sclerophyll forests. These give way to cleared pasture land and wetlands on the floodplain. Coastal vegetation comprises grasses, shrubs and trees on the dunal system.

Water sharing plans

To preserve water resources in river and groundwater systems for the long term it is critical to balance the competing needs of the environment and water users. Water sharing plans establish rules for sharing water between the environmental needs of the river or aquifer and water users, and also between different types of water use such as town supply, rural domestic supply, stock watering, industry and irrigation.

Visit water sharing plans.