Key catchment Paroo River

The Paroo River is one of the major northern tributaries of the Darling River. It is the only catchment in the northern Murray-Darling Basin considered to be free of regulation or significant water extraction.


Key catchment map Paroo

The Paroo catchment is in north-western NSW, on the northern side of the Darling River near Wilcannia. It is bordered on the east by the Warrego catchment and on the west by the Lake Bancannia and Bulloo catchments that lie outside of the Murray-Darling Basin.

Catchment area

The Paroo River rises south of the Gowan Range in south-western Queensland and drains an area of 74,000 square kilometres. Fifty-five percent of the catchment (40,600 square kilometres) lies within NSW.

Major towns

Settlement is sparse in the Paroo catchment. The major towns are Eulo in Queensland, and Wanaaring and White Cliffs in NSW. The tiny village of Hungerford lies just north of the NSW-Queensland border.

Rivers and tributaries

From its origins in the Gowan Range the Paroo River flows south to south-west, crossing the NSW border at Hungerford. Here it is joined by Cuttaburra and Kulkyne Creeks (both effluents of the Warrego River) and the floodplain widens to encompass a complex network of channels and wetlands which are known as the Paroo Overflow. During large floods water from the Paroo River joins the Darling River just upstream of Wilcannia.

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 Paroo catchment on this website.

Major water users

Grazing accounts for 90 per cent of the land use in the NSW portion of the catchment. Water is used mainly for stock watering and domestic use.

Key water management issues

The Paroo River is unregulated and river flows are highly variable. Water users do not have access to a reliable water supply.

Sharing the basin's water resources fairly between NSW and Queensland is a key water management issue. An Intergovernmental Agreement between NSW and Queensland in 2003 is providing a cross-border strategic commitment to direct subsequent water planning and management decisions for both states. Also, water sharing plans in both states will set long-term rules on how water can be accessed, used and traded within the catchment.

In NSW water sharing rules will protect the important environmental assets associated with the Paroo River. While the Paroo is considered to be a tributary of the Darling River, it flows into the Darling only very rarely during large floods. Nevertheless, to ensure NSW remains consistent with the Murray-Darling Basin Ministerial Council Cap, plans are in place that prohibit further development of water resources in this catchment.

Environmental values

The wetlands of the Paroo and the Warrego Rivers are considered the most important area for waterbirds in the Murray-Darling Basin. The Paroo Overflow comprises extensive areas of low lying swamps, channels and overflow lakes that are highly important for the maintenance and survival of waterbird populations in eastern Australia.

The Paroo Lakes are capable of sustaining waterbird populations for up to 15 months longer than other wetlands in the region and are recognised as significant refuges for biological diversity. Two key wetland areas (Nocoleche Nature Reserve and Peery and Poloko Lakes) are listed as Ramsar wetlands, while many other sites are identified as nationally important in the Directory of Important Wetlands in Australia. As well as waterbirds, the Paroo wetlands provide habitat for many threatened fauna species and several threatened plant species. The catchment also supports one of the rarest landforms in Australia, the largest complex of artesian mound springs in NSW.

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.

Water sharing plans in this catchment:

  • Intersecting Streams Unregulated and Alluvial
  • NSW Great Artesian Basin Groundwater
  • NSW Great Artesian Basin Shallow Groundwater
  • NSW Murray-Darling Basin Fractured Rock Groundwater

Visit water sharing plans for a status update.

Under the Water Management Act 2000 all water sharing plans are required to have performance indicators to assess whether the plans have been effective in meeting their objectives. The Environmental flow response and socio-economic monitoring. Far West NSW - progress report 2011 (PDF, 4672.05 KB) summarises activities undertaken in the previous water year and provides an interim assessment of outcomes from the investigations.