Water for the environment and river connectivity

Darling River at Kinchega National Park. Image courtesy of John Spencer, DPIE.

When water flows uninterrupted along the length of a river into downstream reaches and connected water courses, this is known as longitudinal connectivity. The connection between a river and the wetlands and floodplains alongside it is known as latitudinal connectivity.

Connectivity between river reaches and their surrounding environment is critical for maintaining healthy ecosystems, fulfilling environmental functions like moving nutrients and sediment throughout the river, allowing native fish and other organisms to disperse and improving water quality. Connectivity also supports the communities that drink, swim, and fish in rivers as well as agriculture and other industries that rely on water from the river.

The volume of water flowing down a river changes over time and across landscapes and can be affected by factors such as climate and human development. The use of water from the river and the construction of infrastructure such as dams and weirs can affect a river’s natural flow regime and reduce connectivity. This will in turn affect the ecosystems, communities and industries that benefit from connected rivers.

Water for the environment plays an important role in supporting connectivity to keep our rivers, wetlands and floodplains healthy. Environmental flows are protected from extraction by water sharing plan rules to ensure longitudinal connectivity. In times of drought, releases of held environmental water have been used to reconnect areas. This was seen throughout 2018 and 2019 when multiple releases in the Northern Murray-Darling Basin (MDB) were used to restart the river from the Queensland border all the way to the Menindee Lakes. The New South Wales and Commonwealth Governments are continually working together to manage water for the environment in the MDB.

The NSW Government is committed to better understanding connectivity in the northern MBD. By better understanding the ecosystems we manage we can make science-based decisions and achieve the best outcomes for the community and for the environment. A stocktake has been undertaken of water sharing plan rules that may contribute to connectivity. To find out more about the stocktake and the role of water for the environment in improving longitudinal connectivity in the northern MBD, download this brochure (PDF 7.7 MB).