Water Matters - Issue 51, July 2020

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New department offers better links for agriculture, water and the environment


Andrew Metcalfe AO is the Secretary of the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment.

The Department of Agriculture merged with the environment functions from the Department of the Environment and Energy in February 2020. We are now the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment.

According to new department head, Andrew Metcalfe AO, the integration offers the ideal opportunity to drive greater collaboration on important policy challenges.

‘We are improving outcomes across agriculture, water and the environment for all Australians. The work that we do today has far-reaching impacts now and for future generations,’ Mr Metcalfe said.

The department also has a new corporate website and new department crest.

The website is awe.gov.au, but links to access the online systems and services you use remain the same for now.

‘This new structure strengthens the Australian Government’s ability to deliver effective sustainable resource policy outcomes across agriculture, water and the environment,’ Mr Metcalfe said.

‘This is important for regional areas and the agricultural sector, with many communities facing long dry periods and drought.’

Find out more about the new department at awe.gov.au.


Narran Lakes on the road to recovery


Narran Lakes before and after the flow (Photo: Commonwealth Environmental Water Office).

After a dry seven years, water has flowed into one of the most important waterbird breeding sites in Australia. 

Thanks to much-needed rainfall upstream of St George in February and March 2020, decent flows finally reached Narran Lakes in northwest NSW. These will go a long way towards helping the wetland come back to life after years of drought.

The Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder, Jody Swirepik, said it was a joint effort between governments to restore the beautiful natural site.

‘The water flowing into Narran Lakes is made up of water protected under Queensland water planning arrangements, as well as water purchased under the Basin Plan and left in the Narran River through Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder licences,’ Ms Swirepik said.


Continue reading about Narran Lakes on the road to recovery

An innovative grant to reimburse a water licence holder for not pumping during this flow also contributed to the water making its way to the lakes.

‘This successful pilot project shows how we can top up the Commonwealth’s water to achieve greater environmental outcomes at important sites such as the internationally significant Narran Lakes,’ Ms Swirepik said.

Traditional Owners and scientists monitored the vegetation around the lakes before the water began to arrive and will return soon to assess the response. The water is expected to have rejuvenated habitat critical for waterbird breeding. With good follow-up flows, colonial nesting birds are expected to return to the lakes during the next year or two, and breed on the more pliant, lush habitat.

You can read further updates on the catchment and find out more about water for the environment.

More help for financially-stressed farms

We are happy to feature information about some of our programs which aren’t necessarily linked to water but are important to Water Matters subscribers.


2020 brings a number of changes to the Farm Household Allowance.

The Australian Government is introducing further improvements to Farm Household Allowance (FHA) from 11 June 2020. 

These improvements will make it easier for farming families to apply for FHA and get the help they need to address the issues that are causing the stress. This might be the cost or availability of water, market volatility, drought, or succession planning issues, just to name a few.

We are increasing the activity supplement to $10,000 to help eligible households access training, develop skills and receive professional advice.

We are simplifying the assets test and boosting the net assets threshold to $5.5 million.

FHA payments will be simplified to the maximum rate for all customers with income under the thresholds.


Continue reading about more help for financially-stressed farms

To help farmers get the right support to work towards recovery, Farm Financial Assessments can now be completed by farm consultants and Rural Financial Counsellors.

From 1 July 2020, the requirement for business income reconciliation (BIR) will be removed to simplify access to payment.

These changes finalise the Australian Government response to the 2018 farmer–led review of the FHA.

More than $2 million is currently invested into rural communities through the FHA each week.

The FHA has already helped more than 14,900 farmers and their partners and has delivered more than $459 million to financially stressed households.

This in turn helps rural communities, including those in the Murray–Darling Basin, by keeping money moving in the economy.

Find out today if you are eligible for the FHA. Call 132 316 or visit Services Australia.

Flow-on effect leads to national win


The Flows for the Future Project is the recipient of the Australian Water Association’s National Award for Program Innovation.

The Flows for the Future Project (F4F) continues to go from strength to strength, with the South Australia F4F project team taking home the National Award for Program Innovation at the annual Australian Water Association Awards last month.

The prestigious award recognises innovative environmental or sustainability programs in the water industry with finalists from each state and territory.

Assistant Secretary John Robertson from the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment said the award was a well-deserved recognition of the F4F project’s progress improving the health and sustainability of catchments across the Eastern Mount Lofty Ranges.

‘The Flows for the Future project is invaluable to river catchment health,’ Mr Robertson said.


Continue reading about flow-on effect leads to national win

‘F4F goes a long way to maintaining stream connectivity in the Eastern Mount Lofty Ranges where, over the years, more than 8,000 dams have changed the pattern and amount of water flowing through the region,’ he said.

‘Working closely with landholders, the team installed new infrastructure at targeted dams and watercourse diversions, which has enabled low flows to pass back into the creeks and catchments.

‘It’s encouraging to see that all of the F4F project objectives are being met at such a high standard that they’re being heralded by leading water industry professionals.’

The South Australian Government Flows for the Future Project team also took home the top prize at the South Australian Water Association Awards for Program Innovation in 2019.

F4F is a joint Australian and South Australian Government funded initiative supporting the delivery of Murray Darling Basin Plan objectives across the Eastern Mount Lofty Ranges.

For more information about the project visit the Flows for the Future website.

Planning how we use water for our environment this year


Surveying fish at Yarradda Lagoon, March 2020 (Photo: Charles Sturt University).

Across the Murray–Darling Basin, water allocated to the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder helps to keep Australia’s rivers flowing and healthy.

We use this water to help our rivers flow, support native fish and bird breeding, and help look after our internationally important Ramsar‑listed wetlands.

Each year, planning the best use of water for the environment starts long before the water starts flowing.

The Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder works with local water managers, scientists, First Nations peoples and local communities to prioritise critical sites and carefully plan where water for the environment should be delivered.

The Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder, Jody Swirepik, said that local knowledge is key to getting the best possible results for the environment and communities.


Continue reading about planning how we use water for our environment this year

‘Central to our planning is matching supply with demand—comparing how much water we are likely to have in the coming year with what the environment needs,’ Ms Swirepik said.

‘What we aim to achieve—when, where and how our water is delivered—depends on how much water is allocated to our entitlements by State governments. Every year is different.’  

Each year a Water Management Plan is prepared that scopes water use scenarios for a range of weather conditions, from dry to wet, so we can quickly adapt to whatever seasonal conditions eventuate.

The Commonwealth Environmental Water Management Plan for 2020-21 will be released in July.

Keep up to date on their webpage.

Understanding how water is used in the Murray–Darling Basin


This new animation shows how water is used in the Murray–Darling Basin.

Water is used for many different agricultural industries in the Murray–Darling Basin. Some water users can choose not to use all the water allocated to them in the water year, based on their own business needs. Any water that isn’t used can be carried over or reallocated for use in the next irrigation year.

We are pleased to share a new animation and webpage on how water is used in the Basin.

Visit the Murray–Darling Basin Authority to watch the animation and find out more.



News from the water portfolio

You can find news from the portfolio at the following media pages:

Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment
Minister for Resources, Water and Northern Australia, the Hon Keith Pitt MP
Murray–Darling Basin Authority

Last reviewed: 12 October 2020
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