Victorian Environmental Water Holder (VEWH) commissioners will start to flood Gunbower Forest with 74,000 megalitres after ecologists raised concerns of declining health of red gums after four years without a flood.
Water began to flow onto the lower floodplain wetlands on May 27, with the Hipwell Road regulator expected to be turned on in late June.
North Central Catchment Management Authority (CMA) Chief Executive Officer Brad Drust said, “The Gunbower floodplain ecosystem is struggling under the impacts of a changing climate. Water for the environment is doing its bit to help it survive.”
Mr Drust said with the help of natural floods and water for the environment, the health of the floodplain had improved, but believes after several years without a large flood, it is now starting to show signs of decline.
“Despite all the recent wet weather, most of the broader floodplain hasn’t had any water on it for four years,” he said.
Audrey Dickins, local landholder, passionate environmental advocate and member of the Central Murray Floodplains Environment Group, believes the problems with the Gunbower Forest are more complex than the ‘just add water’ approach.
“Gunbower floodplain ecosystems aren’t struggling under climate change,” said Audrey.
“The photo depicted to sanction this story [in the NCCMA media release] shows a forest lacking in experienced forest management overcrowded red gums competing for water, nutrients and sunlight.
“Red gums shed a large proportion of leaves when under stress from all of the above mentioned.
“The forest floor in the photo is covered in a thick layer of leaflitter which prevents understorey plants from regenerating. Understorey plants provide food for fauna.
“Constantly adding water on top of natural floods will not help plants become resilient to droughts or climate change!
“74GL flowing over the Gunbower Forest floodplain for six months will maximise the growth of red gum saplings, generate more saplings as the water recedes which will create more overcrowding and even less food for fauna!”
VEWH Co Chief Executive Officer, Dr Sarina Loo, said, “The flows will target the full environmental water footprint, which is approximately 23 per cent of the whole forest or about 4,500 hectares.
“Previous experience suggests that we can expect about 40 per cent of the water put on the floodplain to flow back out to the Murray River, providing some amazing food for our native fish.”
With a wet seasonal outlook and near full dam storages, some community members are concerned that forests with a full moisture profile impact potential future flooding events.
The North Central CMA manages environmental flows on behalf of the VEWH. The Seasonal Watering Plan 2021 22 is available for download from www.vewh.vic.gov.au, with regular watering updates posted on the North Central CMA website www.nccma.vic.gov.au.