In the dry Mallee country in north-western Victoria, the Hattah Lakes are an oasis for native animals who find food and shelter in these wetlands and floodplains. The lakes are filled seasonally by creeks connected to the Murray River, and occasionally flood. But with rainfall becoming less predictable thanks to climate change, the native fish and waterbirds are threatened by loss of habitat.

Water for the environment

Environmental water is water that's set aside in reservoirs and dams to be used for environmental purposes, such as supporting plants and animals. In the Hattah Lakes, scientists from the Arthur Rylah Institute monitored plants in the area before it was flooded with environmental water in 2014, and then every two years after.

A model for the future

Based on this research, the scientists developed a model to evaluate the effectiveness of environmental watering and predict the resulting changes to vegetation. The focus is on key plant species and plant communities so that environmental watering can be carefully planned for future.

Since the program started, the researchers found more than 80 plant species, 26 of which were rare or threatened. Some had never been recorded at Hattah Lakes before. There was an increase in native species and a reduction in non-native species. The watering also reduced the number of dryland plants invading the floodplain.

Good news for Hattah Lakes – and other wetlands

Environmental watering will be undertaken at Hattah Lakes every eight years, with benefits expected to increase. The research has shown the value of environmental watering for maintaining quality of habitat and improving tree cover not just in the Hattah Lakes but other similar areas. And the model itself can be used in the future throughout Victoria and beyond.

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