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Projects and programs

Northern Basin Connectivity Program

Improving water flowing across connected catchments at important times to improve downstream outcomes.

Wilcannia Weir

About the program

Water flowing across connected catchments supports essential human and ecological needs.  The Barwon-Darling River receives more than 90% of its flows from upstream catchments in northern NSW (Border Rivers, Gwydir, Namoi and Macquarie) and Queensland. This mainly occurs during large flows.

The Northern Basin Connectivity Program is undertaking action to enable water to flow across connected catchments of the northern NSW Murray-Darling Basin and downstream at important times for the following outcomes:

  • protect the first flush of water after an extended dry period to protect critical human and environmental needs and support recovery post droughts
  • reduce the impact of cease-to-flow periods and improve low-flow connectivity
  • support water quality and reduce the risk of algal blooms forming
  • support fish migration.

Components of the program

  • The Northern Basin Connectivity Program is progressing connectivity improvements identified as part of the Western Regional Water Strategy, including analysis to inform potential changes to water sharing plan flow targets (triggers) to improve water flows across the connected catchments of the northern NSW Murray-Darling Basin at important times.
  • The Connectivity Expert Panel has been established in 2023 to review the department’s analyses and provide independent expert advice to the Minister on the potential for these updated flow targets to meet critical human and environmental needs.
  • The Connectivity Stakeholder Reference Group was established in 2021 to provide a range of diverse perspectives on the proposed approach to river connectivity in the Western Regional Water Strategy.

This program builds on the range of connectivity reforms of the NSW Government over recent years including the protection of low flows in the Barwon-Darling, regulating floodplain harvesting, and progressing work on removing unapproved flood works in high priority areas to allow water to flow more easily across the landscape.

While the changes to water sharing plan rules to improve connectivity are being finalised, temporary water restrictions may be used to protect the first flows after dry periods to meet critical human and environmental needs.  If deemed necessary, these temporary water restrictions would be implemented using Section 324 of the Water Management Act 2000 and may be guided by the critical dry conditions triggers published in the Western Regional water strategy PDF, 17654.62 KB.

Supporting projects and material

Next steps

The Connectivity Expert Panel will provide its draft report and recommendations in early 2024. Targeted consultation will be undertaken on the draft report prior to the panel finalising the report.

The department will follow the usual processes to make any water sharing plan amendments in response to the panel’s recommendations. This will include public consultation on the proposed amendments.

Western Regional Water Strategy with arrowing flowing to Connectivity Expert Panel with arrow flowing to Amend Water Sharing Plans with arrow flowing to Implement Water Sharing Plans.
The proposed timeline for the development and implementation of changes to water sharing plans to improve connectivity across the Northern Basin.

Northern Basin valleys

Map showing the Northern Basin Valleys
Map of the NSW Murray-Darling Basin valleys.