Restoring the Winton Wetlands in north east Victoria

Key words: wetland restoration, ecosystem function, Mokoan, woodlands, hydrology

The 8,750 ha Winton Wetlands Reserve is located near Benalla within the Goulburn-Broken Catchment in north east Victoria. The restoration project is one of the outcomes of the former Victorian Government’s decision to decommission Lake Mokoan, previously Victoria’s fifth largest water storage, and to allocate resulting water savings for environmental flows to the Snowy and Murray rivers (Lake Mokoan previously lost over 50 GL annually in evaporation).

The decision to decommission Lake Mokoan was controversial and at the time there was considerable local and regional opposition to the project. Dramatic improvements in wetland condition since de-commissioning have now engendered considerable community support for the project.

Figure 1: Location of Winton Wetlands within the Goulburn-Broken Catchment in North East Victoria

Prior to the establishment of Lake Mokoan in 1971, the Winton Wetlands consisted of a series of more than 11 interconnected redgum and open cane grass wetlands covering more than 3000 ha, interspersed with areas of remnant box grassy woodland and surrounded by farmland with a long history of sheep and cattle grazing. From 1971, the wetlands and surrounding woodlands and farmland were regularly inundated to create a 375 GL water storage covering an area of more than 7000 ha.

The original wetland and surrounding woodland ecosystems and associated ecological drivers, (particularly the local hydrology) have been substantially modified as a result of regular inundation and a long history of agricultural use in the surrounding terrestrial areas.

The aim of the project is to restore the wetlands and surrounding terrestrial areas by encouraging the recovery of ecosystem function rather than necessarily attempting to return the site to exact pre-European condition. The project will be one of the largest wetland restoration projects undertaken in Australia.

With the decommissioning completed in mid 2010, the Winton Wetlands Reserve was established in August 2011 and so the restoration project is still in its early stages.

Progress to date:

  • Completion of a Future Land Use Strategy with considerable community input and consultation.
  • Installation of an extensive pipeline system to provide alternative source of local water supply.
  • Decommissioning of the water storage to reinstate more natural inflow and water levels regimes.
  • Establishment of a skills based community management committee to manage and restore the wetlands.
  • Government commitment of $20M to restore the wetlands and implement the Future Land Use Strategy.
  • Development and implementation of Fire Management and Pest Plan and Animal programs.
  • Completion of flora and fauna, pest plant and animal and cultural heritage surveys.
  • Scientific & Technical Advisory Group to guide development of Restoration and Monitoring Plan.

Results to date: The Wetlands dried out completely in late 2009 due to the severe 2005 – 2009 drought. Substantial rainfall from September 2010 has reinvigorated wetlands (see figures 1 and 2), with water levels from natural inflows at 145% (45 GL) in early December 2010 overflowing into the Broken River system. The wetlands have made a remarkable recovery greatly assisting to build local community support for the project.

Figure 2: Winton Wetlands during the 2006–09 drought

Figure 3: Winton Wetlands after rain (November 2010)

Lessons learnt & future directions:

  • Wetlands are remarkably resilient (as, unfortunately, are carp)
  • Community engagement, understanding, and support is essential for the success of the long term restoration project.
  • Focus on immediate land management issues has assisted greatly in the Winton Wetlands Committee gaining credibility as a land manager.
  • Rapid conversion of land with a long history of agricultural use and inundation to areas of high ecological value is not feasible, so a transitional approach to ecological restoration will be required.

Stakeholders: The $20m in initial funding has been provided by the Victorian Government with the project aiming to be financially self-sustaining within 10 years. The Winton Wetlands Committee of Management is committed to working with traditional owners, the local and regional community, and government agencies to restore the Winton Wetlands.

Contact: Tim Barlow, Restoration Ecologist, Email: Tim.Barlow@wintonwetlands.org; Website: http://wintonwetlands.org.au

Comments are closed.