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This document provides an early indication of the likely watering priorities for 2018–19 to work towards achieving the long-term expected outcomes for the Basin’s rivers and floodplains. The Murray–Darling Basin Authority’s (MDBA) focus is at the Basin-scale and complements the regional and local water for the environment focus of the Basin states.

A drying climate across most of the Murray–Darling Basin will shape the opportunities to improve the condition of the Basin’s rivers and floodplains and the species they support in the coming water year.

Many parts of the Basin benefited from improved flow conditions in 2016, with parts of the southern Basin receiving flows not seen in 25 years. However, as the 2017 Basin Plan Evaluation showed, the condition of the Basin’s rivers and wetlands remains mixed. Many sites and species require follow-up watering to build on the benefits of 2016 flows, to support successful recruitment after breeding and to build resilience.

Relatively warm and dry conditions were recorded in 2017 across the Basin, with record temperatures and low inflows in many parts. Even so, with high opening allocations in 2017– 18 in regulated catchments, environmental water managers were able to deliver environmental water to support the ecological response to high flows in the previous year. Water delivered for the environment triggered waterbird breeding, supported fish movement and breeding, and improved the condition of wetland vegetation.

In the coming water year, conditions are expected to range from very dry to wet in different catchments but with a common drying trend. Consequently, the objectives of delivering water for the environment will change. Opportunities in drier catchments will most likely focus on in-channel events, areas of the floodplains close to the main rivers, providing drought refuges and supporting critical habitats and ecological processes.

In catchments that are wetter, there will be opportunities to further consolidate the improvements of the past two seasons, improving the condition of rivers and floodplains so they can support future breeding and recruitment, and be better prepared to survive drier times.

Environmental water managers are increasingly devising ways to maximise the benefits of all water in the system by coordinating flows across catchments and with water for other users, and returning environmental water flows to the river system to be used further downstream. These innovative approaches help to boost the effectiveness of water recovered for the environment.

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