A decade of connection and healing for the Lakes and Coorong

A decade of continuous connectivity between the River Murray and Coorong has been recognised, following the breaking of the Millennium Drought in 2009.

When the drought finally broke, the lifeblood of the Lower Lakes and Coorong returned in the form of water flows, and devastated ecosystems and communities began to recover after years of hardship, as life slowly returned to the region.

Community members and local, state and federal stakeholders met in Goolwa on Friday, October 23, to mark this milestone and celebrate ten years of connection and healing for the Lower Lakes and Coorong.

Converging at the Goolwa Barrage, attendees were treated to a number of presentations from local scientists, as well as a tour of the Barrage and fishway monitoring system, and the surrounding wetland environment.

Ngarrindjeri elder Uncle Moogy Sumner welcomed visitors with a traditional smoking ceremony and spoke of the deep connection the local Ngarrindjeri people have with the Lakes and Coorong.

He also reminisced on Indigenous efforts to return waters to the region and break the Millennium Drought.

"Ten years ago, a rain ceremony was held," Mr Sumner said.

"Elders were dancing and holding ceremonies which began in Queensland and travelled all the way down to the Murray Mouth.

"The rain followed us as we danced, and as we danced 200 metres out on the lake bed here, the rain began to return to the region. I always believed the rain came because we asked and called upon our ancestors."

Director of Water and Infrastructure Operations (DEW), Sue Hutchings said the 10 year anniversary was an important moment to reflect on.

"We have now had 10 years of continuous water flow," Ms Hutchings said.

"We honour those who have worked tirelessly for a decade and acknowledge the vital and important role water plays in keeping our communities alive."

Representing the Murray Darling Basin Authority (MDBA), GM Assets Angus Paton said the drought had focussed everyone's attention to act to ensure the river system could sustain its communities and ecosystems.

"Out of this came the Basin Plan," Mr Paton said.

Smoke ceremony: Ngarrindjeri elder Uncle Moogy Sumner welcomes visitors to country.

Smoke ceremony: Ngarrindjeri elder Uncle Moogy Sumner welcomes visitors to country.

"The implementation of the plan has been a massive challenge, but a challenge we are up for.

"Likewise, returning water to the environment has been a massive effort... but an effort that has been worth it.

"We urge everyone to continue to collaborate... and the hard work needs to continue.

"Through the implementation of regional offices, we are now better able to collaborate with Indigenous groups."

Travelling to Goolwa from Canberra for the event, Assistant Secretary Commonwealth Environmental Water Office, Hilton Taylor, said the recovery from the Millennium Drought and the development of a water sharing plan had not been an easy path.

"It's been difficult... people have had to change their lives, businesses and communities to see this water recovered, but the impact this is having right here is clear to see," Mr Taylor said.

"You can see a system that's gradually recovering from the devastating impacts of the Millennium Drought and it's sensational to see that.

"We are seeing fish populations recover and some of the upstream ecology change and improve and we are starting to see communities appreciate that.

"Yes there has been change and structural adjustments in their communities; but they can recognise the value of having a functional, working river beside their towns, through their communities and past their farms.

"This is all part of this journey that we're on and it's great to see scientists, communities, Aboriginal Nations and all sorts of officials at every level of government here today working together... and making this a process towards a better future."

Since the Millennium Drought the delivery of water for the environment has helped achieve the following outcomes in the CLLMM:

  • Barrage fishways continuously open and operating since September 2010.
  • A recovery from near local extinction of the native fish congolli.
  • A significant recruitment event for the Coorong black bream population in 2017-18.
  • Increased detection of pouched and short-headed lamprey undertaking winter migration.
  • An increase in abundance and diversity of invertebrates in the Coorong North Lagoon.
  • A steady increase in diversity and extent of aquatic plants in the Lower Lakes.
  • Improvements in recruitment of Murray hardyhead fish in the Lower Lakes.
This story Decade of connection and healing for the Lakes and Coorong first appeared on The Times.