A dry spell for wetlands

Current drought conditions mean that many wetlands in Gippsland are drying up.

According to West Gippsland Catchment Management Authority Environmental Water Resource Officer, Adrian Clements, the wetlands of the lower Latrobe River are almost dry and salt levels in the river are quite high due to low rainfall in the catchment.

“We use water for the environment in the lower Latrobe wetlands – including Heart Morass, Dowd Morass and the Sale Common to help mimic the natural wetting and drying cycles of the wetlands,” said Adrian.

“This is done by diverting water from the Latrobe River via special water gates called regulators at each wetland. The aim is to put freshwater into each of the wetlands when the water is available. This supports the freshwater dependant plants and animals that rely on the wetlands.

“Salt moves up and down the Latrobe River from Lake Wellington as a result of the opening at Lakes Entrance and the amount of freshwater flows from the Latrobe and Thomson rivers. Currently, due to the ongoing drought, there are low flows coming down the rivers, that means salt levels in the Latrobe River are very high.”

During current conditions, water gates at each of the wetlands play an important role in keeping salt water out of the wetlands. In the past, the gates have been opened by members of the public, believing that the wetlands could use water from the river.

“Putting water into the wetlands now could be devastating and have long term effects on the vegetation – particularly in Heart and Dowd morass’,” continued Adrian.

“It can take freshwater species years to recover from a saltwater inundation. This then has a flow-on impact to freshwater species – birds and invertebrates – so it really is something we must avoid.”

The wetlands are watered in line with the Lower Latrobe Wetlands Environmental Entitlement (2010) and is done in partnership with Field and Game, Parks Victoria and the Victorian Environmental Water Holder.

“We are monitoring conditions closely and at the very next opportunity we will be watering each of the wetlands,” continued Adrian. “We’ve also secured funding for a safety upgrade to the Dowd Morass regulator.”

For more information about the wetlands, please contact Adrian Clements on 1300 094 262 or email eflows@wgcma.vic.gov.au.

A small amount of water in the wetlands at Heart Morass taken in February 2019
A small amount of water in the wetlands at Heart Morass taken in February 2019