FREE FLOWING AND UNREGULATED
The Paroo River, a major tributary of the Darling River, is the last remaining free-flowing and unregulated river in the northern Murray-Darling Basin. It starts in the Warrego Range of western Queensland, meanders south and spreads out over a vast floodplain and overflow lakes at Wanaaring as it tries to reach the Darling between Tilpa and Wilcannia.
Paroo is a variation on the name of the Aboriginal Paakantji people, the Paruntyi. The river has significant cultural and spiritual values for the traditional owners, the Baakandji and Bundjiti people.
The 640km river flows through an arid to semi-arid landscape. Upper catchment channels are fringed with River red gum, Poplar box and Coolibah trees. Downstream, the channels feature wetland vegetation including Black box, River cooba, grasses and herbs. High evaporation, high temperatures and an unreliable rainfall (of less than 400mm per year), means that the catchment only supports sheep and cattle grazing.
There are several small irrigation operations along the river that mainly produce feed for livestock. An attempt to increase irrigation licenses in the mid-1990s was met with considerable opposition, bringing together floodplain graziers, scientists and conservationists. The action and resulting development of a water management plan demonstrates the need to better understand ephemeral rivers and the delicate ecological processes of Australia’s fragile inland rivers.
Weeds and feral animals are a problem. Woody weeds are a particular problem in the Paroo catchment. These native species up to three metres high have spread because of reduced fires and their dislike by livestock. At the same time, a large number of animals and plants have been listed under Commonwealth and state legislation. A number of birds and animals are threatened.
The wetlands of the Paroo are well-known for their water bird populations. These wetlands include some 720,000 hectares on the Paroo-Warrego riverine plains. The wetlands support significant native fish communities and several threatened plants and animals, including the Salt pip-wort, one of the rarest vascular plants in NSW.
Six wetlands along the Paroo catchment are listed on the directory of important wetlands in Australia. There is also the Eulo Artesian Springs Supergroup, a collection of more than 40 springs scattered southwest of Eulo. The artesian mound springs at Peery Lake comprise the largest active complex in NSW.
Currawinya National Park in south west Queensland is listed as a Ramsar wetland of international significance. This park lies within both the Murray-Darling Basin as well as the Great Artesian Basin. Currawinya wetlands include a saline lake, freshwater lakes and many temporary small claypan lakes and swamps that appear after heavy rain.
On occasions the wetlands provide habitat for more than 250,000 water birds. Up to 10,000 rare Freckled duck have been recorded at one time on Lake Wyara. The lakes are also a critical part of an inland route for migratory birds passing through arid Australia each autumn.
The NSW and Queensland governments have signed the Paroo River Agreement committing them both to work cooperatively to maintain natural flows in the Paroo River system.