Water for the environment, also known as 'environmental water', is water that is released into rivers, floodplains, wetlands and estuaries to improve waterway health and protect environmental values. The development and implementation of Victoria’s environmental watering program is a collaborative process between state and commonwealth government agencies, including land managers and water corporations. Understanding how to maximise the benefits of environmental watering requires the support of ecological data and underpins the decision-making processes of this program. In view of this, the Victorian Government established the Victorian Environmental Flows Monitoring and Assessment Program (VEFMAP) in 2005, which is being undertaken in a series of stages.

VEFMAP - Rainbow Fish

VEFMAP represents a large-scale, long-term monitoring program designed to assess ecosystem responses to changes in flow regime in regulated Victorian rivers that receive environmental water. Monitoring for the program commenced in 2007 and is ongoing. ARI has been the delivery partner since 2015.

Information on each stage is presented below with associated resources. For more information about VEFMAP contact:
rob.hale@delwp.vic.gov.au (VEFMAP Program Manager, DELWP Water and Catchment Group)
magdalena.nystrad@delwp.vic.gov.au (VEFMAP Program Coordinator, ARI)
zeb.tonkin@delwp.vic.gov.au  (fish monitoring, ARI)
chris.jones@delwp.vic.gov.au (vegetation monitoring, ARI)

VEFMAP Stage 7 (2020-2024)

Following VEFMAP Stage 6, the approach to management and governance was revised, seeking to have a more coordinated and combined approach to program delivery and governance. A new Program Steering Committee and a new Independent Scientific Review Panel (ISRP) were established with revised Terms of Reference and membership. Extensive consultation has occurred with key stakeholders within catchment management authorities and the Victorian Environmental Water Holder. A suite of project proposals has been developed, reviewed and prioritised according to stakeholder and scientific input.

The following projects, within the Fish and Vegetation themes are now underway. These projects vary in terms of when they commenced, their size and timeframe (i.e. some are short term, desk-based review projects, while others are longer-term and involve field based monitoring).

The VEFMAP fish theme continues the long-term annual fish condition monitoring  ((PDF, 2.7 MB)(DOCX, 22.4 KB)) to assess population status and trends. In addition, there are five other projects which involve:

  • development of population models for key species to assess flow management outcomes and opportunities for refinement ((PDF, 2.5 MB)(DOCX, 22.5 KB))
  • identification of key flow and habitat needs of early life stages of fish and decapods and how flows can be managed to benefit such species ((PDF, 2.0 MB)(DOCX, 22.2 KB))
  • investigation of the effect of flows on downstream migration of eels ((PDF, 1.7 MB)(DOCX, 21.8 KB))
  • assessment of the links between flows and recruitment of River Blackfish and
  • a desktop review of low flow recommendations for fish within Seasonal Watering Plans and related documents.

The VEFMAP vegetation theme includes four projects which involve:

  • comparing flow and non-flow drivers of riparian vegetation communities and their interactions ((PDF, 651.2 KB) (DOCX, 54.3 KB))
  • evaluation of the impact of environmental flows on reproduction and recruitment of riparian vegetation and
  • evaluation of the importance of summer/autumn low flows for aquatic vegetation recruitment ((PDF, 2.7 MB), (DOCX, 22.4 KB)).

VEFMAP Stage 6 (2016-2020)

Stage 6 of the program was developed following comprehensive engagement across stakeholders including DELWP, Victorian catchment management authorities, the Victorian Environmental Water Holder, an Independent Review Panel and consultants.

Its core objectives were to: demonstrate ecological outcomes of environmental water management; fill knowledge gaps to improve planning, delivery and evaluation of environmental water management; and collect data required for reporting under the Murray–Darling Basin Plan.

Key features of Stage 6 included a rigorous scientific approach, strong communication, particularly with waterway managers, and a focus on sharing findings in a timely manner to support and inform improved management of environmental water. This stage included an increased focus on intervention-based monitoring to better understand and confirm fish and vegetation responses to environmental flow events.

VEFMAP - taking notes during a vegetation inundation experiment

Measuring fish for environmental water research

The Stage 6 final report provides a synthesis of the approach taken, key findings and achievements and includes summaries for all core areas of monitoring and research and are available below:

A brochure has also been produced to summarise Stage 6 and its achievements:

Two webinar videos showcase the research findings of VEFMAP Stage 6 and can be found here::

VEFMAP Stage 6 Showcase – Part 1 – Vegetation outcomes and management implications

VEFMAP Stage 6 Showcase – Part 2 – Fish outcomes and management implications

Supplementary materials provide further detailed monitoring and research outcomes that support the final report. These are presented as a series of ARI unpublished client reports and journal articles:

ARI unpublished client reports (available from jacqueline.brooks@delwp.vic.gov.au)

  • O’Connor, J., et al. (2020) Managing river flows to enhance upstream dispersal and retention of Golden Perch in a highly regulated lowland river system.
  • Jones, M.J., et al. (2020) Environmental flows cue fish movement and improve fishway functionality: case studies from a semi-arid river-floodplain system.
  • Amtstaetter, F. and Koster, W. (2020) VEFMAP Stage 6: Long term fish community monitoring in the Thomson and Glenelg rivers.
  • Harris, A., et al. (2020) Using Otolith Microchemistry to Assign Natal Origin to Juvenile Murray Cod.
  • Jones, C.S. et al. (2020) Environmental flows help structure fish and vegetation communities in a regulated semi-arid intermittent stream system.
  • Jones, C.S. et al. (2020) Evaluating the influence of environmental flows on vegetation in regulated rivers.
  • Jones, C.S. et al. (2020) Understanding the links between environmental flows and soil moisture in waterways to improve vegetation condition.
  • Jones, C.S. et al. (2020) Vegetation recruitment in river channels and the role of environmental flows on plant germination.
  • Todd, C., et al. (2020) Predicting long-term population responses by Murray Cod and Silver Perch to flow management in the Goulburn and Campaspe rivers: a stochastic population modelling approach.
  • Vivian, L. et al. (2020) Drivers of the distribution and community composition of riparian vegetation in regulated rivers of Victoria.

Journal articles:

Fact sheet:

A citizen science component was also undertaken where recreational fishers contributed fish ear bones (otoliths) from the fish they caught for the dinner table. This was added to existing data that will be analysed during Stage 6.

Over the four years of VEFMAP Stage 6, numerous outputs have been produced.

At the commencement of the stage, the following fact sheets, poster, monitoring manuals and video detailed the development, objectives and approach:

A short video on VEFMAP Stage 6 is available on the DELWP YouTube channel and can also be viewed below:

Each year, annual reports (available from jacqueline.brooks@delwp.vic.gov.au) and fact sheets outlining progress were prepared:

VEFMAP Stage 5 (2015-2016)

During Stage 5, DELWP Water and Catchments worked with ARI and the University of Melbourne to review and analyse data collected through VEFMAP and other complementary research, and to explore the relationship between environmental water releases and ecological responses of native fish and vegetation. This provided valuable baseline information to support management decisions. Findings include:

  • confirmation of the threatened status of 11 native fish species, and of the dominance of the non-native Carp.
  • changes over time in abundance and distribution of certain native and non-native fish species.
  • identification of ecological responses to environmental flows during regional case studies of Australian Grayling, Golden Perch and Silver Perch (see fact sheets).
  • reduced encroachment of terrestrial vegetation into river channels in response to prolonged periods of inundation.
  • increased abundance of native riparian vegetation in response to short periods of inundation.

A river studied during environmental watering research

Releasing a cod during environmental water research

VEFMAP Stages 1-4 (2005-2014)

Following the development phase of the program (Stages 1 and 2), monitoring commenced in eight regulated rivers in 2007 (Stage 3, 2007–2016; coordinated by Jacobs). Stage 4 involved a detailed analysis of VEFMAP data through to 2012 (led by The University of Melbourne), as well as a full program review (led by Peter Cottingham and Associates).

For more information about Stages 1-4 contact: jacqueline.brooks@delwp.vic.gov.au (VEFMAP Program Manager, DELWP Water and Catchment Group)

ARI has been involved in a range of projects regarding the benefits of environmental flow:

Page last updated: 29/08/23