Water for the environment, or ‘environmental water', is water that is released into rivers, floodplains, wetlands and estuaries to improve waterway health and protect environmental values. Over the past 200 years, the water regime of many Victorian wetlands has been highly modified, with changes to the frequency, duration and timing of flooding causing a decline in wetland condition. To redress this problem, environmental water is being used to re-establish a more natural water regime and improve the health of wetlands across the State.

The Wetland Monitoring and Assessment Program (WetMAP) is measuring the response of wetland vegetation and a range of fauna to natural water regimes that are supplemented by environmental water. The findings of this work is helping to: use environmental water more effectively; prioritise watering locations across the state; identify the types of water regimes needed to support wetland biodiversity; and assist with reporting for the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.

The program is being delivered in a series of stages, with ARI leading stages 3 and 4. This approach allows for learnings to inform the program over time.

Flock of Grey Teal in a wetlandFlock of Grey Teal in a wetland

Monitoring vegetation using a quadrant for WetMAP

WetMAP Stage 3 (2017-2020)

Many aspects of wetland ecology were studied during WetMAP Stage 3, including tree condition, diversity of plants, numbers and breeding activity of waterbirds, fish and frogs. A total of 66 wetlands were surveyed, with 22 wetlands surveyed for vegetation, 30 for frogs, 25 for birds and 15 for fish.

Overall, positive responses of native biota to environmental water were detected. Stage 3 represents a starting point, recognising that the responses of many biota to environmental water and water regimes are complex and influenced by longer time periods, and multiple watering events.

Murray Rainbowfish

    Our research found that environmental water events:

  • Increased both native wetland plant cover and richness, and reduced terrestrial plant cover
  • Increased frog species abundance and richness. While there were few breeding records, they all occurred in watered wetlands
  • Increased habitat available for wetland birds and their abundance and richness. Additionally, breeding was only observed at watered sites
  • Boosted seasonal fish numbers compared to wetlands not receiving environmental water
  • Increased connectivity, providing opportunities for fish to move between wetland and rivers
  • Supported the survival of the critically endangered Murray Hardyhead, by providing appropriate salinity levels for successful breeding.

The Stage 3 final report provides a synthesis of the approach taken and key findings and includes summaries for all core areas of monitoring and research.

Vegetation survey

WetMAP Stage 4 (2020-2024)

Stage 4 planning is underway and will be informed by the findings of Stage 3.

For more information about WetMAP contact:

jacqueline.brooks@delwp.vic.gov.au (WetMAP Program Manager, Water and Catchments group) or

phil.papas@delwp.vic.gov.au (Project Lead, ARI)

The following poster provides more details on the program:

The following fact sheets outline the monitoring approaches for birds, vegetation, fish and frogs and provide project updates for 2018-2019:

This project is funded by the Victorian Government and has been developed by the DELWP Water and Catchments Group and ARI, in collaboration with Catchment Management Authorities, the Victorian Environmental Water Holder and consultant ecologists. WetMAP stages 1 and 2 (2014-2016) involved planning and development and were conducted by Jacobs and Waters Edge Consulting.

Page last updated: 10/06/21