Refreshing Central Billabong

Find out why the waterways of Central Billabong are so important, and how we can work together to improve waterway health

Why Central Billabong?

The Central Billabong is 4000 square kilometres of expansive plains and woodlands, cropping and grazing farms, and towns and communities. At the heart of it is a network of waterways – the diverse creek systems of the Yanco, Billabong, Colombo and Forest Creeks.

These creek systems support the region environmentally, economically and culturally. They provide water for irrigation, stock and town use, and are well-loved and deeply valued by locals and visitors alike for recreation, cultural and environmental purposes.

This is the traditional country of the Wiradjuri, Bangerang, Barapa Barapa and Wamba Wamba First Nations people, who maintain continuous cultural, spiritual and heritage connections to the landscape, watercourses, wetlands and floodplains.

Together, we can ensure a healthy Central Billabong for future generations.

jump to RECOMMENDED ACTIONS

Values in the Central Billabong

The Central Billabong has been divided into three zones (see map below):

  • The lower zone extends from Conargo to Wanganella and includes the Billabong Creek.
  • The middle zone extends from Jerilderie downstream to Conargo and encompasses the Middle-Lower Yanco, and Billabong Creek.
  • The upper zone extends from Narrandera downstream to Jerilderie and encompasses the upper-middle Yanco, Colombo Creek, and the Billabong above Jerilderie.


Click on each zone to find out more about it.

Conversations with Community

We talked with local community members to better understand your perspectives on the Central Billabong. We also consulted with experts to learn more about the catchment and the waterways.

Through these conversations, we learned what people value about the area and why, identified the main threats to waterway health, and together developed a shared vision for Central Billabong.

Central Billabong Target Area Advisory Group and Project Team

Community workshop held in Jerilderie

Environmental Values

The creeks in Central Billabong have features that were once widespread in the lowland Murray-Darling Basin but are now rare: perennially flowing water of good quality, healthy riparian vegetation, and dense snags within creek channels.

Extensive floodplains shed water into the creeks when flood levels recede, while wetland systems retain rain and floodwaters.

These complex waterway, wetland and floodplain environments have been highly modified in most of the Murray-Darling Basin, but here in Central Billabong, these environments provide important habitat for many native plants and animals including endangered species.

Some of the species and vegetation communities supported by the Central Billabong and valued by locals include:

  • The nationally endangered Trout Cod, threatened Eel-tailed Catfish and Murray Cod, as well as the Golden Perch
  • The vulnerable Southern Bell Frog, as well as several other species of frogs and turtles
  • A variety of waterbird species that rely on floodplain wetland systems for breeding, and Superb Parrots that require large old trees along watercourses for nesting
  • Iconic mammal species, Platypus and Rakali
  • Red Gum woodland, Black Box woodland, and communities of sedges and rushes in areas that are frequently waterlogged.

Masked Lapwing, Pacific Black Duck, White-faced Heron, Yellow-billed Spoonbill. Credit: Michael Hamel-Green.

Sociocultural Values

Creeks, rivers, wetlands and associated riparian vegetation are often very different from the surrounding plains and farms, and provide a focal point for community engagement, recreation, education and wellbeing.

The Central Billabong community increasingly values waterways as places of calm, sanctuary and cultural heritage. Many older members of the community have fond memories of the healthy waterways they enjoyed as kids, and are keen to see these values restored:

“Back when I was a kid and my father would take me fishing in the 1960s…the predominant fish was catfish and we don’t see the catfish we used to see. You’d go down in the evening and you’d always catch a catfish, the odd cod and yellow belly.”

- Trevor Clark, local landholder and current president of YACTAC

Keeping the waterways healthy enables people to swim, fish, birdwatch, boat and paddle, as well as to camp and bushwalk nearby. Both locals and visitors appreciate public areas where healthy waterways can be accessed and enjoyed.

The waterways are also central to Indigenous cultural connection to the landscape, and provide an opportunity for communities to create a shared vision that engages with and protects both Indigenous and non-Indigenous values.

Eel-tailed Catfish at Narrandera DPI Fisheries. Photo credit: Anna Turner

Economic Values

The waterways of Central Billabong underpin economic sustainability in the region – they provide water for towns, irrigation, stock and domestic use. Water is vital to the livelihoods of landholders in the area, and maintaining and improving water security is an important part of refreshing Central Billabong.

Healthy waterways are also important for visitors to the region and play a role in the tourism industry. Waterways need to be clean, accessible and free of woody weeds in order for visitors to want to spend time on and near the creeks.

Ongoing care for Central Billabong provides opportunities for education, research and employment, and for the development of local capacity to fulfil these functions.

Rice paddock with irrigation canals.

Learn more about actions you can take to support these values.

A shared vision for Central Billabong

When we asked the local community what they envision our waterways to be in 30 years’ time, these were their responses:

"A place to live and make a living. A place for travelers and campers to stop and enjoy."

"To ensure better water quality for native birds, wildlife, fish, turtles, platypus and frogs alike not to mention native vegetation on the TSRs along the Central Billabong."

"A flourishing environment with flows from the Murrumbidgee River."

"To ensure better water quality for native birds, wildlife, fish, turtles, platypus and frogs alike."

"No farming or grazing of domestic animals close to creek - regeneration of vegetation is vital for ecosystems."

"There is a high priority to act now, not in five or ten years. If we do not intervene sooner rather than later, the viability of the Central Billabong will be lost."

"Healthy, teeming with life."

From these responses, three vision pillars were set:

A Healthy System

A self-regulating creek system with good quality flowing water, free of dominant pest species and supporting a diversity of native plants and animals.

A People's System

A co-managed creek system that brings people together as one community, empowered to learn together, to build local capacity and to foster connection with culture and heritage.

A Productive System

A productive creek system that supports sustainable food and fibre production as well a recreation, tourism and employment, and is at the heart of a vibrant community.

Main threats to waterways in this Target Area

Below are some of the factors threatening waterway health, ranked by the community.

Environmental Threats

  • Farm runoff – pollution
  • Bank erosion/subsistence
  • Lack of environmental protection
  • Aquatic pests
  • Feral animals 
  • Weeds
  • Domestic animals
  • Rubbish/litter
  • Insufficient funding for local activities
  • Inappropriate flows and water levels 
  • Reduction in annual flows and water quality

Sociocultural Threats

  • Reduction of public access to creeks
  • Loss of young people from the district
  • Declining and ageing population
  • Loss of local knowledge and experience
  • Lack and loss of local capacity or capacity development in NRM
  • Loss and lack of local education opportunities in NRM
  • Loss of Aboriginal cultural heritage 
  • Deterioration of cultural and spiritual locations

Economic Threats

  • Loss of local businesses
  • Loss of owner/occupier to corporate owned land
  • Reduction to water allocation 
  • Loss of traditional resources

Environmental Threats

Environmental threats have the potential to lead to declining water quality, loss of streambanks to erosion, and reduced biodiversity, particularly through the loss of sensitive habitats relied on by native plants and animals.

The key threats identified by the community are:

  • Pollution from litter, runoff and sedimentation
  • Bank erosion and subsistence
  • Lack of environmental protection of sensitive riparian environments
  • Aquatic pests, feral animals and weeds
  • Insufficient funding for local activities to restore waterways
  • Inappropriate flows and water levels.

Bank erosion can lead to loss of streambanks and of riparian vegetation.

Sociocultural Threats

Locals value Central Billabong waterways for many reasons, including recreation, aesthetic value, education and community cohesion. Some of the sociocultural threats identified include:

  • Reduction of public access to creeks, leading to fewer recreation opportunities and a loss of connection to waterways
  • An ageing population and loss of young people from the district, with fewer opportunities for local knowledge, experience and cultural heritage to be passed on
  • A lack of local education opportunities or capacity development in NRM
  • Deterioration of Aboriginal cultural and spiritual locations.

Access to areas like the Colombo Creek for recreation is important to Central Billabong communities.

Economic Threats

Central Billabong waterways support local economies in a number of ways, and threats to waterway health can in turn have economic impacts. Similarly, thriving local economies are better able to look after the Central Billabong. When local businesses disappear or owner-occupier properties are sold to larger entities, community cohesion and the ability to look after waterways can be threatened.

Kerry and Simon run the Wanganella Store on the banks of the Billabong Creek. Businesses like theirs are crucial for a thriving community.

Improving waterway health for current and future generations

The Refreshing Central Billabong Waterway Management Plan is co-created by the community, landholders and project partners. It builds on past successes and expands on actions already occurring in Central Billabong, and provides the foundations for our work.

You can download the draft Waterway Management Plan here, or scroll down to see our recommended priority actions for landholders.

If you are interested in getting guidance for your property or tackling a specific problem, get in touch with Andrea.

CONTACT ANDREA

Andrea Mitchell

Yanco Creek and Tributaries Advisory Council Inc (YACTAC)

Like and follow the Yanco Creek System Facebook page here.

Favourite plant or animal: Murray-Darling rainbow fish (Melanotaenia fluviatilis)

0419 841 834

andrea@refreshingrivers.org.au

"What I enjoy most about my role is meeting people and being out in the field. I have a passion for agriculture, environment and community, which I carry with me into this role. I think the value of the Refreshing Rivers Program will be seen in action through listening and learning from our community."

How landholders can help refresh Central Billabong

ACTION

Manage stock access to waterways and reduce stream bank erosion    

Fence a buffer zone along waterways so that stock pressure can be managed in riparian areas. Sensitive areas may have stock excluded completely, while elsewhere fencing a large riparian paddock enables strategic or rotational grazing to promote native vegetation growth, limit weeds and reduce erosion.

What are the productivity benefits?

The productivity benefits of waterway fencing include:

  • improved ground cover management and re-establishment of sensitive riparian vegetation
  • reduced streambank erosion, minimising loss of valuable riparian land
  • closer management of stock watering by providing alternative watering sources, with flow-on improvements in animal productivity
  • the opportunity to manage paddocks according to land class, such as using gully and waterway paddocks to create smaller paddocks that segregate land types and enable sensitive management
  • reduce the risk of stock getting stuck in waterways, and reduce maintenance of creek crossings
  • improved mustering efficiency and general stock management.

For landholders, stabilised creek banks that are less likely to erode in high rainfall events removes significant stress about land and stock loss.

Why is it good for waterway health?

Waterway fencing:

  • enables the creation of a riparian buffer zone that traps sediment and nutrient runoff
  • restricts stock access, reducing trampling along fragile banks
  • enables native plants to regenerate, creating improved habitat for fauna and flora including threatened species
  • reduces sedimentation, leading to improved water quality and reducing “smothering” of habitat (such as when rocky creek bottoms become silted up, removing important fish breeding habitat).
Resources to help you take this action

See Stock & Waterways - A NSW Manager's Guide: Riparian Fencing (2019) for information on fence layout, fencing types and potential management options.

The Refreshing Rivers Program can also equip eligible landholders with support through providing access to a work crew to erect fences. Visit the Rewards page for more information. ‍

ACTION

Protect, enhance and expand habitat in and along waterways

Healthy waterways have a variety of features that provide habitat for native plants and animals. In many cases these habitat features have eroded over many decades through siltation, stock pressure, channelling and erosion.

Some habitat features can be added (such as logs) or enhanced (such as ground cover and riparian vegetation), while others will take careful management and time to develop (such as refuge pools).  

Habitat features that can be added or improved include:

  • in-stream debris and logs to create complex habitats
  • refuge pools and areas of both shallow and deep water
  • good grass, sedge and reed cover on stream banks and in ephemeral (wet/dry) areas
  • healthy surrounding terrestrial vegetation
  • in-stream vegetation
  • rocky or sandy areas (depending on the waterway) free of silt
  • fish hotels.
What are the benefits to landholders?

Creating and enhancing habitat along waterways has many benefits to landholders, including:

  • increasing diversity of native plants and animals supports ecosystem services, with many benefits for production systems
  • bringing back rare native species onto farms is a real win for current and future generations
  • increased aesthetic appeal of waterways
  • opportunities for waterways to be a place of fun, recreation, calm or sanctuary.
  • creating shade and shelter for stock and pastures (reduced wind, heat stress)
  • increased environmental responsibility with regards to water
  • improving a farm’s natural capital.
Why is it good for waterway health?

The benefits of improving habitat along waterways are twofold.

Firstly, in most cases, improving habitat requires management changes that will benefit the waterway as a whole - for example, reducing channelling and erosion to allow shallow and deep areas to form will also improve water quality.

Secondly, habitat improvements such as restoring vegetation have many flow-on benefits for waterway health, such as filtering run-off and stabilising banks.

Resources to help you take this action

Visit the Restoring riparian areas website (Sustainable Farms, 2023).

Contact your Refreshing Rivers Project Officer, local Landcare group or native plant nursery for advice on appropriate local species to use for revegetation or in-stream planting.

ACTION

Control woody weeds and pest animals in and along waterways

Woody weeds such as willows can choke waterways. In the Yanco Creek system, 95% of willows have been removed – it's time to tackle the last 5%!

Infestations of woody weeds can be controlled through a combination of strategies, including biological control, grazing, manual removal and waterway-sensitive herbicides. Maintaining a cover of perennial species helps reduce new infestations. Pests and weeds are best controlled as part of a farm-wide approach, and management can be enhanced through collaborative control programs with neighbours.

What are the benefits to landholders?

There are many productivity benefits of controlling pests and weeds along waterways, including:

  • reduced spread of weeds and abundance of pests across the whole property
  • meet legislative requirements
  • minimise loss of viable land to weed infestation, and reduce habitat for pests such as rabbits
  • maintain and increase property values
  • maintain access to and amenity of waterways
  • control erosion - pest animals can contribute to erosion along waterways, while replacing woody weeds with native ground cover helps stabilise stream banks.

For landholders in Central Billabong, removal of willows over the last 15 years has already had a significant impact on waterway access and amenity. Tackling the remaining willows as well as other pests and weeds will continue to deliver benefits to landholders.

Why is it good for waterway health?

Waterways can easily become choked and smothered by weeds, which also compete with native plants. Benefits of weed management include:

  • reduce smothering and blocking of streams, which can alter flows
  • allowing native plants to compete, which in turn provides habitat for native animals and boosts farm biodiversity.

Benefits of pest management include:

  • reduce competition with and predation on native animals
  • improved ground cover through reduced grazing pressure
  • reduced erosion, which can be caused by pest animals wallowing, browsing and destroying groundcover.

Pest fish are also a significant problem in many waterways, and measures to control or reduce pest fish will help support the survival of native fish species.

Resources to help you take this action

NSW Weed Control Handbook (NSW Government, 2014) - a guide to weed control in non-crop, aquatic and bushland situations.

Priority Weeds of the Murray and Riverina Regions Identification Guide provides basic information to help identify and manage species listed as priority weeds in the Murray and Riverina Regional Strategic Weed Management Plans.

The Refreshing Rivers Program can also equip eligible landholders with support through access to a work crew for significant weed control projects. Visit the Rewards page for more information.

ACTION

Create a farm and waterways plan

Create a farm and waterways plan, understand the natural assets on your property, and be ready to be rewarded through environmental markets.

Start by developing a big-picture view of your farm within the landscape. Map the location and condition of natural assets, including waterways, areas of remnant or planted vegetation, farm dams and areas you know support native wildlife. Note areas vulnerable to flood and erosion, as well as changes in land type. From here, consider opportunities for enhancing these assets in the context of other goals on farm.

The Central Billabong Project Officer, Andrea, can provide support through this process.

What are the benefits to landholders?

Creating a farm plan that includes waterways and other natural assets provides the opportunity to be rewarded through environmental markets and/or certification schemes. See our Rewards page for more information.

Mapping and improving natural assets also has a range of direct benefits for the production system.

Natural capital on farms includes soils, water, carbon and the diversity of plants and animals. The natural assets which make up this capital include riparian remnant vegetation, rocky outcrops, refuge pools, paddock trees, farm dams, floodplain wetlands, groundcover, shelterbelts, scar trees, habitat for specific threatened species and more.

By assessing natural capital on your farm, you can identify opportunities to improve these assets with a range of flow-on benefits for the broader farming system. Ecosystem services (the services to humankind provided by natural ecosystems) are particularly relevant here.

These services provide a production benefit to farms, and include:

  • water filtration and infiltration into the soil profile
  • nutrient cycling and retention
  • bank stabilisation
  • healthy biodiversity
  • carbon storage
  • shade and shelter for stock and crops
  • waste disposal (e.g. breakdown of manure).
Why is it good for waterway health?

Creating a farm plan that considers natural assets, particularly waterways, in the context of surrounding landscapes has the following benefits for waterway health:

  • identify linkages that can be enhanced between riparian corridors along creeks and other vegetation
  • identify and restore biodiversity hotspots along waterways
  • identify areas at risk of erosion, and work to address these
  • identify opportunities for enhancing habitat in waterways, such as refuge pools
  • may provide access to environmental markets and other sources of funding to support waterway management actions.
Resources to help you take this action

Talk to your Project Officer for Central Billabong, Andrea Mitchell, about creating a farm and waterways plan.

ACTION

Connect with your community to create corridors

Work with your neighbours and the Refreshing Rivers Program to improve waterway health at a catchment scale, and to connect areas of riparian vegetation with other remnant vegetation and plantings in your community. Remnant patches such as Travelling Stock Reserves (TSRs) or roadside vegetation, or planted strips such as shelterbelts, all create vegetation corridors.

What are the benefits to landholders?

Working with your neighbours and others in the community to connect corridors of vegetation has many benefits including:

  • create climate resilience (including to flood and fire) at a larger scale
  • improve water retention in dry times
  • support more wildlife on farms
  • reduce erosion impacts
  • get to know your neighbours and create success as a community
  • increase wellbeing through collaboration and connection
  • be part of a coordinated effort to improve waterway health, truly driven by local community values.
Why is it good for waterway health?

Corridors help to:

  • create a riparian buffer zone
  • enable native species to move through the landscape, improving biodiversity throughout the catchment
  • stabilise streambanks and reduce erosion, which in turn improves waterway health and in-stream habitat
  • filter nutrient and sediment runoff before it enters waterways
  • buffer against spray drift and herbicide run off before it reachs waterways.
Resources to help you take this action

Talk to your Project Officer for Central Billabong, Andrea Mitchell, about connecting with your community to create corridors.

See also Ten ways to improve natural assets on a farm (Sustainable Farms, 2020).

ACTION

Restrict stock access to waterways and reduce stream bank erosion

Creates a riparian buffer zone, Reduce run off, trampling along fragile banks, enables native plants to regenerate, improve habitat for fauna and flora including threatened species. Less sedimentation means improved  water quality and smothering of habitat

Why would a landholder take this action?
  • improved ground cover management
  • alternative stock watering sources
  • creating a biosecurity buffer between neighbours
  • managing land according to land class
  • increased groundcover holds banks together and reduces erosion and loss of viable riparian grazing land
  • reduce stock getting stuck in waterways
  • improve stock management
  • improve water quality leading to higher productivity
Resources available to assist landholders

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Riparian fencing to restrict stock access

ACTION

Control of woody weeds and pest animals in and along to waterways

Reduce weed spread across property, legislative requirements, loss of viable grazing land, declining property value, woody weeds are a harbour for pests. Woody weeds can choke up and reduce access to waterways.

Why would a landholder take this action?
  • improved ground cover management
  • alternative stock watering sources
  • creating a biosecurity buffer between neighbours
  • managing land according to land class
  • increased groundcover holds banks together and reduces erosion and loss of viable riparian grazing land
  • reduce stock getting stuck in waterways
  • improve stock management
  • improve water quality leading to higher productivity
Resources available to assist landholders

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Willows at Adelong Creek

ACTION

Create a natural capital asset farm plan

Reduce weed spread across property, legislative requirements, loss of viable grazing land, declining property value, woody weeds are a harbour for pests. Woody weeds can choke up and reduce access to waterways.

Why would a landholder take this action?
  • improved ground cover management
  • alternative stock watering sources
  • creating a biosecurity buffer between neighbours
  • managing land according to land class
  • increased groundcover holds banks together and reduces erosion and loss of viable riparian grazing land
  • reduce stock getting stuck in waterways
  • improve stock management
  • improve water quality leading to higher productivity
Resources available to assist landholders

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Project Officer Cherie working with one of the landholders

Learn about how we are supporting these actions in the draft Central Billabong Waterway Management Plan

Success Stories

Check out a few of the ways in which community, landholders and project partners have come together to improve the waterways in the Central Billabong. The Refreshing Central Billabong Program will build on past successes as well as tackling new and ongoing challenges.

African Boxthorn biocontrol pilot project

You know you've hit on something big when farmers stop what they are doing, in one of the busiest months of the year, to keenly participate in a workshop. Interest in the African Boxthorn biocontrol pilot program demonstrated just how much of a problem Boxthorn is.

Colombo Creek fish habitat restoration project

Over the course of several events in late 2022 and early 2023, significant work has been undertaken to restore fish habitat on the Colombo Creek. Schoolkids helped plant trees, while a separate event was held to reduce carp numbers through electro-fishing.

Wetlands for Wildlife 2023

What's not to love about being outdoors amongst the redgums, planting and restoring wetlands on a sunny day, with kids having fun in the mud and a bbq? Plus, a great result for habitat and vegetation at this property on the Yanco Creek.

Celebrating success: Willow removal

Central Billabong landholders celebrate the incredible success of willlow removal projects over the past 15 years, which have turned clogged creeks into broad, navigable waterways, flanked by redgums and revegetation plantings, and home to native fish and birds.

Where should you start?

If you are interested in guidance for waterway management on your property or have a specific problem you’d like to tackle, please get in touch with our Project Officer Andrea. You can fill in the form or use the contact details below to get in touch.

Central Billabong

Andrea Mitchell

Yanco Creek and Tributaries Advisory Council Inc (YACTAC)

Like and follow the Yanco Creek System Facebook page here.

0419 841 834

andrea@refreshingrivers.org.au

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The Refreshing Rivers Program is a collaboration between government, industry, research, and community organisations, led by Local Land Services. This Program has been assisted by the New South Wales Government through its Environmental Trust.

The Refreshing Rivers Program works on Country that always was and always will be Aboriginal land. We acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the land and waters, and we pay respect to Elders past, present and emerging.

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