145 16 Making a living from the Macquarie Marshes coping with decisions upstream Garry Hall Introduction I live in the Macquarie Marshes, supplied by the highly regulated Macquarie River, in the northern part of the Murray–Darling Basin. The Macquarie Marshes are an incredible ecosystem that supports spectacular biodiversity that is highly dependent on the floods (Fig. 16.1). The large Burrendong and Windamere dams control the flows in the river, from ~260 km directly to the south-east, upstream of our cattle property in the Macquarie Marshes. These dams have captured the flows that we relied on for making our living and diverted this predominantly upstream of the Macquarie Marshes to irrigated agriculture. Plants in the Macquarie Marshes mainly grow in spring and summer, providing a high protein diet for our cattle. We rely primarily on the water in the Macquarie River because its floods produce our productive pastures of aquatic plants, such as water couch (Paspalum distichum). This growth translates into an economic equation, critical for our livelihood. Land that is flooded can support four times more cattle than land not flooded the more flooded land, we have the higher our income and, conversely, the less flooded land, the more our profitability declines (Fig. 16.2). We breed our cattle in the Macquarie Marshes and then sell male progeny (weighing 400–450 kg) to feedlots, where they are fattened for the markets. Living in the Marshes The Macquarie River floods the Macquarie Marshes, through its various creeks and streams, before flowing through to the Barwon–Darling River. The floods usually come in the winter and spring, inundating our country and sustaining our livestock through the summer. The Marshes are less than 200 000 ha, with ~90% of this area privately owned. The grazing properties cover 2000–30 000 ha and, as well as supporting many different vegetation communities, are also where many of the large breeding colonies of waterbirds breed (e.g. straw-necked ibises (Threskiornis spinicollis), intermediate egrets (Ardea intermedia) and rufous night herons (Nycticorax caledonicus)), when there is enough flooding (Kingsford and Auld 2005 Bino et al. 2014). These breeding colonies, augmented by colonies on the nearby Macquarie Marshes Nature Reserve, comprised the major criterion for the Macquarie Marshes becoming listed as a wetland of international importance under the Ramsar Convention. The Macquarie Marshes are much smaller than they used to be, before the dams were built (Kingsford and Thomas 1995 Ren et al. 2010). They started to decline when the Burrendong Dam was completed in 1967. This was when decisions were made upstream by
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