1 The Lake Eyre Basin one of the world’s great desert river systems 7 such as Birdsville, Innamincka and Windorah (Fig. 1.1). The sustainability of many of these industries and people is inextricably intertwined with the ecology of the rivers of the Lake Eyre Basin. For its size, cultural and environmental values, the Lake Eyre Basin is truly one of the world’s great desert rivers. It is also unique because its rivers remain largely unregulated, without major dams, flow diversions or floodplain developments. In 2014, the Lake Basin Partnership won the Australian Riverprize, followed by the International Riverprize in 2015. This was particularly significant as it was the first time in 17 years that the judging panel had awarded the prize to a free-flowing river for protection (see Chapter 7). Many of the world’s rivers are highly developed, with large dams and weirs fundamentally altering flows (Nilsson et al. 2005) and affecting livelihoods and dependent biodiversity (Vörösmarty et al. 2010). In this chapter, I briefly describe the Lake Eyre Basin rivers and dependent wetlands, their boom and bust cycles, dealt with in more detail later (see Chapter 2), followed by their ecological values, supplementing the chapters on fish (Arthington and Balcombe 2017 Chapter 3), turtles (see Chapter 5) and small mammals (see Chapter 6). Finally, I focus on the direct and indirect human impacts on the Basin’s rivers and wetlands, given the long history of water resource development in Australia, and I canvas the impact of feral animals and plants, grazing and climate change on the region’s globally important environmental and cultural values. The rivers and wetlands of the Lake Eyre Basin The Lake Eyre Basin in the centre of Australia (1.14 million km2) includes large parts of Queensland, the Northern Territory and South Australia, and a small slice of New South Wales (Habeck-Fardy and Nanson 2014 Fig. 1.1). Another great basin, the Great Artesian Basin (1.7 million km2), lies underneath the Lake Eyre Basin, as well as stretching further to the north (Fig. 1.1). Most of the focus of this book is on the surface waters of the Lake Eyre Basin, although reliable groundwater from the Great Artesian Basin has been critical to pastoral properties and towns. For example, bores along the famous Birdsville Track allowed stock to be walked to the railhead in Maree (Gibbs 2006). Also, the Great Artesian Basin naturally erupts to the surface, creating artesian springs with their own unique ecosystems, including endemic fish species (see Chapters 3 and 4). Access to groundwater also represents an important part of a broad search for sustainability, particularly in relation to its use by mining (see Chapters 19 and 20) and outback communities. The vast Lake Eyre Basin has large areas of wetlands (~8.5 million ha Bino et al. 2016), including artesian springs, waterholes, river channels, swamps, floodplains, and freshwater and saline lakes, predominantly supplied by its network of rivers and creeks (Fig. 1.1). The Great Artesian Basin supplies the springs, but most other wetlands are dependent on flows in the rivers. There are two major north–south catchments where most of the water flows (Cooper Creek and the Georgina–Diamantina catchment), and there are four smaller and more temporary rivers flowing east into Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre (Fig. 1.2), including the Neales and Macumba Rivers (Fig. 1.1). The Cooper Creek catchment is the most easterly of
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