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First Nations' expertise boosts MDBA

The Murray-Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) celebrates collaborations with Traditional Owners to better service communities and the environment.

The traditional water knowledge of First Nations Peoples is helping to supercharge the long-term benefits of environmental flows in the Murray–Darling Basin, while helping First Nations connect more with Country.

"Water for the environment" is water that has been purchased by governments to be used to improve the health of Australia's rivers, wetlands and floodplains. The program relies on relationships between people from Traditional Owners groups, community and non-government organisations, and state and federal agency staff.

Water is allocated to federal and state environmental water holders across the basin, who make decisions about when, where and how much water is released for the environment, and with measurable environmental outcomes in mind.

Chair of Northern Basin Aboriginal Nations' (NBAN) Fred Hooper said that for the first time in history, First Nations objectives and outcomes have been included in annual environmental watering priorities.

"It is our peoples' rights under international law to be involved in water planning, delivery and monitoring of water for the environment, and I'm excited to see what more is to come," he said.

Director of Aboriginal Partnerships at the MDBA Mark Foreman said the positive impact of the collaborations on both the environment and First Nations communities were to be celebrated while recognising there was always room for improvement.

"No one has the breadth and continuity of knowledge like our Traditional Owners. That encyclopaedic knowledge is helping guide decisions about where to water and when, which is maximising the environmental benefits of this water. At the same time this water is restoring the health of significant cultural sites that are important to First Nation Peoples," he said.

"At Dharriwaa (Narran Lakes) in north-west New South Wales, cultural insights about plants, animals and artefacts helped to guide watering events. Having First Nations on site to monitor the benefits meant the extent of the wildlife and plant recovery was assessed in real time.

"On the Goulburn River near Seymour in Victoria, collaborations between the Taungurung Traditional Owners and the Goulburn Broken CMA led to the restoration of the sacred Horseshoe Lagoon — a site of cultural significance as a women's place. Water also saw the return of birds and other animals.

The MDBA plans further integration of First Nations knowledge into watering decisions. Knowledge of their lands and environment has already been used to develop the 2020-21 priorities for environmental watering.

Acting Chair of the Murray Lower Darling Rivers Indigenous Nations (MLDRIN) Grant Rigney said the benefits for First Nations People were also evident.

"Nation groups are benefiting from a greater connection and reconnection to Country alongside the continuation of important cultural practices which have existed for thousands of years."

To celebrate the working relationships with Traditional Owners, the MDBA has published ten case studies of First Nation Peoples' participation in environmental watering called Rivers, the veins of our Country.