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Nukunu welcome Baroota water release for gum tree health

News release
20 September 2022

Traditional Owners, the Nukunu people expressed relief as the water release valves on the Baroota Reservoir in the southern Flinders Ranges opened to revitalise the health of local river red gum trees at the start of spring.

The water flowed about 4.5 kilometres along the creek, reaching Garden Road, and was supplemented by a 38 millimetre rain event.

It was the first environmental and cultural water release from SA Water’s Baroota Reservoir, which aims to improve gum tree resilience, recharge groundwater reserves and help Nukunu people meet their cultural obligations of caring for Country.

Nukunu welcome Baroota water release for gum tree health
Some of the Nukunu representatives who attended the first day of the Baroota water release in early spring. L-R: Kym Thomas, Lawrie Thomas, Travis Thomas, Bessie Buckskin, Lindsay Thomas and Dion Bromley with children in front Lionel Buckskin, Judy Sansbury and Ernie Wilson.

Nukunu Elder Lindsay Thomas, who observed the start of the trial release in early September with another 15 Nukunu people, said he felt relieved and energised by the water flowing along Baroota Creek.

“We’ve been fighting for so long to get that water to run through there to heal our red gums in the creek, which are starting to wither,” said Mr Thomas. “With this release, we’re hoping to revitalise the whole area and hopefully put water back into our aquifers.”

The Northern and Yorke Landscape Board, which is responsible for sustainable landscape management including water and healthy ecosystems in the region, worked with SA Water to facilitate the trial release, while the Department for Environment and Water monitored the water flow and velocity, which will help in planning for potential future releases.

Baroota last supplied drinking water to SA Water customers in 1997, and is now maintained as a contingency supply reservoir. During this time, it has continued to supply a small amount of water for irrigation needs within the local catchment.

Nukunu welcome Baroota water release for gum tree health
Water from Beetaloo Reservoir gushes over Reservoir Road and further along Baroota Creek. Image: Matthew Turner.

Northern and Yorke Landscape Board Planning Officer Jennifer Munro said the recent water release from the reservoir was prompted by the declining health of the old river red gums along Baroota Creek, north east of Port Germein.

“Their canopies are not as healthy as they should be. There are a lot of bare branches and not many leaves, which means they’re stressed,” she said.

“If they don’t get a regular drink, they start to lose condition, so we’re trying to provide some water along the creek, but also recharge the groundwater system.

“Many of the trees will use their roots to access the groundwater, which is how they maintain their health in these semi-arid conditions in between rain seasons.”

The river red gums’ poor health was identified through the Board’s water allocation planning, a process that guides the sustainable use of prescribed water resources. Currently under development, the Baroota Water Allocation Plan (WAP) ensures the needs of the environment are taken into account when working out how much water will be made available.

Through this process, the Board has also recognised that cultural water is a key goal for the Nukunu people, who have cared for the waters and lands of the southern Flinders Ranges and Mid North for thousands of generations. The draft Baroota WAP includes an Aboriginal chapter, which incorporates Aboriginal water interests and their ongoing cultural obligations and aspirations.

The Baroota area holds sacred significance for the Nukunu people, with the surrounding Country formed by their creation ancestor, Wapma, a rainbow serpent. It is also a traditional area where Nukunu people lived, including after colonisation.

Baroota, a Nukunu word which translates to ‘place of plenty’, came to life with the recent flow of water, as observed by Nukunu Elder Kym Thomas.

“The hushed environment suddenly became lively,” he said. “The excited birdlife began singing and hopping from tree to tree…the frogs joined in with a chorus of delayed croaks…the insect world came alive.”

While the water has now receded into the groundwater system, the river red gums will continue to be monitored to capture any response to the flow and as part of ongoing monitoring of Baroota’s ecosystems, including the water-dependent plants and animals that live in permanent pools. The Northern and Yorke Landscape Board is engaging with several Nukunu people to carry out the monitoring work as contractors. This data will be used as a guide for environmental water into the future.

For more information about Northern and Yorke Landscape Board’s Water Allocation Plans, visit our website: www.landscape.sa.gov.au/ny