Travelling Australia - Journal 2012
March 2012 - Albury - Wonga Wetlands
Before the Hume Dam was built the flow of water in the Murray River generally followed an annual cycle determined by the weather and rainfall. In non-drought years river levels were low during summer and autumn and much of the floodplain dried out completely. During winter, rainfall in the catchment made the river rise; then snow-melt in the spring in the alpine headwaters regularly increased the river to flooding level.

Once the Hume Dam was built to conserve water for irrigation, this cycle was changed. Now winter rain and early spring snow-melt water are retained in Lake Hume and released for irrigation purposes in late spring, summer and early autumn. The spring flood peak on the river no longer occurs. Many billabongs have dried up, large areas of floodplain wetlands are no longer flooded seriously affecting native plants and wildlife.
Lagoon Wonga Wetlands lagoon edged with healthy trees and grasses

Wonga Wetlands begins to restore the natural sequence on part of the floodplain. This is mainly a former pastoral property adjacent to an anabranch of the Murray River and which has been divided into lagoons with levy banks. Water from the Albury wastewater (sewerage) treatment plant is directed into the lagoons during wetter months, ensuring they are filled to overflowing. But in drier months water from the treatment plant is diverted to irrigation and the floodplain is allowed to dry out. The natural flooding-drying cycle of the floodplain wetlands in place before the Murray was regulated has been restored.

Water level in the lagoons is remotely monitored and sluices under the levy banks connect lagoons so water can flow between lagoons to achieve required water levels. If necessary, pumps are used in summer to help empty lagoons. One fringe benefit of emptying the lagoons in summer is the number of dead carp left; in 2000-01 there were 1500 dead carp counted in Lagoon 5 after the water had drained.
Sluice Sluices connect lagoons, like this one they often run under the tracks. The hand-operated gate mechanism is on the right of the picture on the other side of the track.

Wonga Wetlands covers 80 hectares and contains seven interconnected lagoons surrounded by levees. There are two walking tracks (1.5 km and 2.5km) passing several lagoons. Walking tracks visit a variety of vegetative habitats in lagoons and between lagoons.

In places, the legacy of years as a cattle property remains but those signs are fading and will fade even more as site development continues. Much of the area is primarily devoted to conservation and is not accessible to visitors.

The lagoons are dotted with mature red gums, many of them more than two metres in diameter at ground level, and many are approaching the end of their natural lives. Young red gums around the lagoons have all germinated since 1997 when development of Wonga Wetlands began and cattle were removed; before then, cattle ate newly germinated red gums. Trees which would, by now, have been medium sized, middle-aged red-gums were cut down decades ago for fence posts, cattle yards and firewood. Plantings of native species in the early stages of developing the Wetlands have led to unnatural concentrations of some species (Silver Wattles - Acacia dealbata - are overwhelming in some places) but plantings are now more dispersed.
Bird Hide Typical bird hide with one viewing shutter open. The timber walls at each end allow observers to approach the hide door without being seen by birds in the viewing area.

Wonga Wetlands restored water regime has proven attractive to birds; not only birds living on, or in, water, but those living in vegetation bordering water. Six bird hides have been carefully positioned along the walking trails to overlook different bird habitats. The hides are modified shipping containers with lift-up flaps in the side for viewing through and a pitched galvanised iron roof which should reduce the temperature on sunny summer days. Timber screens ensure that people quietly approaching the door do not frighten birds in the viewing area.

Wonga Wetlands is a few kilometres west of Albury along the Riverina Highway to Corowa. For GPS users the co-ordinates of the car park are 36° 04' 07.3"S, 146° 51' 16.8"E.