science

NSW lake filled with water by rice farmer Jeremy Morton to help nurture the environment

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A lake in southern New South Wales is full of water at the moment but it's not because of recent heavy rainfall.

So far this financial year, Moulamein rice grower Jeremy Morton has directed 1,675 megalitres of his irrigation water into the ephemeral lake at his parent's place.

About 1,000 megalitres of the precious resource has flowed into the waterway in the past two months.

"First and foremost, it's about water for production. But certainly it's got an environmental benefit too," Mr Morton said.

"So it's basically somewhere to store water. It's like carry over water, except it's on farm and ready to use. But obviously, the natural environment enjoys the drink as well."

Morton's Lake was once a popular spot for water skiing and filled naturally roughly once every three years, but since the Millennium drought (2001 - 2009) water has only made its way there on three occasions.

Shelter for endangered frogs

Mr Morton expected water birds to flock to the lake but other animals would benefit too, inlcuding some that are endangered in NSW.

"We have Southern Bell Frogs in an adjoining water body to this one, which is shallower and covered in tall spike rush and scattered red gum. So it's ideal Southern Bell Frog habitat and there may well be some Australasian bitterns [a type of bird] in there too," he said.

Mr Morton said it was now easy to extract water from the lake to use for farming purposes.

"The actual lake's got an unregulated river licence, there's not very many in the Murray Valley," he said.

"But  we've had almost no opportunity in the last 20 years to use that licence because it's been so dry, and there's been such infrequent flooding."

Lakes can lose water through evaporation and seepage, but Mr Morton wasn't too concerned.

"This is basically flood plain anyway, so it's typically got a lot of clay in it, so it's pretty good at holding water," he said.

"The vegetation will probably use more in the next few months, but once it starts to warm up, evaporation in this part of the world is somewhere around a metre and a half a year."

Future plans not certain

It's difficult to predict how frequently Mr Morton would be able to fill the lake with irrigation water but he hoped to do so when water was abundant or cheap to buy.

"There's enough times when we've received zero allocation and certainly can't afford to be putting water into it, but then that sort of works because you end up getting a natural drying phase, which is probably not a bad thing either," he said.

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