Protection of Lake Eyre Basin rivers and floodplains

    Image of map of the Lake Eyre Basin and Drainage Sub-basins area and inset of this location in Queensland.Open larger image

    Map of the Lake Eyre Basin and Drainage Sub-basins area and inset of this location in Queensland.

    Lake Eyre Basin rivers and floodplains

    The Lake Eyre Basin is of high ecological and cultural significance nationally and globally. It is the largest internal drainage system in Australia and one of the biggest in the world. The Lake Eyre Basin also has one of the most variable flow regimes in the world and contains one of the last remaining largely free-flowing arid river systems on the planet.

    Making up approximately 30% of the state, the Queensland section of the Lake Eyre Basin covers an area over 510,000km² with extensive watercourses and wetlands. The headwaters for the Georgina and Diamantina Rivers and Cooper Creek start in Queensland and all flow into the Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre system.

    The basins of Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre system are unique in that they include large, arid to semi-arid landscapes whose flora and fauna are adapted to a highly variable climate – featuring long dry periods to major flooding. Known for the cycles of 'boom and bust', the basins of the Cooper, Diamantina and Georgina support abundant ecosystems and an important grazing and pastoral industry.

    Some of the key environmental values of the Lake Eyre Basin are:

    • It has some of the last largely free flowing rivers in Australia.
    • It is one of the world’s biggest internal draining systems, meaning the streams do not reach the sea.
    • It is comprised of connected watercourses and springs, highly fertile floodplains and groundwater dependent ecosystems (GDEs). These river systems, in turn, are the life blood of Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre system.
    • The wetlands support the nationally-listed, threatened ecological community of native species dependent on natural discharge of groundwater from the Great Artesian Basin.

    The iconic Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre system and its distributary systems was recognised in the Lake Eyre Basin Intergovernmental Agreement 2001 as one of the last arid-zone water catchments around the globe to flow intermittently without interruption, and therefore of high conservation significance on a world scale. Lake Eyre Basin Intergovernmental Agreement – Department of Climate Change Energy, the Environment and Water.

    In addition to the Lake Eyre Basin’s internationally important ecological values and deep cultural significance, its natural resources support local industries and jobs.

    Read more about the natural, economic and social values of the Queensland Lake Eyre Basin (the basin) spanning the Georgina, Diamantina and Cooper catchments.

    Following consultation with the Queensland Lake Eyre Basin Stakeholder Advisory Group, a set of options were developed that could be implemented to ensure adequate protections of the Queensland Lake Eyre Basin now and for future generations. The Stakeholder Advisory Group helped ensure the interests of First Nations peoples, environmental and natural resource management groups, local governments, industry, businesses, and communities have been heard.

    These options were developed following a review of existing policies and legislation, ecological science and available information about resources.

    They aim to provide clarity about the future for the Queensland Lake Eyre Basin, and ensure our laws and processes are strong enough to protect the region’s river systems.

    Consultation on the CRIS

    Public consultation on options for how to best ensure Queensland’s environmental protections can achieve a balance between ecological sustainability and future economic prosperity for the Queensland Lake Eyre Basin region closed on 25 August 2023.

    During the consultation feedback was sought from people who call the basin home or have a connection to its land, the businesses and industries which operate there and those who have a connection to or interest in the region.

    A number of online briefings and information sessions were held for stakeholder groups and industry sectors.

    Community information sessions were also held in Winton, Boulia, Bedourie, Birdsville, Windorah, Barcaldine, Longreach, Dajarra, the Camooweal area, and Quilpie.

    Responses to the consultation are being reviewed and assessed to inform a Decision Regulatory Impact Statement. For more information please email

    Scientific reports

    Three reports were commissioned by the Queensland Government to help inform decision making.

    In late 2021, the Department contracted Professor Claire Côte from the Sustainable Minerals Institute at the University of Queensland to undertake a synthesis review of information and scientific findings from available studies. The Lake Eyre Basin Synthesis Report (PDF, 9.2MB) involved a desktop analysis of several studies, including scope, methodologies, limitations and knowledge gaps. Comparisons and conclusions were drawn to provide an indication of how research findings are relevant for the Lake Eyre Basin initiative, and their significance.

    Assessing Development Risks to the Ecological Values of the Free Flowing Rivers of Kati Thanda–Lake Eyre Basin (Qld) (PDF, 3.3MB) , was commissioned by the Department of Environment and Science, and produced by an independent Scientific Expert Panel. It provides scientific advice and a complete risk assessment of potential impacts from the activities of conventional and unconventional petroleum and gas, mining, agricultural practices, tourism and infrastructure on the ecological values of the Lake Eyre Basin.

    Assessment of scientific knowledge of shale gas and shale oil potential impacts (PDF, 6.3MB) was commissioned by the former Department of Natural Resources Mines and Energy, and produced by the CSIRO. It considers the potential environmental impacts of shale gas and oil extraction activities and summarises which aspects of Queensland’s regulatory framework applies to those potential impacts.

    Scientific assessment of the environmental values of the Basin and potential impacts of development is ongoing.

    Working in partnership with Queensland’s First Nations people

    The Queensland Government remains committed to working in partnership with First Nations people to have a strong voice in the policy process about Country, and the management of waterways and land. This includes supporting and working with the Lake Eyre Basin Traditional Owners Alliance.

    The Alliance is an initiative of up to 20 Traditional Owner groups from across the Basin, formed in 2019 with the aim of having a strong voice in decision-making about Country, including management of waterways and land.

    This commitment aligns with the Department of Environment and Science’s Gurra Gurra Framework 2020–2026 (PDF, 3.0MB) , in recognising the special cultural connection of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Queenslanders to the lands and waters of Queensland, and in ensuring their views and advice about the future for the Basin are heard and acted on.

    Three forums were held during 2019 and 2020, initiated by First Nations peoples of the region, which have contributed valuable information about aspirations for future management and resulted in the establishment of the Lake Eyre Basin Traditional Owner Alliance. The department has had ongoing engagement with representatives of the Alliance and through the Stakeholder Advisory Group.