Protection of Lake Eyre Basin streams and watercourses

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 streams and watercourses

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 waterways 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 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 pastoralism industry.

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

  • The Lake Eyre Basin has some of the last largely free flowing rivers in Australia.
  • The basin is one of the world’s biggest internal draining systems, meaning the streams do not reach the sea.
  • The Lake Eyre Basin 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.
  • 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 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 – DAWE.

In addition to the 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 Lake Eyre Basin (the basin) spanning the Georgina, Diamantina and Cooper catchments.

Protecting Lake Eyre Basin streams and watercourses

The Queensland Government is committed to protecting the long-term health and ecological integrity of the waterways and floodplains of the Lake Eyre Basin (Qld) and to ensuring this is done in a way that recognises First Nations peoples’ connection to the region and supports sustainable economic development.

The Basin is in good condition but is vulnerable to emerging pressures. The Queensland Government is reviewing existing policies and legislation to ensure they are fit-for-purpose, now and for future generations.

The best available science and research is being used to identify potential environmental impacts of activities that may operate in the basin.

This builds on the government’s commitment to ensure Queensland’s pristine rivers are protected, by undertaking consultation with Traditional Owners, stakeholders and communities to make sure all interests are considered.

Scientific reports

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

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 case 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.

Consultation process

Targeted consultation on the regulatory reform began in late 2019, but this was put on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Queensland Government has now established a Lake Eyre Basin Stakeholder Advisory Group (the Advisory Group) to represent the interests of First Nations peoples, environmental and natural resource management groups, local governments, industries (particularly agricultural and resources) and communities.

The Advisory Group will provide information and advice from stakeholder’s perspectives, to help inform the development of a consultation Regulatory Impact Statement. This will assess options for the better protection of the Lake Eyre Basin rivers and floodplains, and consider how this can be achieved alongside sustainable economic development across the Basin.

Everyone will have the opportunity to have their say on the future of the Queensland part of the Lake Eyre Basin.

Consultation will build on feedback already received and provide new opportunities for input from those who call the basin home, have a connection to its land and waters, and the businesses and industries which operate there.

Please email policyinitiatives@des.qld.gov.au if you require further information.

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 have already been 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.