Environmental water needs for the Fitzroy River

Western Australia’s mighty Fitzroy River has high environmental, economic and cultural significance and there is increasing interest in developing its substantial water resources for irrigated agriculture.

Important environmental values, such as the iconic barramundi, are likely to be impacted if the river’s natural flows or groundwater levels are altered. To minimise risks to these natural values, we need to understand how they may respond to potential water resources development.


Fitzroy water needs diagram

People, animals and plants may be potentially impacted by water resource development in the Fitzroy River.


This project is working in collaboration with the Australian and Western Australian Governments, Traditional Owners and pastoralists to improve the available information on the water needs of key natural values in the Fitzroy River. This knowledge will underpin future water allocation and planning decisions.

The primary aim of this project is to improve our understanding of the environmental water needs of key plant and animal species in the Fitzroy River to inform sustainable water planning and management decisions.

Project activities

The project includes three major components:

  • Reviewing the current information on environmental water needs and developing initial conceptual models to predict the impact of various water use scenarios on key environmental values
  • Undertaking targeted research to determine water needs of environmental values, including significant plant and fish species
  • Using the new research to revise conceptual models and recommendations to reduce the risk to environmental values from water resource development.

Anticipated outputs

  • Conceptual models of ecohydrological relationships and potential risks from water resource development
  • Recommendations of environmental water needs for important riverbank plants and aquatic animals in dry season pools and the implications of wet season water use for fish
  • Peer-reviewed scientific publications.

The project is focused on the Fitzroy River catchment in Western Australia. Most activity is occurring downstream of Fitzroy Crossing.

January 2019

David Crook discusses how otolith chemistry can help explain and document fish life history.

The project is being led by Professor Michael Douglas from The University of Western Australia (UWA). Professor Douglas is being assisted by researchers from UWA, Charles Darwin University, Griffith University and the Western Australia Department of Water and Environmental Regulation.

Gooniyandi Aboriginal Corporation PBC, Walalakoo Aboriginal Corporation PBC, Wilinggin Aboriginal Corporation and Yi-Martuwarra/Yanunijarra Aboriginal Corporation PBC are collaborators in this research.

This project is due for completion in June 2021.

Professor Michael Douglas, UWA
[email protected]

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  • Yeerra Pool on Nyikina-Mangala land (Fitzroy River), photo Michael Douglas.
  • Field work finished for the week, photo Fiona Freestone
  • Nyikina-Mangala Rangers collect fish in the pools and shallow run habitats of the lower Fitzroy River, photo Leah Beesley.
  • Fitzroy River, photo: Michael Douglas
  • Measuring leaf water uptake, photo Fiona Freestone.
  • Irrigated agriculture, photo: Michael Douglas
  • Collecting tree samples, photo Fiona Freestone.
  • Sawfish, photo: Michael Lawrence-Taylor
  • Kimberley landscape, photo: Michael Douglas
  • Working on steep river banks, photo Fiona Freestone.
  • Kimberley country, photo Caroline Canham.