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Murray Flow Assessment Tool


CSIRO Land and Water and CRC for Freshwater Ecology

Method type



Murray River system


Aggregation, Habitat, Regional, Sub-regional

Purpose types


Water types



environmental flow, river


The Murray Flow Assessment Tool (MFAT)was developed to support the Scientific Expert Panel to undertake an assessment of three proposed environmental flow reference points for the Living Murray Initiative. It assesses the impact/benefits of different flow scenarios on the condition of physical habitat for native fish, waterbirds and vegetation communities and the growth of algal blooms for the River Murray system. It uses daily river flows as the primary input to a number of ecological models that are largely parameterized on the basis of expert knowledge. It integrates the assessments across spatial scales ranging from a single locality to the entire river system. The results can then be used to facilitate an informed trade-off process between environmental and human flow requirements.

It is based on the Environmental Flows Decision Support System (EFDSS) developed by CSIRO Land and Water and Environment Canada. The associated databases were populated by the CRC for Freshwater Ecology and members of the Regional Evaluation Groups established by the Murray Darling Basin Commission.

Purpose summary

  • To predict the ecological benefits/impact of different flow scenarios along the River Murray system.


  • Management
    • Decision support
    • Impact assessment


  • Score of the potential condition of habitat for floodplain and wetland vegetation, waterbirds and native fish for any given flow pattern.
  • Score of the risk of nuisance blue-green algal blooms.


  • To inform decisions on environmental flows in the Murray River system.


  • An objective and repeatable assessment.
  • Model is available to stakeholders in a read only format to extend their understanding of the model.
  • A read-write version is available to licensed users.


  • Requires a lot of resources to develop.

Criteria basis

The model treats the floodplain system as a series of storages and pipes and simulates the river system by running daily flows through the configuration of storages and pipes.  Species preferences are combined with the river flow information to give a habitat condition score for that species and flow data.

Resources required

To develop a model for another river system would require software licences, computer hardware, programmers, scientific experts and a Scientific Reference Panel.
Re-running the MFAT requires a read-write version and license of the tool, available from the Murray Darling Basin Commission.

Time required

Long term

The read-write version for the Murray River system can be run quickly for different scenarios.

Data required

Daily river flows, water storages (floodplain, billabong/lagoon, riverine lake) volume and area information, preference curves for reliance of a particular biota on environmental conditions and other ecological information.

Recommended users

The existing tool is useful for natural resource managers in the River Murray system. A similar tool would be useful for management of large catchments with conflicts between environmental flows and human use.


  • Ecological importance:
    • Algal growth
      • Annual algal index
      • Daily algal index
    • Aquatic wetland vegetation
      • Annual wetland vegetation habitat condition
      • Annual recruitment habitat condition
    • Floodplain vegetation
      • Annual floodplain vegetation habitat condition
      • Annual recruitment habitat condition
    • Native fish
      • Annual adult habitat condition
      • Annnual recruitment habitat condition
    • Waterbirds
      • Annual waterbird breeding habitat condition
      • Annual foraging habitat condition

Case studies


Young, W.J., Scott, A.C., Cuddy, S.M. and Rennie, B.A. (2003) Murray Flow Assessment Tool - a technical description. Client Report, 2003. CSIRO Land and Water, Canberra.


Last updated: 22 March 2013

This page should be cited as:

Murray Flow Assessment Tool, WetlandInfo 2006, Department of Environment and Heritage Protection, Queensland, viewed 12 September 2017, <>.

Queensland Government
WetlandInfo   —   Department of Environment and Heritage Protection