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

19 May 2022

Morton's Lake in southern New South Wales has been filled with irrigation water(Supplied: Jeremy Morton)

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 grower Jeremy Morton has directed 1,675 megalitres of his irrigation water into the ephemeral lake on his parent's property where the family grows rice as well as other crops.

About 1,000 megalitres of the precious resource, fed to the Morton land via channel from the Murray River irrigation system, 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."

Mr Morton is relishing the full water body which was often dry due to the drought at the start of the century.(ABC Rural: Kellie Hollingworth)

Mr Morton had 240 hectares of rice in the ground at his Moulamein property in the NSW Riverina and is half way through harvesting the crop.

Irrigators in the Murray Darling Basin are given their set water allocations each year but whether they receive their full entitlement depends on how much water is in the system.

This year, Mr Morton's family purchased water on the open market early in the season but when good rain fell, he had plenty in surplus.

"I've had 250 millimetres of rain already this year so I haven't needed to irrigate anything this year," Mr Morton said.

"So it's been a combination of buying water early in the season, getting a full allocation, and good rain."

Morton's Lake was once a popular spot for water skiing and filled naturally roughly once every three years, but since the Millennium drought, which lasted from 2001 to 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, including 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.

Southern Bell Frogs have a call that sounds like a motorbike revving — and they are finding a home in Morton's swamp.(Supplied: Damian Michael)

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."

Kellie Hollingworth