Wetlands are among the most valuable ecosystems in the world and are crucial in supporting biodiversity. They also provide space for storing surface waters, where intense biological processing occurs that helps improve water quality. Human activities, particularly irrigated agriculture and urban developments instigating water diversions from rivers, have altered the hydrology of most wetlands. The Lower Murrumbidgee wetland, located in the Murrumbidgee River Catchment, is an example and is one of the significant wetlands across the Murray Darling Basin of Australia. Historic estimates show the volumes of water ranged from none in dry years to about 300 to 400 GL (1 GL = 109 L) in an average and wet year, respectively. The flows reaching the Lower Murrumbidgee wetland have been drastically reduced by at least 60% because of the upstream diversions introduced during the last century. These reductions have adversely affected the health of natural vegetation and agricultural crops in the Lower Murrumbidgee floodplain. This article presents the results of the quantification of total water consumption of various land uses in the Lower Murrumbidgee floodplain using the remote sensing–based Surface Energy Balance Algorithm for Land (SEBAL) modeling approach. The spatial analysis of actual evapotranspiration (ETa) shows that ETa rates are the highest (13–26%) for the red gum (Eucalyptus camaldulensis) forests both in summer and winter days. However, in terms of total ETa volume, lignum (Muehlenbeckia florulenta) constitutes the most significant part, which is around 14–30% of the total ETa volume for the area. Actual evapotranspiration from winter cereal cropping areas following the summer ponding is the third highest consumer of water after the river red gum and lignum. Actual evapotranspiration from the fallow land is also significant, representing 5–28% of total ETa from the region. In view of the extent of the unaccounted flows in the overall water balance of the system, there is a need to upgrade measuring and reporting infrastructure by strengthening the institutional and management arrangements to better gauge the efficiency of environmental and consumptive water use. The state-of-the-art technology of remote sensing–based SEBAL modeling proved to have potential for measuring actual water use with reliable accuracy and can be used for assessing the environmental and productive use of water from wetlands in other regions of Australia.
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Vol. 38 • No. 3