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Catchment snapshots


The Macleay river flows from the northern tablelands to the Pacific Ocean at South West Rocks.

About the Macleay

The Macleay catchment is on the NSW mid-north coast, between the Hastings and Bellinger catchments. The Namoi and Gwydir catchments are on the western boundary. The catchment has an area of 11,450 square kilometres.

The Macleay catchment includes extensive areas of the northern tablelands, a sparsely populated escarpment area and a coastal area ranging from foothills to coastal plains. From the gently rolling hills of the tablelands, the central catchment is mountainous with deep gorges. The lower catchment is made up of wide floodplains extending to the coast and includes Kempsey and South West Rocks.

Rivers and tributaries

The Macleay is a major river on the NSW north coast. It rises in the northern tablelands and flows south-east through a coastal floodplain to South West Rocks, where it meets the Pacific Ocean.

Important tributaries include the Apsley, Chandler, Styx, Tia, Dyke and Yarrowitch rivers, and the Commissioners Waters. These tributaries pass through several spectacular gorges and waterfalls in the Oxley Wild Rivers National Park.

Water storages

There are no major water storages on rivers in the region. Town water supply is drawn from rivers and borefields.


Major towns in the catchment include Armidale, Walcha, Guyra and Kempsey.

Water users

Land and water users in the catchment include local councils, water utilities, conservation, livestock grazing including dairying, dryland agriculture, some forestry and tourism.

Environmental values

Macleay Estuary is a significant ecosystem for a range of aquatic and terrestrial flora and fauna. Natural resource issues range from New England Dieback, dryland salinity and soil degradation to acid sulphate soils, streambank erosion and fish habitat destruction.

Much of the tablelands has been cleared of trees and is now covered in native and introduced pastures. Rainforest and wet sclerophyll forests occur in the steep slopes and gorges of the escarpment. The lower ridges support wet and dry sclerophyll forests. These give way to cleared pasture land and wetlands on the floodplain. Coastal vegetation comprises grasses, shrubs and trees on the dunal system.

Key water management issues

Due to a high density of rural settlement, the region's rivers and estuaries tend to be affected by changed run-off conditions caused by land clearing, agricultural use, human settlement and recreation.

Most of the rivers and creeks in the Macleay River basin are unregulated, without major storages to capture and control flows. Most water users rely on natural flows or small structures, such as weirs for their water supplies. As with many unregulated rivers, flows are most affected during relatively dry times, when water is low and demand high.