Water management agencies throughout Australia are attempting to find a balance between the water requirements of ecological and socio-economic environments as part of a holistic approach to managing flow-dependent river ecosystems. Environmental water provisions are under consideration for the Ord River in far northern Western Australia. This river has been regulated for irrigation and there are plans for substantial expansion. Like other semi-arid and tropical rivers, however, the hydrology of the Ord River is highly variable and unpredictable, and therefore, proportionate water release strategies for the environment that are based on average monthly flows are unsuitable. Regulation continues to produce pronounced ecological changes throughout the river system as the impacts of flow regime are negated. There is a dichotomy in optimal flow regimes for the contrasting management aspirations of ecological restoration based on low seasonal flows, and the dilution flows required for the drainage of agricultural effluent. Whilst current agricultural land and water management practices continue, the two cannot coincide, and consequently, a decision should be made regarding which environmental water allocation holds the primary value. Such a decision would guide the appropriate dry season flow regime on the lower Ord River.