Improving river health
After many years of intensive work and support from many groups, the Port Phillip and Western Port Regional River Health Strategy was finalised and approved by the former Minister for Water, Environment and Climate Change, John Thwaites, in October 2006. Since then we have updated sections of the strategy that relate to Melbourne Water’s priorities, targets and expenditures to be included in the next Water Plan to 2012/13. The strategy provides a blueprint for agencies to work together to improve the health of rivers and creeks and enhance opportunities for communities to enjoy their rivers and creeks.
The Victorian Government’s Yarra River Action Plan launched in January 2006, invests about $600 million on priority projects over 20 years to secure a healthier Yarra River. Priority projects include managing environmental flows, sewage and stormwater, litter reduction, involving the community in improvement projects, monitoring and communicating the health of the river and planning to ensure key areas of pollution are targeted.
The Yarra River Action Plan achieved the following by the end of June 2007:
- Defining environmental flow objectives for priority estuaries of Port Phillip Bay and Western Port
- Screening 13 sites within the Yarra River, 10 tributaries and 29 drains for inputs of faecal contamination
- Locating and fixing seven sources of sewage contamination: four failed pipes where sewage entered the Harper St main drain in Abbotsford; a blockage causing sewage back-up into the same system; an illicit connection from an apartment block to the Hawthorn main drain; and, a ruptured pipe leaking sewage into the Elizabeth St drain, in the Melbourne city centre
- Completing a study to determine whether it is safe to eat fish caught in the lower Yarra and Maribyrnong River estuaries, which confirmed Department of Human Services advisory warnings that recommended people limit themselves to one serve a week and limit serves of eel to one a month
- Updating the Yarra Watch website to include weekly condition ratings for rivers and creeks
- Developing 25 water-sensitive urban design projects with councils
- Securing a 17 million litre per year environmental water reserve for the Yarra River.
Better bays and waterways
Improved water quality in the Port Phillip and Westernport region’s bays, rivers, creeks and estuaries is the focus of the three-year Better Bays and Waterways Program, which has reached the halfway stage.
The program is funded by Melbourne Water, the Australian Government’s Coastal Catchments Initiative (Natural Heritage Trust) and EPA Victoria. It guides investment and describes how we work with agencies, councils, industry and the community in managing water quality, urban growth and catchment pressures. The plan focuses on managing nitrogen discharges to the bays from urban stormwater, and tackling pollutants such as toxicants, nutrients and litter.
The final output of the program will be a Better Bays and Waterways Plan that will identify new and existing regional water quality improvement activities, guide investment and describe how agencies, councils, industry and the community will work together in managing water quality, urban growth and catchment pressures.
Managing river flows
We work with government agencies, industries, landowners and the community to manage environmental flows for river health and to support beneficial uses.
In October 2006, the Government amended the Water Act to recognise legal environmental flow rights for the Yarra River of 17 million litres per year. However, due to extreme drought conditions, the Yarra Environmental Entitlement 2006 was deferred until Melbourne returns to Stage 1 water restrictions as a means of safeguarding urban water supplies.
During 2006/07, a detailed environmental flow study into the Bunyip/Tarago River system was completed to help manage water resources when the Tarago Reservoir comes back online in 2009.
We also completed three streamflow management plans for key Yarra River tributaries: Stringybark Creek, Olinda Creek, and Pauls, Steels and Dixons Creeks. Streamflow management plans address the stress on unregulated rivers and creeks, and help share streamflows between all water users, including the environment.
In 2007, we began a pilot streamflow tender program, which allows farmers and other landholders who hold water diversion licences to bid for government funding for projects that will improve water efficiency and free up water to help meet environmental flow targets.
The $10 million Lower Yarra Stormwater Program is a collaboration between Melbourne Water and the five lower Yarra local councils – Melbourne, Maribyrnong, Yarra, Booroondara and Stonnington – to improve stormwater quality through water sensitive urban design projects. The project also aims to build councils capacity, skills and knowledge of water sensitive urban design.
Projects to date have included water sensitive urban design road treatments, raingardens in inner urban primary schools and iconic projects at Federation Square, Victorian College of the Arts and The Royal Botanic Gardens. A project to divert polluted dry weather flows from Prahran main drain to sewer has also commenced.
Projects that will integrate stormwater treatment on the proposed M1 upgrade are also being investigated with VicRoads and Transurban.
The $250,000 Lower Yarra Litter Strategy has strong links to the Lower Yarra Stormwater Program and uses education, enforcement and infrastructure to reduce the amount of litter reaching the Yarra River via stormwater.
Key projects included:
- Working with the City of Yarra to develop a Green Star Business Program in partnership with local businesses, West Richmond Primary School, EPA Victoria and Sustainability Victoria
- The Victoria Street (Richmond) Litter Hotspot Project, where local businesses are being encouraged to reduce waste and improve stormwater quality. Since April 2007, some 80 businesses were awarded ‘one-star’ accreditation for their efforts in litter management.
The $10 million Living Rivers Stormwater Program works with 33 councils in the Port Phillip and Westernport region to better manage urban stormwater. A needs analysis exercise was undertaken with these councils to identify individual council needs for stormwater management allowing project funding to be specifically targeted.
Six projects were funded for a total of $679,000, and included raingardens, wetlands, and road and carpark treatments. Sixteen councils are developing proposals for a further 34 projects.
Working with the community
We expanded our Stream Frontage Management, Urban Stream Management, Waterwatch, Corridors of Green and Community Grants programs, which offer support and funding to community groups, landholders and councils to improve river health across the Port Phillip and Westernport region.
The Stream Frontage Management Program provides financial assistance to private landowners to manage and improve waterways on their property. During 2006/07, $1.14 million was allocated to over 500 landowners to build 64 kilometres of fencing to exclude stock from waterways, plant 128,000 indigenous trees and shrubs, and undertake environmental works such as weed control.
Since 1996, we have invested more than $6.7 million in grants through the program, helping landowners construct more than 626 kilometres of fencing and plant more than 980,000 native trees and shrubs.
In 2006/07, Melbourne Water and the Port Phillip and Westernport Catchment Management Authority worked together to develop a combined grant application process. The new process was developed to provide a single point of application for the Community Grants and Corridors of Green programs. The grants are offered to councils and the community to improve the health of land, biodiversity and water resources in the region.