Yarra catchment

​The Yarra catchment lies north and east of Melbourne, covering an area of about 4,046 square kilometres. It is home to more than one-third of Victoria’s population and native plant and animal species, and land use varies from protected forests and rural areas to urban development and established industry.

Yarra catchment areaThe Yarra River runs through the catchment into Port Phillip Bay, from its source in the forested Yarra Ranges National Park on the southern slopes of the Great Dividing Range. It is a Victorian Heritage River between Warburton and Warrandyte, meaning it has significant recreation, nature conservation, scenic and cultural heritage attributes. Today the river is highly valued and attracts millions of visitors a year to walk, ride, row, fish, picnic and camp.

The Yarra catchment contains three sub-catchments:

 

Upper Yarra system

The Upper Yarra system is located high up in the Yarra Ranges. Major waterways include:

  • Yarra River (main stem above Upper Yarra Reservoir)
  • Hoddles Creek
  • Grace Burn Creek
  • New Chum Creek
  • Coranderrk Creek
  • Watts River
  • Little Yarra River
  • O’Shannassy River

Waterways are highly valued by locals and visitors alike. Some run through towns and are prized for their amenity and recreational opportunities, but most are in forested catchments and have high natural values including significant animal species like powerful owls, Leadbeater’s possums and platypus. These pristine upper reaches also provide around 70% of Melbourne’s drinking water.

Challenges for waterway health include the impacts of rural roads and agriculture, and balancing social, environmental and economic needs in the water supply catchments.

Condition of key values

​Key value Condition Details
​Current: very low* Platypus populations have declined over the past decade due to the long drought, but are still relatively large and sightings are common. Over the next 20 years, flow and habitat management works aim to improve the condition to moderate.
20-year: moderate
Long-term: high
​Current: moderate Fish have declined in numbers and diversity over the past 200 years, largely due to introduced fish like trout that prey on natives. However, there are many native species and populations have been stable over the past 10 years.
20-year: high
Long-term: very high
​Current: moderate There are limited investigations to determine frog species divesity, but the current condition is moderate and we aim to increase this to high over the next 20 years.
20-year: high
Long-term: high
​Current: very high** Bird populations remain in very high condiiton due to the high quality of vegetation and a long history of habitat protection. Ongoing works aim to maintain this.
20-year: very high**
Long-term: very high**
​Current: high Much of the native vegetation is protected within public land and of very high quality, with minimal weeds. Protection and weed control works aim to improve this condition to very high.
20-year: very high
Long-term: very high
​Current: high Macroinvertebrate populations are generally high due to the high water and vegetation quality. Continued protection of this system aim to improve the condition to very high.
20-year: very high
Long-term: very high
​Current: very high* Public land management means many natural features remain, and very high amenity is still enjoyed through natural forests, picnic areas at dams and views along the waterway corridors.
20-year: very high
Long-term: very high

* Limited data used to determine this rating
** Streamside birds only - does not include wetlands

 

Middle Yarra system

​The major waterways in this system include:

  • Yarra River (between Warburton and Warrandyte)
  • Arthurs Creek
  • Diamond Creek
  • Steels Creek
  • Pauls Creek
  • Olinda Creek
  • Woori Yallock Creek
  • Stringybark Creek

Significant wetlands include Yering Backswamp and other floodplain wetlands around Yarra Glen, which are listed in the Directory of Important Wetlands in Australia.

Waterways in this system are highly valued – especially the Yarra main stem and tributaries, which have areas of natural beauty, support many recreational activities and important animal species such as platypus. These waterways also have significant Indigenous and European heritage values.

Challenges for waterway health include the impacts of urbanisation and agriculture, and balancing social, environmental and economic needs.

Condition of key values

​Key value Condition Details
​Current: very low Platypuses have declined since the 1990s due to the long drought. Populations are still common, though sizes are smaller than those in the Upper Yarra. The population at Diamond Creek has increased due to restoration works like removing willows, stabilising stream banks and replanting. Continued flow and habitat works aim to stabilise and improve this condition.
20-year: very low
Long-term: high
​Current: moderate Native freshwater fish species have been stable over the past decade, with introduced fish widespread. Improving passage and flows will significantly improve populations.
20-year: high
Long-term: very high
​Current: very high Frog population diversity is very high and stable, and we aim to maintain this.
20-year: very high
Long-term: very high
​Current: low Bird populations are in low condition due to extensive vegetation clearing, though conditions have been stable since the 1990s. Linking habitat and revegetating streamside areas aim to improve this in the long term.
20-year: low
Long-term: moderate
​Current: moderate Vegetation condition has declined significantly over the past 100 years due to extensive clearing for rural and urban development. However, this trend has reversed in the past decade, and works aim to improve this.
20-year: high
Long-term: high
​Current: moderate Macroinvertebrate communities are highly dependent on water quality, which has declined due to rural and urban development. Water quality improvements aim to increase the range and variety over the next 20 years.
20-year: high
Long-term: high
​Current: low Many areas provide high amenity through intact streamside vegetation, natural waterway features and relaxing parkland, but the average score is low. Continued work to link vegetated areas will improve this.
20-year: high
Long-term: very high

 

Lower Yarra system

The major waterways in this system are:

  • Yarra River (main stem downstream of Templestowe)
  • Plenty River
  • Darebin Creek
  • Merri Creek
  • Moonee Ponds Creek
  • Gardiners Creek

Much of the area along waterways is protected in public open spaces, such as the Yarra Valley parklands. The system fortunately contains many natural wetlands, as well as stormwater treatment wetlands like Glen Iris Wetlands, Banyule Swamp and Huntingdale Wetlands.

The waterways in this system are highly valued by locals and visitors alike. Most are in urban areas and frequently visited by the community – particularly the vast network of pathways beside them. These waterways include significant Indigenous and European heritage values, with important locations and including Dights Falls and the Heidelberg Artists Trail.

Challenges for waterway health include the impacts of urbanisation, with most waterways significantly altered in form and water quality. Modifications including straightening, channelling and concrete-lining, which reduce the amount and quality of natural vegetation.

Large amounts of stormwater enter these waterways, reducing water quality and changing water flow rates. Together with waterway diversions upstream, this can cause low flows and low dissolved oxygen, which harms plants and animals in the waterway.

Condition of key values

​Key value Condition Details
​Current: very low Urban developed has significantly altered platypus habitat. Populations have declined since the 1990s possibly due to reduced river flows and platypus are now rare, though medium-size populations exist in some urban sections of the Yarra River and tributaries.
20-year: very low
Long-term: moderate
​Current: moderate The variety and proportion of native fish species has declined since the 1990s. There is a moderate variety of species, and introduced species are relatively abundant. A large range of works aims to improve this over the next 20 years.
20-year: high
Long-term: very high
​Current: very high Frog population diversity is very high and stable, and works aim to maintain this.
20-year: very high
Long-term: very high
​Current: low Substantial urban development means bird populations are in low condition. Vegetation improvements aim to stabilise bird diversity and abundance and allow for future improvements, though the long-term potential is limited as land is not available for large-scale connectivity.
20-year: low
Long-term: moderate
​Current: very low* Extensive vegetation clearing for urban development has occurred over the past 200 years, so the condition is very low. Continued investment in vegetation will improve this.
20-year: moderate
Long-term: high
​Current: low Macroinvertebrate communities have been affected by urban development and poor water quality. Improvements to stormwater treatment and vegetation aim to improve this condition.
20-year: moderate
Long-term: high
​Current: moderate Amenity enjoyed from waterways is moderate, with specific areas important for relaxation and rejuvenation. Vegetation and litter management works aim to improve amenity to high over the next 20 years.
20-year: high
Long-term: very high

* Limited data used to determine this rating

Did you know?

More than 3,000 Aboriginal sites have been recorded in the Yarra catchment, with most of these being artefact scatters within 100 metres of a permanent watercourse.

 

Key facts

  • Area:
    4,046 square kilometres
  • Average rainfall:
    615mm (Burnley) to 1080mm (Warburton)
  • Traditional owners:
    Wurundjeri and Taungurang



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