Environmental water

River water is an important resource shared by people, plants and animals. That’s why we help set aside water to keep environments healthy, and manage the amount taken for human use.

What is environmental water?

Climate change and human activity have altered rivers and creeks, including their natural flow patterns. This affects animal habitats, breeding and migration — and can upset the balance of entire plant and animal communities.

To minimise these impacts, a certain amount of water is set aside by law to meet environmental needs. This is called the environmental water reserve: the environment’s share of water.

This water is set aside through:

  • environmental entitlements — the right to take, store and use a portion of available water for environmental purposes (granted to the Victorian Environmental Water Holder)
  • conditions on taking and using water — set by water companies’ bulk entitlements, waterway diversion licences or other management plans and laws

Environmental releases

Each year the Victorian Environmental Water Holder develops a seasonal watering plan, specifying where and when to use environmental entitlements for the best results. Water is released to mimic rivers’ natural flow patterns: low during summer and autumn, and higher in winter and spring.

Environmental releases help by:

  • triggering fish breeding
  • enabling fish migration
  • maintaining and connecting habitats
  • regenerating wetlands and floodplains
  • refilling rivers

The seasonal watering plan is informed by proposals from catchment management authorities and Melbourne Water. These use community knowledge and scientific studies to determine how much water people and the environment each need.


Learn more about how we manage environmental water, its critical role and some of the benefits it’s delivered.

Water extractions

Melbourne Water and Southern Rural Water manage the water taken from rivers, by setting conditions on how much is taken and when.

We do this through:

  • diversion licences for taking certain amounts of water, such as for watering crops
  • stream flow management plans for sharing water in areas with high demand and environmental risk
  • bulk entitlement agreements for water companies, which specify how much water must be provided downstream of a reservoir to maintain river health
  • local management plans setting the minimum flows in areas where stream flow management plans are not needed

Plans for stream flow management, local management and drought response our available on our website:

Stream flow management

Last updated:
1 November 2017