Water catchments

Melbourne’s protected water catchments are the reason why most of our drinking water needs very little treatment. Safeguarding these vital assets is one of our most important activities.

Our catchments include:

  • 56,300 hectares of state forest — managed by the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning
  • 90,800 hectares of national park — managed by Melbourne Water and Parks Victoria
  • 7,500 hectares of Melbourne Water land
  • 2,100 hectares of private land

Protected catchments

Melbourne is one of the few cities in the world with protected catchments, which produce high-quality water.

These are located north and east of our city, often in national parks and state forests with limited public access. They have hardly changed since they were reserved for harvesting water more than 100 years ago — a fantastic legacy of our city’s planners.

Open catchments

A small amount of our water comes from open catchments, including farmland, rural properties and state forests. These allow activities like camping, four-wheel driving and — in about 0.2% of catchments — timber harvesting from December to April.

Water from open catchments is treated so it meets the same quality requirements as water from protected catchments.

Defending our catchments

We invest a lot of effort protecting our catchments from threats to our drinking water.


Bushfires impact the quality and quantity of our water:

  • ash and sediment washed into reservoirs means they can’t be used for many months
  • less water enters reservoirs while forests recover — which can take over a century

We’re often the first to respond to fires in the catchments, and try to stop them spreading by:

  • grass cutting more frequently in summer
  • strategic planned burns that reduce the risk of intense bushfires
  • maintaining more than 600 kilometres of fire breaks and 1,860 kilometres of roads for fire fighters
  • identifying fires as soon as they start — using a lightning tracker tool, fire towers and fire fighter patrols

Human and animal contamination

We restrict access to our protected catchments to avoid contaminating our drinking water. Security teams perform regular patrols, and serious offences like camping, fishing, motorcycle riding or shooting may be dealt with in court.

To prevent disease, pests like wild dogs, feral cats, deer and foxes must also be controlled. Parks Victoria lead an annual trapping and baiting program.


Roads allow fire fighters to quickly get to bushfires, but also cause sediment to enter the waterways feeding our reservoirs. To minimise this, we make sure catchment roads are properly maintained and have appropriate drainage.

Last updated:
11 December 2019