River health at home

Every year, around 500,000 million litres of stormwater runs off hard surfaces like roofs, roads and driveways and into our rivers, creeks and bays. Stormwater often carries chemicals, pollution and rubbish, which cause problems for the health of our waterways and the wildlife they support. 

Find out how you can help keep our rivers and creeks clean, and put stormwater to good use in your garden.

​Paints and household chemicals

Never pour paints or cleaning products into gutters, stormwater drains or onto the ground. The chemicals in them can easily enter our rivers and creeks, where they are harmful to wildlife.

​Avoid excess paint

Try not to end up with leftover paint. Only buy what you need – measure the room and ask the salesperson how much to buy.

Store leftover paint safely for future touch-ups, or see if a friend or neighbour can use it.

Cleaning up after painting

Get as much paint as possible back into the tin from your brushes, rollers and trays. Then paint out any excess onto a rag or some newspaper – allow this to dry, then put it in the bin.

For water-based paints, use two containers of water to clean your brushes – one to clean out the paint and a second to rinse with. Leave the first container overnight so the paint solids can settle to the bottom, then pour the water onto your garden. Use a rag or newspaper to wipe out the paint solids, allow this to dry and then put it in the bin.

You can pour the water from your second (rinsing) container onto the garden straightaway.

For oil-based paints, try to use as little solvent like turps as possible. Save leftover solvents to use again in the future.

Leftover paints and chemical products

You should dispose of leftovers carefully. Sustainability Victoria offers a free service where you can safely dispose of detergents, fertilisers, glue, paints, insect sprays and much more:

Car oil

Car oil is highly toxic – if your car leaks oil onto the road, this will enter drains and end up in our rivers, creeks and bays.

Use these quick steps to check your car for leaks:

  • check under the hood, looking at the engine block and engine compartment – most leaks are easy to spot this way
  • use a flash light to inspect under the car – look for wet areas or drips clinging to the car’s underside
  • if you don’t see any signs of a leak, place a large piece of cardboard under the car, so the engine is above it – mark the position of the wheels with a pen so you can tell where any drips came from

If you’re not adept at fixing cars, contact your local mechanic.

You can recycle leftover or used car oil. Some facilities accept oil filters and oily rags too.

Rubbish and dog poo

Litter, including cigarette butts and dog poo, can get washed into stormwater drains and into our rivers, creeks and bays.


Make sure your rubbish is tied up tightly and placed securely in your bins and recycling containers.

You can also help by:

  • picking up any litter you see in the street (unless you spot dangerous items like broken glass or syringes)
  • taking your own rubbish home with you
  • taking a re-usable bag shopping – using fewer plastic bags reduces the chances of them getting into rivers and damaging fish and other wildlife
  • putting cigarette butts in a bin so they can’t be carried into stormwater drains when it rains

Dog poo

There are around 900,000 dogs in Victoria, producing 90 tonnes of dog poo every day.

Dog poo contains bacteria that can be toxic to our rivers and creeks. Not only can this harm wildlife, this toxic matter entering our natural waterways can even make people sick.

Pick up after your dog every time and bin it. Local councils can fine you up to $200 for not picking up the poo!

Garden waste

Leaves and vegetation from your garden can not only block drains, the rotting organic matter can also pollute rivers and creeks by disturbing the natural chemical balance.

You can help by:

  • sweeping your patio or driveway and picking up the debris – don’t hose or sweep it into gutters or stormwater drains
  • starting a compost heap to get free fertiliser for your garden
  • finding out if your local council offers a green waste collection service – most do

Build a raingarden

Raingardens look like regular garden beds, but are designed specifically to use stormwater from a driveway, roof or patio as it rains. By doing so, they help remove pollutants in stormwater before it reaches your local waterway.

There are different types of raingardens which can be adapted to suit most areas, but they all use water efficiently and help to improve the health of your local river or creek. Find out more about these low-maintenance raingardens:

Join a community group – adopt a waterway

Friends groups, Landcare groups and other volunteers play an important role in protecting and improving rivers and creeks.

Form your own group to help care for a section of your local waterway, or join an existing group operating in your area – full listings are available:

Did you know?

Just one litre of car oil can contaminate one million litres of water.


Copyright Melbourne Water