About river health

​Healthy rivers provide water for homes and businesses, sustain wildlife and are enjoyable places to visit. However, our rivers face a variety of threats including the effects of a growing population and climate change.

Importance of river health

Healthy rivers provide everyone with:

  • a healthy environment
  • healthy habitats for plants and animals to live in
  • attractive places for families and tourists to enjoy
  • better quality water for use in agriculture and in our homes

Rivers are diverse and complex ecosystems and– they host a great many communities of plants and animals that exist together in balance. When something disrupts that balance, the chain of effects can be very destructive and widespread.

Waterway key values

We have identified a number of key values that are strong indicators of healthy waterways and guide the focus of our work.

These values were developed with our stakeholders and the community, and reflect the importance they place on waterways to support a healthy environment and make Melbourne an enjoyable place to live.

Our key values are:

  • vegetation (plants) – the type of plants within and alongside waterways are vital to their health, providing animals with food and shelter, improving soil and water quality, stabilising river beds and banks and providing shade and temperature control
  • fish – usually near the top of the aquatic food chain, fish provide food for birds and a source of recreation for people who go fishing
  • frogs – an essential part of the ecosystem, frogs are sensitive to pollutants in water and air and are therefore an excellent indicator of water quality
  • platypus – an animal unique to Australia, which relies on insects for food
  • birds – the most visible, studied and monitored animal, birds positively influence how people feel about the health of our waterways – many wetlands and waterways are popular spots for bird watching
  • macroinvertebrates (waterbugs) – a food source for platypus, fish and frogs, they are very sensitive to changes in the environment and are a good indicator of waterway health
  • amenity (pleasantness to visitors) – affects people’s wellbeing and draws them to waterways where they can relax, replenish and connect with others and nature

You can read more about our targets around these values:

Threats to the health of our rivers

The Port Phillip and Westernport region has different types of land, from the mountainous, forested areas upstream to the farmland and urban areas downstream. The condition of rivers and creeks deteriorate further downstream as land is used more intensively towards the city centre, changing them greatly from their natural state.

River health downstream is mostly affected by humans, especially changes caused by land being altered and built on.

The main threats to river health are:

  • changes to natural water flows – unnaturally high or low flows caused by drought or human intervention (like taking water for agriculture, industry and homes) create difficult living conditions for fish and other wildlife
  • more land being used for farming or building on – less rainfall filters into the ground, but runs instead into drains and rivers, carrying pollutants with it
  • loss of plant life – removing plants from a riverbank makes it more likely to erode, reduces habitats for other wildlife, affects the river’s natural temperature and reduces the soil’s ability to filter polluted water entering the rivers
  • climate change – predictions suggest there will be longer intervals between rainfall but more intense storms, altering a river’s natural state and creating poor living conditions for wildlife
  • pollutants and litter – these can enter rivers from farmland and urban areas, causing poor water quality which threatens wildlife and affects everyone’s enjoyment of a river
  • changes to the shape or structure of the river, creating barriers that prevent fish and other creatures migrating naturally

Find out more about our work to measure and improve river health:

Did you know?

Waterways contain an interesting and diverse variety of fish, with 36 species of freshwater fish found in rivers, lakes and wetlands.


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