Improving river health

Water sustains the communities we live in, the natural environment we value and the economy we depend on. We invest around $65 million each year to protect and improve the health of our rivers, estuaries and wetlands so they can support the values we care about.

Our work to improve waterway health

We carry out a variety of activities to protect waterways, from delivering on-ground works to participating in state and regional planning. We also encourage others to care for our waterways through support and education programs.

Our work is guided by seven key values that reflect the environmental and social importance of waterways to the community. You can read more about these values and why they’re important on the following page:

Waterway improvement and maintenance works

Our on-ground activities form a significant part of our work. They focus on:

  • vegetation management – such as planting along riverbanks and removing weeds
  • habitat management – providing shelter and vegetation for wildlife
  • asset maintenance and repairs – looking after our assets to protect the environment and public safety

Read more about our on-ground activities and the benefits they aim to deliver:

Managing stormwater

If left unmanaged, stormwater can wash harmful pollutants from urban areas into our waterways and bays. However, water sensitive urban design techniques can capture stormwater, clean it and put it to good use – such as watering green spaces in our communities.

We work with councils and land developers to make sure all new developments include these techniques, and issue guidance and licences for harvesting stormwater.

River flows – managing water for the environment

Rivers and creeks have natural patterns of high and low flows, which plants and animals rely on to reproduce and survive. These patterns can be disrupted by human activities such as developing land or taking river water to irrigate crops.

We investigate the requirements of the environment and local people, so we know how much water each needs and the best times to take or release it. We manage this through plans, rules and agreements, and issue diversion licences which place conditions on taking water.

Advocacy and building stewardship

Many people are passionate and knowledgeable about caring for waterways. Advocating for good waterway outcomes and encouraging others to practise good waterway management are some of the most cost-effective ways to improve waterway health.

We engage with the community and our stakeholders to share knowledge and increase interest in, and stewardship of, our waterways. We do this through:

  • incentive schemes that provide funding and support to land owners and managers
  • education and community programs such as Waterwatch
  • forums, seminars and publishing information to share knowledge

We also work with others to influence outcomes for waterways, especially in areas we are not directly responsible for. These include private land along waterways and public recreational facilities managed by Parks Victoria and local councils.

Enforcing laws and regulation

Sometimes we need to enforce laws and regulations to protect our waterways. Under the Water Act 1989, we can take action on specific issues such as:

  • people illegally taking water from waterways
  • compliance with planning schemes or conditions of planning permits
  • other laws and regulations supporting waterway health – working with agencies like local government, EPA Victoria and the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning

We also advocate for new or improved legislation, policies and regulation so waterway values are adequately protected.

Developing plans, strategies and guidelines

We develop plans, strategies and guidelines to protect and manage our waterways. As caretaker of waterway health and the waterway, drainage and floodplain authority in the Port Phillip and Westernport region, our responsibilities include:

  • implementing laws and state direction in the development of regional plans, and creating strategies and guidelines to deliver these outcomes
  • providing input into state and regional plans, such as the Port Phillip and Westernport Regional Catchment Strategy and the state waterway health strategy
  • providing input to regional plans – such as specialist technical advice to local government and undertaking flood studies

Under the Planning and Environment Act 1987, we can also comment on planning applications for land developments that may affect waterways. If necessary, we place conditions on permits to minimise the impact a proposed development might have – such as requiring it to treat stormwater on-site.

What effect is our work having?

Our research shows our works are delivering positive changes, but it can take a long time for these to become clear. For example, it can take 12 months for a fishway to improve fish migration, and 25 to 50 years to see the full environmental benefit of revegetating riverbanks.

We are working towards long-term targets for improving the condition of our key values. Part of this work includes monitoring and researching waterways so we have accurate information to guide our improvement projects, and know how well these are working.

Read more about these targets, our monitoring programs and some of our significant projects.

Your turn – what you can do to improve river health

From counting frogs to building a raingarden or taking care of your street and drains, there are many things you can do to for your local waterway. You can even apply for funding from Melbourne Water to help with a river health project.

Did you know?

Between 2007 and 2012 we revegetated over 800 kilometres of waterways, removed 28 barriers to fish migration and made five releases to alleviate low river flows.


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