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Why water quality matters

Water quality is a key measure of waterway condition. When thinking about water quality, we might consider:

  • Physical attributes: Is the water clear or cloudy? How well does the water hold heat?
  • Chemical attributes: How much oxygen is in the water? Is the water salty?
  • Biological attributes: Can this water sustain life?

It determines the suitability of water for a particular purpose. Better quality water can support a wider range of uses than poor quality water. Good water quality is vital for supporting many types of plants and animals. For example, some native fish species require specific water temperatures to trigger breeding.

Good water quality supports a range of values: native aquatic species, human consumption, traditional owner cultural use, agricultural, irrigation, industrial and commercial use, water-based recreation and aquaculture.

Some of the things that threaten good water quality are:

Understanding our water quality

Regular monitoring informs a range of Victorian Government programs and initiatives. Keeping an eye on water quality helps to target management strategies to the greatest risks so that our waterways can support native fish and aquatic species. It also means we can enjoy more of our waterways for recreation too.

Find out more about water quality or get involved via Waterwatch Victoria.

Supporting good water quality in our waterways

The Victorian Government invests in regional waterway management activities that improve waterway health, including water quality.

For example, we fund catchment management authorities (CMAs) to implement Regional Waterway Management Strategies. Some activities in these strategies that help improve water quality include riparian fencing, erosion control, revegetation works and delivering water for the environment. Find out more about the Victorian Waterway Management Program.

Water quality in our waterways and bays

In Victoria, water quality in our waterways and bays is managed by:

  • councils
  • catchment management authorities
  • the Department of Energy, Environment and Climate Action (DEECA)
  • Parks Victoria
  • water corporations
  • Victoria’s Environment Protection Authority (EPA)
  • the Australian Department of Health.

Many community groups also improve water quality through weed control, fencing, revegetation and litter collection.

Protecting water quality

The Environment Protection Act 2017 came into effect in 2021 and established the new framework for environmental protection, including a general environmental duty and Environment Reference Standard.

We work with the Australian Government and other states and territories to develop water quality and waste management guidelines.

View national guidelines

Managing nutrient and sediment loads in waterways and bays

We manage nutrient loads and sediments into Victoria’s largest marine bays to maintain good environmental and recreational water quality. This supports healthy and diverse ecosystems and the wide variety of human uses. The Environmental Management Plan for Victoria’s Port Phillip Bay (2017-2027) describes the benefits of managing nutrient loads.

The Central and Gippsland Sustainable Water Strategy policies and actions include addressing marine pollution load objective for:

  • Port Phillip Bay
  • Western Port
  • Lake Wellington and Corner Inlet
  • Nooramunga.

Central and Gippsland Sustainable Water Strategy

Murray-Darling Basin Plan

Each year, the Victorian Government reports our progress to the Australian Government in implementing the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, including on water quality.

Water quality management framework

A water quality management framework encompasses legislation and action at the Australian Government, Victorian Government, and regional level. These are outlined below.

Water Act 2007

  • Murray Darling Basin Agreement
  • Basin Plan
  • Water trading rules
  • National Water Quality Management Strategy
  • Murray Darling Basin agreement

Basin Plan

  • Water quality objectives and targets for water resource plans
  • Salinity targets
  • Long-term watering plans

Water Act 1989

  • Waterway management
  • Floodplain and drainage management
  • Water use licences
  • Water trading regulations
  • Sustainable water strategies

Safe Drinking Water Act 2003

  • Safe drinking water regulations

Catchment and Land Protection Act

  • Integrate management and protection of catchments
  • Maintain and enhance the quality of the State’s land and water resources, including associated plant and animal life
  • Regional catchment strategy development

Planning and Environment Act 2003

  • Victoria’s planning provisions, like land use planning
  • Statutory planning controls

Environment Protection Act 2021

  • Environment Protection regulations 2021
  • Environment Protection Transitional Regulations
  • Environment Reference standards 2021 Guidance

Local Government

  • Municipal strategic statements
  • Implementation of planning

Water corporations

  • Safe drinking water
  • Management of licences and licenced discharges


  • General environmental duty
  • Management of licenced discharged

Roles and responsibilities

The following outlines the roles and responsibilities of key agencies in water quality management and incident response.

Role description

  • Facilitate sustainable development of primary industries.
  • Control agency for water and sewerage disruption, blue green algae and emergency events.
  • Develop state legislation and policy for water quality management.


  • Ensure a continuous water resources assessment program that provides for the collection, collation, analysis and publication of information about water quality (including salinity).
  • Develop Victorian policy on water quality management.
  • Provide inter-governmental, statewide and regional liaison for water quality issues.
  • Co-ordinate blue-green algae management across Victoria.
  • Manage public lands for water quality benefits.
  • Provide input to national water quality management policy.
  • Invest in regional management activities to improve water quality.
  • Work with landholders (dairy, beef, vegetable, horticulture, intensive livestock) to recognise and reduce impacts on water quality.

Role description

  • Manage parks on behalf of DEECA.


  • Manage public lands to reduce risk to waterways from poor water quality.
  • Ensure messages are communicated about marine and coastal values protected within parks and reserves (for example, Marine National Parks and Marine Sanctuaries) at risk from poor water quality.
  • Manage litter in the Yarra and Maribyrnong rivers.

Role description

  • Develop waterway managers and regional waterway management.


  • Develop and implement programs and activities that protect or improve water quality.
  • Support and facilitate the implementation of regional land use planning measures to improve water quality.
  • Provide water quality advice for emergency water quality management (for example, blackwater and fish deaths).
  • Undertake community stewardship and awareness programs with a focus on protecting water quality through changes in personal behaviours.
  • Contribute to water quality monitoring.

Role description

  • Independent regulator to protect and improve water quality, control agency for pollution of inland waters.


  • Work with industry (rural, industrial, building, commercial) sectors, government agencies and resource managers to assess and understand key drivers for and stressors on water quality.
  • Work with government to develop legal frameworks and regulatory tools to manage and protect water quality.
  • Set environment reference standards for acceptable water quality and indicators for healthy waterways.
  • Support industry and water quality management agencies to comply with the general environmental duty through guidance and advice.
  • Monitor compliance with the law through the use of data and investigations to protect and manage water quality.
  • Investigate water quality pollution incidents.
  • Enforce the law through legal actions where required in accordance with compliance and enforcement policy.

Role description

  • Develop and implement local and state planning policy.


  • Consider waterway management objectives in the statutory planning processes and maintenance of stormwater drainage systems
  • Develop municipal stormwater management plans (or contribute to Integrated Water Cycle Plans) that consider land use change and land management practices under local Planning Schemes.
  • Ensure that subdivision designs comply with the Water Sensitive Urban Design requirements of the planning scheme and industry guidelines for best practice management.
  • Undertake actions to improve stormwater quality.
  • Manage public lands for water quality benefits.
  • Manage septic tanks (including preparation and implementation of Domestic Wastewater Management Plans) and stormwater drainage services for water quality benefits.
  • Facilitate the implementation of regional land use planning measures to improve water quality.

Role description

  • Protect and enhance public health Regulate drinking water.
  • Planning and policy development Control agency for drinking water contamination.


  • Administer the Safe Drinking Water Act (2003).
  • Provide advice on potential public health effects of hazards in water (including chemical and microbial hazards in drinking water as well as recreational waters).
  • Provide advice on managing public health risk.


  • Produce goods and services.


  • Minimise impacts on water quality by the implementation of best management practices in accordance with ‘duty of care’ responsibilities and good corporate citizenship.


  • Personal behaviour and participation in programs.


  • Avoid and report pollution.
  • Reduce individual water consumption.
  • Participate in community monitoring programs such as Waterwatch.


  • Manage 5 alpine resorts in Victoria.


  • Provide or arrange required basic services and utilities, including water supply and sewerage.


  • Manage Victoria’s planning system to create liveable, sustainable communities.


  • Manage environmental assessments of projects with potentially significant environmental effects, including water quality impacts.
  • Ensure planning policy and urban design minimise the impact of land use change on water quality.


  • Marine pollution incidents in Victorian waters.


  • Ensure Victoria is adequately prepared for and effectively responds to any marine pollution incident in State coastal waters up to three nautical miles offshore.

Page last updated: 27/09/23