The ‘Improving the health of Victoria’s waterways and catchments in the face of escalating climate change’ initiative will deliver an integrated output-based set of programs to continue to protect and restore Victoria’s regional waterways and catchments, which are severely degraded from over 150 years of human intervention and economic development. This protection and restoration is a multi-generational task, which also needs to adapt to the future challenges of climate change and Victoria’s expanding population. It is a slow, incremental, complex – and very achievable – role of the Victorian Government, and the primary reason why the Environmental Contribution was created under the Water Industry Act 1994. Restoring these natural assets – which are of deep value to current and future generations – requires investment stretched over more than fifty years and maintained at a level commensurate with the repairs and service needed.
Through this initiative, the Victorian Government will continue to deliver the programs and benefits to which it committed in Chapter 3 (Waterway and Catchment Health) of Water for Victoria.
This initiative significantly invests in regional employment to deliver multiple components of the program. Funding is anticipated to support approximately 325 jobs across regional Victoria, primarily within catchment management authorities (CMAs) and their delivery partners and contractors.
This report also includes updates relevant to the three-year $24.5M initiative announced under the Government’s 2021-22 State Budget, “Supporting regional communities and economic recovery through healthy waterways” which is a fully integrated subset of the four-year 2020-21 initiative “Improving the health of Victoria’s waterways and catchments in the face of escalating impacts of climate change”. The sections of this report that relate to the smaller initiative are noted where relevant.
Program Title (EC5)
2020–21 Expenditure $’000
|2021–22 Expenditure $'000|
Improving the health of Victoria’s waterways and catchments in the face of escalating impacts of climate change
|Supporting regional communities and economic recovery through healthy waterways||N/A||8,500|
Summary of progress to date of EC5
This project continues the long and complex job of repairing environmental damage to our waterways caused over many years. The project aims to address the following problems:
- Problem 1. Failure to mitigate inappropriate land use practices will intensify degradation of waterways and catchments and adversely impact their use by the community.
- Problem 2. Changing amounts and timing of water flows in waterways and catchments is harming abundance, diversity & distribution of priority flora, fauna and habitat.
- Problem 3. Limited community capability and desire to participate in catchment management reduces their impact on making waterways and catchments more resilient.
Funding of approximately $33.8 million of the total outlined above for these two initiatives has been invested through Victoria’s nine regional Catchment Management Authorities (CMAs) in 2021-22 according to these agreed programs. Read more about the special roles and functions of CMAs here. CMAs delivered this integrated program with regional partners including Traditional Owners, local shires and councils, Parks Victoria, Landcare and related environment groups.
Like many government programs around Australia (and the world), this initiative struggled with large-scale challenges in delivery during 2021-22, particularly:
- La Niña – Following the changing weather patterns over winter and spring in 2021, the Bureau of Meteorology confirmed a La Niña summer pattern in November 2021. The uncertain weather (including both wetter periods in some parts of the south as well as drier periods in the north) has provided challenges for consistent delivery of program outputs related to outdoor initiatives and led to some targets being over- or under-achieved during the January-June period. For example, while a wetter winter/spring in the south has limited the delivery of riparian program outputs, this same rain has enabled more environmental water to be delivered than expected in some systems.
- Environmental emergencies and hazards - In 2021-22 there were a variety of emergencies and hazards faced across the state relating to environmental factors, including prolonged and toxic levels of blue green algae outbreaks. Many of these have lasted for several weeks to months due to a combination of factors, including warmer temperatures during both daylight and night hours. 2021-22 also brought increased storm activity with heavy downpours resulting in localised flooding of our waterways, particularly in the far east of the state, with the most recent storm occurring over in early April 2022. During this event East Gippsland experienced intense and heavy rainfall varying between 230mm-300mm as well as high wind and storm surges along the coastline. Many areas adversely impacted by high rainfall events were sites previously impacted by the 2019-20 bushfires and which have only recently re-opened, or sites that had previously been hit by similar storm events in October and June 2021.
- Supply chain disruptions – The COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine caused significant and ongoing disruptions to supply chains, leading to impacts in projects which had a construction/works aspect. Impacts included delays in securing materials including cement and timber, plus steeply rising costs of these materials, and fuel.
- COVID-19 impacts - Despite the end of Victorian lockdowns in 2021, COVID-19 impacts on project delivery remained significant in 2022, as staff, stakeholders, contractors and the general community continued to apply periods of home isolation as required. This caused delays to projects where on-site construction/works were involved.
This funding allows CMAs to implement a range of waterway health initiatives in partnership with Traditional Owners, agency partners and community groups across Victoria, which are related to the delivery of the Victorian Waterway Management Program. Key achievements from each of these initiatives are outlined below. You can also go to this page to see a selection of past achievements.
(This part of the initiative is also partially supported by the three-year $24.5m initiative announced under the Government’s 2021-22 State Budget, “Supporting regional communities and economic recovery through healthy waterways” which is a fully integrated subset of the four-year 2020-21 initiative.)
This part of the initiative delivers on-ground environmental works to protect and restore the priority rivers and landscapes that Victorians love and use. The Victorian Government has identified 36 regional waterways for large scale restoration over the next 30 years (Flagship Waterways) – identified in Chapter 3 of Water for Victoria. See page 54-55 at this link for a map which shows these sites. During 2016-20, the first set of flagship waterway projects were commenced across regional Victoria, and during 2021-22, the current initiative funded long-term, large scale restoration projects at eight new Flagship Waterways. You can also read more detail about some of them here.
Key highlights at these new flagship waterway sites in 2020-21 have included:
- The launch of the Glenelg Hopkins CMA Rivers of Warrnambool project in February 2022. The project will see works to protect and improve habitat along the lower reaches of the beautiful Merri and Hopkins rivers and Brucknell Creek;
- The Mallee CMA Kings Billabong project launched in June 2022. The project will protect and improve around 60 hectares of critical habitat along the Murray River, which is a significant home to several locally threatened and internationally recognised species. In the first year, over a kilometre of damaged access track has been replaced with all-weather access to reduce the likelihood of vehicles damaging the tracks or creating an unofficial track network during periods of wet conditions. Cultural Heritage protection at a sensitive area of the track was ensured, and the local Registered Aboriginal Party, First People of the Millewa-Mallee Aboriginal Corporation were engaged to conduct a Cultural Heritage site induction for the service provider’s staff.
- On the Loddon River at North Central CMA’s Flagship Waterway site, a further 60 hectares of floodplain has been protected and revegetated, adding to the 60 hectares of the previous year. The area provides refuge pools for pygmy perch and other significant species;
- As part of the information related to the new Thomson River/Rainbow Creek flagship waterway site, West Gippsland CMA have released an informative video, which you can view here.
- In the East Gippsland CMA’s new Flagship Waterway project on the Mitchell River, numerous site assessments and onsite meetings with landholders have provided the opportunity to plan and prioritise works, and communicate the CMA’s goals for improving river health. Discussions with one significant regional farming enterprise about the benefits of weedy willow control led to the response of “Good, I’m in!”. This demonstrates the local community’s appetite for the CMA’s goals for the Mitchell River, and a community trust that the CMA can deliver this vision.
- Corangamite CMA has released its latest e-newsletter for the Lower Barwon Flagship Waterway project here. It contains details of the aims and progress of the project to date.
Flagship Waterways are supported by targeted Monitoring, Evaluation, Reporting and Improvement (MERI) plans aimed at tracking, evaluating and communicating progress towards long-term objectives. Monitoring that is tailored to objectives was developed for each Flagship Waterway project. A consistent MERI approach will mean findings can also be evaluated and reported at a state-wide scale.
(This part of the initiative is also supported by the three-year $24.5M initiative announced under the Government’s 2021-22 State Budget, “Supporting regional communities and economic recovery through healthy waterways” which is a fully integrated subset of the four-year 2020-21 initiative.)
This part of the overall initiative will deliver a large scale coordinated program of action to improve the health of the Gippsland Lakes, foster collaboration with regional partners through project implementation, and increase the awareness and involvement of the community in the management of the Gippsland Lakes and its important environmental, cultural and social values. Funding of $7.5 million is being provided over the three years of the initiative.
The East Gippsland CMA will support organisations to deliver projects that implement priority actions within Gippsland Lakes Ramsar Site Management Plan, as well as other regional strategies, guided by a revised ‘Gippsland Lakes Priorities Plan’. Clear governance is provided through a second term of the Gippsland Lakes Coordinating Committee (GLCC).
The project is delivered across the Gippsland Lakes and its catchments. Whilst on ground projects have a focus on the Gippsland Lakes Ramsar site (and the implementation of the Gippsland Lakes Ramsar Site Management Plan (GLRSMP)), the project will also implement works in major contributing catchments including riparian areas, fringing wetlands and habitats adjoining the Gippsland Lakes on both private and public land. The initiative makes a major contribution to the key long-term outcome for the GLRSMP which is to ‘maintain or improve the ecological character of the Gippsland Lakes’.
In 2020-21, led by East Gippsland CMA, regional partners across the Gippsland Lakes landscape have finalised an integrated program of works for the next two years and presented this to the Gippsland Lakes Coordinating Committee (GLCC). A new term of the committee was established, and new agency and community representatives appointed. The program will see around 30 projects delivered in collaboration with 12 delivery partners, including habitat protection and enhancement, protection of threatened flora and fauna species, mapping and protection of culturally significant areas and improving water quality.
Key priority projects were announced by the Minister for Water to be delivered over the next two years:
- Protecting and Improving the Wetlands of Jones Bay and Lake King - to enhance the local wetlands through invasive species management to protect shorebirds and improve breeding opportunities for waterbirds on Flannagan Island.
- Lake Wellington and Fringing Wetlands Integrated NRM Program - to improve the condition and connectivity of Lake Wellington and surrounding wetlands, and enhance critical habitat for Green, Golden Bell and Growling Grass Frogs.
- Gunaikurnai Country of the Gippsland Lakes Outer Barrier project – to enhance habitat for native flora and fauna on the Gippsland Lakes outer barrier as well as assess the impacts of climate change on Country.
- Understanding and Improving Aquatic Habitats and Ecosystems project, which will increase aquatic habitat within the lakes by installing ‘seagrass friendly’ boat moorings and improving beach nesting sites for birds though the renourishment of sand islands.
In addition, the next round of the Gippsland Lakes Community Grants program closed in June 2022. Approximately $300,000 in grants will provide funds to community groups that support the Lakes allowing them to complete environmental and community projects. The GLCC has just endorsed the Community Grants and new funding agreements are being prepared for partners to commence implementation.
More information on the great work being undertaken by the many local partners at the lakes is available on the Love Our Lakes website.
Protecting Ramsar wetlands
(This part of the initiative is also partially supported by the three-year $24.5M initiative announced under the Government’s 2021-22 State Budget, “Supporting regional communities and economic recovery through healthy waterways” which is a fully integrated subset of the four-year 2020-21 initiative.)
Victoria has twelve wetlands of international importance that are listed under the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands. You can read more about each individual site here. Delivery of new and/or expanded projects at every site began on schedule in 2021-22. Significant actions to protect and improve these special sites have included:
- successful start of the Sanderling Tracking project at Discovery Bay Ramsar site, which involved tagging of 112 birds.over 3000 hectares of rabbit and fox control at the Kerang wetlands
- Ramsar site in North Central CMA.Corangamite CMA released a new video celebrating the environmental and recreational values of the Western District Lakes Ramsar Site. Approximately $1 million of initiative funds will be invested from 2021-24 to maintain and improve the values of this site.Kerang wetlands:
- Positive initial results from Tall marsh control at Johnsons Swamp in the Kerang Wetlands. Tall marsh is very important habitat for waterbirds such as Australasian bitterns and little bitterns, but too much of it can lead to not enough open water habitat for a range of other wading birds. A pair of brolga were observed wading in Johnsons swamp directly following Tall marsh control.
- 340 hectares of weed control was completed along the Yaringa and Hastings Foreshore's and Bittern Coastal Wetlands; contributing to the improvement in condition and extent of critical saltmarsh habitat.
- 35,181 hectares of pest animal control undertaken on French Island, Phillip Island, and along the western shoreline of Western Port; contributing to the protection of waterbirds and shorebirds.
- Successful partnership with Bunurong Land Council to support the employment of an Indigenous Ramsar Ranger to work 'on-country' and contribute to the maintenance and improvement of ecological values of the Western Port Ramsar site.
- Australian Bittern Monitoring using acoustics and field observations identified 78 Australasian Bitterns, confirming that the Barmah - Millewa Forest Ramsar Site supports around 30% of the national population.
- The stand-out success has been the monitoring of Moira-grass grazing enclosures, where it has been shown the exclusion of large herbivores has resulted in an almost 2000% increase in the cover of Moira-grass, and a 4-fold increase in plant height when protected from grazing for 12 months.
Water Statutory Functions
This major component of the initiative is a core function for CMAs under the Water Act 1989 to protect the health of our waterways. In 2021-22, CMAs have processed around 5,000 waterway permits, licences and planning advice/approval actions – including large and complex housing and industrial developments on floodplains, and key infrastructure projects including road bypasses and wind and solar energy projects. These require technical analysis of information in the form of scientific investigations associated with engineering and hydraulic studies to verify flood flow paths, flood depths, flow velocities, and flood risk sensitivities.
As an example, in West Gippsland CMA, the following Environmental Effects Statements were reviewed, and detailed technical analysis completed:
- Star of the South Offshore Windfarm
- Marinus Link under sea power cable
- Seadragon Offshore Windfarm
Wimmera CMA contributed technical floodplain advice to support significant regional development projects including:
- WimResources Avonbank mineral sand EES at DooenIluka Wimmera mineral sands mine proposal at Toolondo
- Western Victoria Transmission Network Project
- Providing support to Horsham Rural City Council in relation to the City to River planning and development process.
- Stawell Gold Mine tailings dam lifting
At Glenelg Hopkins CMA, dedicated assistance related to surface water and hydrology to local councils has included major planning scheme amendments (6), major projects including wind farms (4) and transmission line developments (2), freeway bypass projects (1), water pipeline projects (2) and plantation harvesting projects (7) across the region. In addition to this, the implementation of Rural Drainage projects at Nullawarre and Eumeralla have been put in place.
Provision of accurate and timely flood advice to the public through this program reduces Victoria’s financial exposure to flooding by hundreds of millions of dollars each year. Working in close partnership with local shires and councils, over 90% of these permits and planning approvals were completed within required statutory timeframes.
Delivering all of these services provides very significant savings and benefits to the public and the environment. For example, in West Gippsland CMA alone, it is estimated that delivery of water statutory functions in 2020-21 achieved:
- $375 million of development protected from flood hazards.
- 3.5 hectares of urban waterway protected and enhanced.
- 60,283.7 kg/yr of Total Suspend Solids treated
- 161.2 kg/yr of Total Phosphorus treated
- 589.3 kg/yr of Total Nitrogen treated
- 15,400 kg/yr gross pollutants treated.
Water Statutory staff in CMAs also support a range of related initiatives. For example, during 2021-22, staff in East Gippsland and North East CMAs have supported major disaster recovery programs for a number of waterways that were damaged in the 2019-20 bushfires and 2021 flood and storm events. These programs received separate funding, but are dependent on the technical expertise of Water Statutory staff in relation to design and approval of the construction of new and repaired waterway structures.
Find out more about through these North East CMA Bushfire Recovery updates:
This component supports important citizen science programs that focus on waterway health, including EstuaryWatch and Waterwatch Victoria, and a range of other programs monitoring frogs, waterbirds and litter. In 2021-2022, Waterwatch and EstuaryWatch citizen scientists contributed a total of 65,722 hours to care for our waterways, equivalent to 8,763 volunteer days. This volunteer effort provides an economic value of $2,743,236.
Highlights of program delivery so far include:
- West Gippsland CMA’s citizen science program has recognised volunteers in an annual achievements video: Citizen science and monitoring programs
- North Central CMA celebrates a long-time Waterwatch volunteer and welcomes new volunteers in this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y55pujk77oE
- Mallee CMA has released a short video celebrating the contribution of one of its citizen science volunteers: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gp_5i1Y_PNQ
- Waterwatch Victoria proudly partnered with the Odonata Foundation to deliver the Great Australian Platypus Search, a state-wide investigation into platypus populations using environmental DNA (eDNA). With samples collected from 2,000 sites across Victoria, the data produced as part of this project will help scientists to develop a comprehensive map of platypus populations across the state and will be used by waterway managers to better understand risks to our waterways and inform appropriate management efforts.
- Barapa Land and Water Country Aboriginal Corporation have been engaged by North Central CMA Waterwatch to monitor four sites on the lower Loddon River and Box-Pyramid Creek as part of the Native Fish Recovery Plan. The Plan aims to restore native fish populations and ecological health in the Central Murray system by improving the natural values and connectivity of waterways.
- Fourteen regional Waterwatch coordinators were involved in statewide waterbug training in the North East region in April. This 2-day event catered for all levels, including those new to the network and some experienced in Waterwatch and waterbug training, which focused on methods of waterbug identification. Following on from the regional coordinator training, four Waterwatch-funded regional community workshops were delivered by John Gooderham, Freshwater Ecologist, National Waterbug Blitz.
For further information on waterway citizen science and to read the Waterwatch and EstuaryWatch Annual Achievement Reports please visit Annual Achievements Reports (estuarywatch.org.au).
On-ground Works and Community Engagement
This component supports CMAs with on-ground delivery of waterway health commitments under the Water Act 1989, and Water for Victoria . It also supports CMAs with the delivery of community engagement, participation and awareness activities outlined in the Water Act Statement of Obligations. Delivery of these projects by CMAs complements their delivery of Flagship Waterway projects, with a focus on other priority waterway sites that are identified in Regional Waterway Strategies.
Highlights during 2021-22 included:
Wimmera CMA has made great progress in delivering its Waterways of Wimmera project, partnering with the regional DELWP team to deliver 50 hectares of pest plant and animal control along the beautiful Mackenzie River near Horsham and entering into 10-year management agreements with 6 landholders to protect high value waterways and wetlands in West Wimmera.
The agreements will ensure that:
- 21 hectares of high-quality riparian frontage across 4 sites near Apsley are protected through fencing works, and
- 96 hectares of high value wetlands are protected through a range of threat abatement activities including grazing management, weed control and pest animal control works.
Corangamite CMA has made significant progress in the delivery of its Surf Coast and Otways Restoration program over the last year. The incentives component of this program provides funding for fencing, weed control, revegetation, willow removal, pest animal management, stock crossings and off-stream water points. A communications and media campaign was delivered through social media, newspaper, newsletters, CCMA website and via Landcare and other partners. This led to 16 landholders signing up for frontage protection projects covering over 67 hectares and 22 kilometres of frontage in the Curdies and Surf Coast catchments. These projects include five sites that protect the habitat for threatened native fish species such as the Australian grayling and Yarra Pygmy Perch, and willow removal from four sites along 4 kilometres of Curdies River frontage.
North Central CMA has commenced its Upper Avoca River Reconnection project in 2021-22, working closely with Dja Dja Wurrung Aboriginal Corporation (DJAARA) using a co-design approach. This collaborative approach is developing strong connections between Dja Dja Wurrung (DDW) representatives and the CMA. It has been agreed that the project needs to ensure DDW cultural values and perspectives are strongly incorporated into the long-term goal of developing an Integrated Catchment Management Plan, with a focus on identifying where cultural and environmental values overlap.
North Central CMA has also continued strong success in their Tullaroop Catchment Restoration Project, delivering on-ground works to create a healthy, continuous riparian corridor along Birch’s Creek.
North East CMA is engaging with multiple partners to deliver their Upper Mitta Mitta River restoration project.
Jaithmathang Traditional Owners have been engaged to utilize their advanced drone surveillance services to capture the presence and density of woody weeds on Bimbil Country. A partnership with Benambra Dinner Plain Omeo (BDPO) Landcare Group has resulted in the CMA funding a part time project officer based in Omeo, to assist to deliver the on-ground works and communications components of the project. BDPO (and other organisations) have been advocating for additional local support for many years.
Under Goulburn Broken CMA’s Connecting People and Place project, the first round of EOIs for on-ground works to improve the condition of urban waterways was completed. Mansfield Shire was the successful recipient of funds to undertake riparian weed management and revegetation projects along Fords Creek in Mansfield and at Mullum Wetlands and Len Lynch Reserve. Taungurung Land and Waters Council business Biik Environmental was subsequently engaged to undertake the initial woody weed removal works at Mullum Wetlands.
West Gippsland CMA has produced a series of wonderful short videos outlining their success in delivering key projects.
- Tullaroop Catchment - Ron Cosgrave Tullaroop Catchment - Michael De Kort Headwater willow treatment in the Alps and Strezleckis
- Chain of Ponds – protection of the Perry River catchmentAgnes River – restoring a beautiful waterway
State-wide Support: a new Victorian Waterway Management Strategy
Apart from the large amount of regionally based work delivered by CMAs under this initiative that’s described above, it is also providing the primary funding for the development of the new Victorian Waterway Management Strategy (the existing strategy can be accessed here). Initial engagement and foundational work is underway with Traditional Owner groups and CMAs across Victoria. Whilst this is a multi-year project, a key focus for 2021-22 was undertaking initial Traditional Owner engagement to understand waterway management priorities and to start early policy conversations.
As a key piece of community input to the new VWMS, a major piece of social research (titled the My Victorian Waterway Survey) was concluded in May 2022, with 6,000 responses received. The survey seeks to better understand community uses, expectations, attitudes and behaviours towards waterways.
It provides a contemporary data set on how Victorians use their waterways and what they value about them and builds on data collected in a previous My Victorian Waterway Survey (2009) to identify trends over time. The final analysis report will be developed in the latter half of 2022, and a summary report will be made publicly available.
In June 2021, the new Rivers and Riparian Action Plan was finalised, and outlines what government is doing to manage Victoria’s waterways over the period 2020-21 to 2023-24. It continues the government’s key commitment to improve the health of waterways and riparian land in Victoria. Many of the key waterway health projects under this plan are funded through the “Improving the health of Victoria’s waterways and catchments in the face of escalating impacts of climate change” and “Supporting regional communities and economic recovery through healthy waterways” initiatives which are described in this report.
Statewide support: monitoring and evaluation
Under this part of the initiative, a suite of complementary monitoring programs is continuing to support the delivery of Regional Waterway Strategies, evaluate the benefits of investment, inform adaptive management, and improve reporting back to communities. These monitoring programs measured and evaluated responses to management activities including riparian and wetland management, and the delivery of water for the environment.
Results from the Stream Change Assessment project have been finalised and summarised in a technical report (Stream Change Assessment: Riparian Woody Vegetation (water.vic.gov.au)). The project aimed to develop and implement a workflow to assess woody riparian vegetation changes using LiDAR derived data between two assessment periods (2010 and 2018-20). The findings and underlying data will support DELWP and CMAs to evaluate the outcomes of riparian management and guide development of regional and state waterway strategies. During the 8-10 year period between assessments:
- changes at the ISC reach scale were minimal with ISC Streamside Zone scores unchanged at over 80% of ISC reaches,
- the most substantial changes in woody vegetation were evident along shorter lengths of stream sections (typically ~<10km) where sustained riparian management had occurred,
- the largest changes were evident in higher rainfall areas of the state.
As part of this work a range of data products will be made available through the Victorian Spatial Data Library https://www.data.vic.gov.au/
In a major piece of work that has taken over four years, the first state-wide condition assessment for estuaries was completed under this initiative.
The new Index of Estuary Condition (IEC) will help guide state policy and regional investment programs and improve reporting back to communities. You can access the extensive data and commentary here. Not only a health check on our estuarine environments, the assessment also describes the diverse physical conditions, plants and animals found in these vibrant aquatic ecosystems.
Over 100 estuaries in Victoria were assessed, with nearly one-third found to be in moderate condition. The report identified the Gippsland coastline with estuaries in excellent condition and another quarter of estuaries located across Victoria's coastline in good condition. Estuaries in poor condition were within catchments dominated by agricultural and urban land uses.
Supporting the new IEC, a new project has been completed detailing risks to estuarine fringing vegetation from prolonged inundation at intermittently open and closed estuaries that are subject to artificial openings. The outcomes of this work provide an additional source of information that can be used by regional CMA estuary managers when considering whether to artificially open estuaries.
The Riparian and Wetland Intervention Monitoring Programs are state-wide, long-term intervention monitoring programs that are being implemented to evaluate the effectiveness of riparian and wetland management. These programs will continue to gather and report on data through EC5 as scheduled.
According to the most recent data collected through the Riparian Intervention Monitoring Program, there was evidence of positive changes in a range of indicators associated with six of the eight management objectives when compared to ‘control’ sites where no riparian management was undertaken. For example, after three years of management:
- Bare ground decreased by ~41% at intervention sites but increased by ~61% at control sites.
- Organic litter, native vegetation cover and native species richness also increased at intervention sites compared to control sites.
- All native woody recruits (planted and natural recruits combined) increased by over 1600%, while at control sites they decreased by ~66%.
- The stem density of native trees or woody shrubs (irrespective of age class) increased at intervention sites by over 600%, while at control sites they decreased by ~42%
While the results pooled across all sites provides encouraging evidence of the benefits of riparian management interventions, the magnitude of the improvements varies, depending on specific site and climatic conditions.
A complementary program of remotely sensed data collection from over 4,000 km of the stream network was established to assess changes in riparian vegetation and river channels. As part of this program, a work-flow was developed to process the raw data into maps and derived metrics of river channel shape and vegetation cover and structure that can be used by CMAs and DELWP to assist planning, guide management, evaluate management outcomes and document environmental change. Initial results have shown that changes in riparian cover, width and height are evident at locations where riparian management has been undertaken. Reporting for this work is being finalised for release.
The Wetland Intervention Monitoring Program was established to inform;
- how different grazing regimes influence biodiversity outcomes of wetlands,
- what site and landscape factors modify responses to grazing; and
- the time frames over which changes occur.
To answer these questions, the program monitors 28 sets of fenced-ungrazed and open-grazed paired plots in temporary freshwater wetlands with different grazing regimes and vegetation communities across four catchment management regions.
Early results indicate that the influence of grazing treatments on a range of vegetation indicators spanning all management objectives. Monitoring is ongoing through EC5, and responses to grazing regimes are expected to change over time as competitive interactions among species develop and as plant biomass increases and plant litter accumulates.
A new series of the popular Native Fish Report Cards were released in late 2021. The Native Fish Report Cards are brief overviews of the health of target fish populations, which present survey summaries from priority rivers and streams across Victoria. This project is a collaboration between DELWP, ARI, and the Victorian Fisheries Authority, in partnership with recreational fishing license holders. The Native Fish Report Card web-portal has been updated to communicate the latest results of this program, which has now been underway for five years.
In partnership with DELWP Biodiversity Division and external partners, a comprehensive citizen science-based project has been developed to survey the distribution of aquatic vertebrate species throughout Victoria’s rivers and streams using an innovative technology known as environmental DNA (eDNA).
This project has collected eDNA samples from around 1,800 sites across Victorian rivers and streams and the data will be used to develop and update models which will provide a contemporary representation of the distribution of species analysed. This information will in turn be used to help DELWP and regional waterway managers better understand risks to these species and inform appropriate management effort.
Sampling relied heavily on citizen scientist networks, including school students and children. To support the sampling program, CMA citizen science coordinators assisted with the volunteer effort via existing Waterwatch, River Detectives and volunteer networks. The results of this work are expected soon, with sample processing now fully complete and quality assurance underway. All data will be made available through the Victorian Biodiversity Atlas.
The environmental water component of the initiative invests in regional employment, on ground environmental works, community and Traditional Owner engagement, monitoring to demonstrate and evaluate outcomes, and environmental water management. It also supports the Victorian Environmental Water Holder (VEWH) to effectively manage over 650 gigalitres (long-term annual average) of Victoria’s environmental water entitlements to deliver shared benefits for the environment and community.
The statewide environmental water program ensures that Victoria’s environmental water is secured and managed to protect the environmental values of waterways now and into the future.
CMA Environmental Water Reserve Officers and Community Engagement
This component will deliver core CMA statutory functions and Ministerial Statement of Obligations, as well as priority on-ground actions outlined in current regional Waterway Strategies, Victorian Government legislation and plans such as Water for Victoria (2016). This includes employment of environmental water reserve officers (EWROs) across nine CMAs, community engagement, and engaging with and involving Traditional Owners and Aboriginal communities in environmental water planning and management.
Key achievements during 2021-22 included:
- Mentoring an Aboriginal Water Officer from Gunditj Mirring Traditional Owner Aboriginal Corporation as part of the Glenelg Hopkins CMA’s Water for the Environment project to increase Aboriginal organisational knowledge and capacity to navigate water management frameworks and flow delivery management actions. This project also funded the Johnny Mullagh Aboriginal cricket match community weekend in March 2022, where 150 participants were engaged with through activities exploring the ecological, social and economic values of the Glenelg River.
- North Central CMA commenced its ‘Environmental Water Program 2021-24 - Statutory Obligations and Community Engagement’ project, which included 63 water orders with Water Corporations for river and wetlands and delivery of approximately 68 GL of water for the environment.
- Waterbird breeding was recorded at five of seven Wimmera Mallee wetlands in the North Central CMA region, during spring 2021 after water for the environment was delivered. This included three species of duck and Australian Grebe. The watering also provided water in the landscape to support terrestrial biota.
- North Central CMA delivered 7.7 GL of environmental water to Lake Meran in central Victoria. Since the filling of the lake, the number of visitors to the lake has been very high providing shared benefits through camping, water skiing, swimming, fishing and many other water-based activities.
- North Central CMA also held a successful ‘Showcasing the Campaspe’ event at Rochester in May 2022 attracting nearly 40 people from diverse backgrounds. Arthur Rylah Institute scientists shared research findings of the positive impact these actions have had on the native vegetation and fish along the river. A local fisher captivated the audience with her enthusiasm and tips for fishing the river and her involvement in the Women In Recreational Fishing (WIRF) Network.
- The West Gippsland CMA detected a large-scale colonial bird breeding event in Dowd Morass (March 2022), with evidence of more than 300 nests, attributed to Royal Spoonbills, Little Black Cormorants, Pied Cormorants and Australasian Darter. This is significant as it was the largest breeding event since the 2010-11 floods. At Heart Morass, recent efforts to reduce the salinity in the wetlands have primed the wetland to respond to the floods with freshwater dependent vegetation, establishing in large areas across the wetland to levels not seen for 30 years. The fresh conditions have also seen the first recorded breeding of the Green and Golden Bell Frog in Heart Morass.
- The Goulburn Broken CMA’s ‘Environmental Water Management’ project highlighted a new initiative to engage mental health patients with local green spaces, including Reedy Swamp and the Goulburn River, which both receive environmental water. The Goulburn Broken CMA and Goulburn Valley Health, under the Victorian Nature and Health Memorandum, have created a ‘green passport’ to provide information for four walks in the Goulburn Broken catchment area for patients to undertake. This initiative provides positive health outcomes for patients as well as the opportunity for community engagement with high value sites in the catchment.
- The ‘Water for the Environment’ project in the Wimmera CMA launched a one-minute clip promoting the benefits that water in the Wimmera River has achieved for social and recreational outcomes. . The clip was included in the CMA’s summer seasonal water update and has received over 1,100 views to date.
- The North East CMA EWR Officers completed the delivery of the Ovens Environmental Water entitlement during the late-summer (King River) and mid-autumn (Buffalo River). This included partnering with Taungurung Land and Waters Council (TLaWC) and a private landholder to use donated water to boost the amount of environmental water delivered in the King River. These donations (36 ML of water from TLaWC and 56 ML of water from a private landholder), combined with the environmental water entitlement held in Lake William Hovell enabled 142 ML to be released over two days in late summer to improve flow variability and support TLaWC’s environmental watering objectives of healing Country. A fish survey and continuous water quality monitoring infrastructure were installed on the King River to provide additional information for future environmental water deliveries.
- A 2022-23 Seasonal Watering Proposal was also developed by the North East CMA for Ryans Lagoon, a new watering site which has been included as a statewide priority in the VEWH’s 2022/23 Seasonal Watering Plan (upper Murray wetlands section).
- The Corangamite CMA developed a fact sheet for the Lower Barwon Wetlands that describes the values of this Ramsar-listed site and how environmental water is used to support these. The fact sheet has been promoted through social media, at online events and ‘in-person’ field days.
CMA Infrastructure Works
This component of the initiative delivers small infrastructure projects that contribute to more efficient delivery of water to priority environmental sites by undertaking investigations, designs and on-ground works to construct, maintain or remove targeted infrastructure.
A key achievement for 2021-22 has been the completion of the final design for the Buchan River rock ramp fishway in the East Gippsland CMA, which will remove a barrier to native fish migration in the Buchan River.
East Gippsland CMA worked closely with East Gippsland Water and the East Gippsland Shire Council during the development of the design to ensure there were no impacts on drinking water or on the bridge downstream of the proposed fishway.
CMA Technical investigations and monitoring outcomes
This part of the initiative funds projects that enable better management of the environmental water reserve, and demonstrate or improve outcomes of environmental watering and on-ground works across Victoria. Highlights during 2021-22 included:
- Completion of the autumn fish and turtle surveys for the Mallee CMA’s ‘Refining ecological objectives of high priority Mallee waterways’ project. Several threatened species were recorded, including critically endangered Murray Hardyhead in Lake Koorlong and Silver Perch in Kings Billabong. A total of 86 waterbird species were also observed including the endangered Little Egret in Butlers Creek.
- Goulburn Broken CMA commenced an acoustic monitoring project at Moodie Swamp to collect continuous information (24/7) on waterbird and frog activity over a 12-month period. The information will be analysed to better understand how waterbirds and frogs use the wetland during wetting and drying cycles. This will inform the development of the Moodie Swamp Environmental Water Management Plan.
Victorian Environmental Water Holder
VEWH provide services as legislated in the Water Act 1989 to manage environmental water entitlements across all of Victoria, via a mix of operational, technical, communications, engagement and administrative functions. VEWH plan for, manage and report on use of Victoria’s environmental water holdings each year; this includes preparation of the Seasonal Watering Plan, Seasonal Watering Statements, Annual Report, Reflections Annual Watering Booklet and Corporate Plan which are published at: http://www.vewh.vic.gov.au.
Wet conditions across the state in 2021-22 meant that environmental water demands at Hattah Lakes, Gunbower Forest and Lake Wallawalla (Lindsay Island) in northern Victoria were largely met from VEWH and Living Murray unregulated flow entitlements. This freed up other parts of the environmental water portfolio to be used elsewhere.
Highlights from 2021-22 included:
- The coordinated delivery of over 913 gigalitres of water for the environment to 89 river reaches (across 38 waterways) and 81 wetlands, watering 170 sites across Victoria.
- Collaboration with Goulburn-Murray Water, Murray-Darling Basin Authority, Water NSW and Commonwealth Environmental Water Office in September 2021 to review the informal operating constraint on flows at Torrumbarry and carry out a trial to lift the constraint from 18,000 megalitres per day to 23,000 megalitres per day. This enabled a spring fresh in the Goulburn River to be delivered during an unregulated flow event in the Murray River, supporting two important environmental outcomes:
- Meeting local environmental objectives in the Goulburn River for streamside vegetation and native fish;
- Contributing to downstream environmental objectives for floodplain wetlands, including:
- Gunbower, Guttrum and Benwell forests (Vic)
- Nyah and Vinifera floodplains (Vic)
- Lindsay Island (Vic)
- Campbells Island (NSW)
- Koondrook-Perricoota forest (NSW).
- Supporting a higher flows trial project in the mid-Goulburn River with Goulburn Broken CMA and Taungurung Land and Waters Council. The trial reconnected floodplain wetlands that have high environmental and cultural values. Results from the trial will be used to inform future water management at the wetlands.
- Partnering with North Central CMA and Djaara to deliver the first managed environmental watering event at Lake Boort. The watering aimed to support culturally important vegetation, support river red gums regenerating across the wetland bed, and provide habitat to support a diversity of water-dependent animals such as waterbirds and frogs.
Monitoring and outcomes
Maximising the efficiency and effectiveness of environmental water use requires clear ecological objectives and an adaptive management framework that includes monitoring the effects and outcomes from environmental watering. The Victorian Environmental Flows Monitoring and Assessment Program (VEFMAP) and the Wetland Monitoring and Assessment Program for environmental water (WetMAP) are supported by this initiative and have been developed in consultation with DELWP, CMAs, Melbourne Water and VEWH. Both programs were established to investigate ecosystem responses to environmental flows in rivers and wetlands and provide new information to support flow-management decisions.
In 2021-22, twelve monitoring and research projects commenced as part of VEFMAP and WetMAP.
An additional seven projects are currently under consideration for funding following a review of critical outputs and outcomes required for the management of water for the environment.
Although none of the current projects have been completed (funding continues to 2024), early results will inform management decisions regarding the use of water for the environment.
For example, using environmental water to maintain sufficient baseflows in our coastal rivers will continue to promote populations of diadromous fish species (e.g. tupong and common galaxias) by attracting juveniles from the sea, promoting upstream dispersal and good survival. For species that spend their entire lives in rivers (e.g. river blackfish), these managed flows have provided for successful spawning and survival.
Highlights from fish monitoring in our northern rivers during 2021-22 included:
- Murray cod recruitment detected in the Broken River following two years of no or very limited recruitment. This is likely due to higher flows and better water quality during the past two years.
- The monitoring program was expanded into Reach 1 of the Broken River, where Macquarie Perch and Southern Pygmy Perch were detected.
- Data for the Campaspe River continued to show increasing trends in distribution and abundance of key species: Golden Perch and Murray Cod. Rainbowfish and Silver Perch also increased this year.
- The Loddon/Pyramid system is still relatively lacking in numbers or variety of species; however, the abundance of small-bodied species and Bony Herring have substantially increased in Reach 5.
Results from these projects have been shared with the community and key stakeholders through joint presentations by CMAs and research staff (e.g. to Environmental Water Advisory Groups).
The development and testing of statistical and predictive fish models are underway. Meetings with environmental water managers were used to develop flow scenarios to be tested by the models. This will allow managers to see the expected fish responses to management actions, which will assist with decision making. By June 2024, four species-specific models and multispecies demographic models will have been developed to consider how multiple species interact to determine assemblage dynamics.Early results from experiments investigating the impacts of late summer river flows on the recruitment of riparian vegetation have been positive.
Exposure of the riverbed through the management of flows in the Campaspe River resulted in the mass germination of seeds in exposed soils. Survival rates of germinated plants are likely to be influenced by the timing and duration of the event, including the subsequent flow regime, which can be influenced using water for the environment.
In 2021-22, environmental water was successfully used in two wetlands to decrease salinity and provide suitable conditions for the survival of Murray Hardyhead eggs and larvae, a nationally threatened species. Monitoring detected Murray Hardyhead from multiple spawning events (spring through autumn) in both wetlands.
In 2021-22, waterbird monitoring was completed at 21 wetlands in northern Victoria that receive water for the environment. Highlights include over 1,000 waterbirds counted at Reedy Swamp, and Brolga pairs observed at Gaynor and Moodie's swamps, during recent surveys in the Goulburn-Broken region. An analysis is underway to quantify seasonal patterns of occurrence, abundance and breeding for Victoria's wetland waterbirds, based on existing data held by ARI and BirdLife Australia. Models have been developed that show patterns for 80 species in each CMA region (where data are available), which will help environmental water managers optimise timing both for water delivery and efficient monitoring.
Murray-Darling Basin Plan obligations and reporting
Under this initiative, funding is provided for the delivery of Victoria’s environmental watering obligations under the Commonwealth Water Act - Basin Plan (2012). This includes funding for CMA staff to deliver on-ground watering actions, periodic reviews and updates of long-term watering plans (and associated asset-scale planning documents), reporting about the achievement of environmental outcomes at an asset scale (Schedule 12, Matter 8), and the identification of environmental water and the monitoring of its use (Schedule 12, Matter 9).
In 2021-22, Basin Plan environmental watering obligations were delivered (Chapter 8, Environmental Watering Plan) in partnership with the VEWH and CMAs. This included VEWH submitting its annual watering priorities for 2022-23 to the Murray-Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) by publishing its Seasonal Watering Plan by 30 June 2022.
Annual reporting obligations related to environmental watering under Schedule 12 (parts of Matters 6, 9, 10 and 14) were delivered as required by October 2021, and Victoria subsequently participated in interjurisdictional discussions intended to streamline the annual reporting process in future years. In addition, updated Guidelines were released for the asset-scale planning documents (Environmental Water Management Plans or EWMPs) on which Victoria’s long-term watering plans rely. This update to the Guidelines provides more detailed direction on how CMAs can align their EWMPs with Basin Plan requirements and terminology, and strengthens the requirement for CMAs to partner with Traditional Owners in the development and updating of EWMPs.
CMAs have begun updating several EWMPs to better align with the new Guidelines.In 2021-22, DELWP also initiated and participated in discussions with MDBA and representatives from other jurisdictions to prepare for the next update to long-term watering plans, which will occur after the MDBA updates its Basin-wide Environmental Watering Strategy in 2023, and to prepare for the next five-yearly reporting for Basin Plan obligations under Schedule 12 Matter 8 (that will show the achievements of environmental outcomes at priority environmental assets across northern Victoria) due in 2024.Integrated Catchment Management, including Regional Catchment Strategies.
The Our Catchments, Our Communities program is strengthening CMAs to lead integrated catchment management (ICM) and catchment stewardship in partnership with the community and Traditional Owners. Seven new Regional Catchment Strategies (RCS) (Wimmera, North Central, Corangamite, Glenelg Hopkins, Goulburn Broken, North East, West Gippsland) were approved during 2021-22 by the former Minister for Water, as the lead minister for the Catchment and Land Protection (CALP) Act 1994 and are now operational.All seven were also endorsed for approval by the Minister for Planning and Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change during the ministerial consultation period. RCS are the primary strategic planning document for natural resource management in each CALP region, covering key themes of Water, Land, Biodiversity, Marine and Coasts, Traditional Owners and Community. They have been developed with key sector partners, Traditional Owners and the broader community. The fully integrated website portal is: www.rcs.vic.gov.au
State-wide Catchment Stewardship Program
In 2021-22 DELWP has driven the following new statewide initiatives through the program:
- Seven out of ten new regional catchment strategies (RCS) have been approved by the Minister for Water. The RCS are developed by catchment management authorities (CMAs) in partnership with Traditional Owners, local government and communities. The role of the RCS is to guide collective efforts and improve the health of land, water and biodiversity. Vital for vibrant, prosperous, and sustainable communities and environments.
- The alignment of integrated catchment management (ICM) with Traditional Owners’ aspirations for Country (stage one and two). Stage one provided an analysis of Traditional Owners’ views on Custodianship of Country. Stage two has delivered a model of Custodianship to inform future ICM program and policy settings to achieve better alignment. This model is to be tested in upcoming pilot projects with Traditional Owners.
- The investment in landscape-scale catchment stewardship projects across the state. Delivered by CMAs, and in collaboration with delivery partners, including; Traditional Owners, private landholders, and community networks. Stewardship projects are building on the success of the first state-wide ICM strategy for Victoria, to improve holistic management of land, water, and biodiversity. (Link)
- Development of a robust framework to strengthen catchment stewardship. DELWP has facilitated a series of stewardship-focused peer learning workshops with CMAs, Traditional Owners and other delivery partners, with over 80 participants over the two days.
- Integration of Port Phillip & Westernport CMA (PPWCMA) into Melbourne Water, effective from 1 January 2022. The integration of catchment management and waterway management roles and boundaries for the Port Phillip and Western Port region, under one organisation, will strengthen natural resource management in Victoria. It will better position Victoria to respond to the long-term challenges of catchment and waterway management. (Link)
- Completion of the mid-term evaluation of the Victorian Rural Drainage Strategy (2018). The evaluation of the strategy has found it to be delivering on its vision: ‘Landholders are empowered to work together and will be supported to improve their management of dryland rural drainage.’ (Link)
In 2021-22 the regional program delivered the following:
- Improved catchment health and resilience. 5,832ha is now under sustainable broadacre management through state-wide active stewardship programs.
- New and strengthened regional partnerships across Victoria have improved the management of land, water and biodiversity resources. Achieved through the implementation of the Regional Catchment Strategies (RCS).
- The renewal of Catchment Partnership Agreements (CPA) across the regions. The entire Gippsland region is now covered by a renewed CPA between the East and West Gippsland CMA regions.
- Landcare strategy grants have been awarded to Landcare Groups in the Upper Mount Emu, Fiery, Salt Creeks, Lake Bolac and Upper Hopkins River catchments. In the Goulburn Broken region, $160,100 in grants have been funded to improve land management practices, monitor and assess threatened species populations and reduce the impacts of climate change.
- Community members in the Lower Kiewa and Powlett River catchments have improved their capacity to care for country. Land managers, community members, industry and government agencies have been engaged in the process. The next phase of the project is to offer grants to catchment stewards in the area.
- The restoration and protection of a unique chain of ponds in the Perry River catchment has continued to build strong partnerships and commitments. 15ha of revegetation, plantation pine removal and 8 ecological surveys have been delivered by Trust for Nature.
- Over 100 landholders in the Greater Grampians and North-Central CMA regions have attended land management workshops and field days. Over 2,500ha of private land is now influenced by sustainable farming practices, knowledge and skills.
- Djandak and Taungurung Traditional Owners have commenced trial frameworks for engaging with private landholders. Resulting in two Custodianship projects working to improve healing and caring for Country.
- From the High Country to the South West, leadership grants and training have been established through innovative programs. Women’s leadership in natural resource management has been promoted through the Gippsland Environmental Agencies Women in Leadership Program. Guiding leaders and their communities through change and to become more resilient.
- A partnerships project in the North East has been developed to build the capacity of farmers’ for improving soil health management. This will increase production in the area while minimising nutrient losses into catchments and waterways.
- In the Coliban Catchment, ten environmental sites are being monitored monthly by community members, including two sites monitored by Djandak Traditional Owner staff who received Waterwatch training and equipment.
The Murray Programs component will deliver critical activities to support the Victorian Murray Floodplain Restoration Project (VMFRP), which helps to meet Victoria’s water recovery obligations under the Basin Plan and to implement Water for Victoria Action 4.11.In 2021-2022, the project delivered on key components of the VMFRP that are not funded by the Commonwealth, including:
- project governance arrangements provided oversight and specialist policy advice to the project to ensure delivery is in compliance with contractual obligations;
- the continued implementation of a baseline monitoring plan over 3 years to benchmark current condition of ecological, cultural and socio-economic values across all nine sites prior to construction of environmental infrastructure. This monitoring will be critical to demonstrate outcomes, mitigate risks and inform adaptive management. It will also contribute to meeting state reporting obligations under the Basin Plan, which sit outside the VMFRP.
- Traditional Owner engagement activities to identify Traditional Owner waterway and wetland aspirations for the operational (i.e. post construction phase) of the VMFRP.
Page last updated: 19/11/22