Improving the Health of Waterways in Regional Victoria

This initiative has implemented actions under Chapter 3 of Water for Victoria to improve the health of Victoria’s waterways. It delivered physical on-ground environmental works; community and Traditional Owner engagement; environmental water management; monitoring and demonstrating outcomes; large-scale restoration projects; and water statutory functions. It is Victoria’s largest ever investment in a waterway health initiative.

You can view a short summary video of the program, and download the latest Progress Snapshot.

EC4 Expenditure to date

 2016-172017-182018-192019-20
Improving the health of waterways in regional Victoria $47,219,990 $48,786,452 $52,298,000 $47,593,000
Ramsar wetlands - $1,456,000 - -
Water for Victoria: Protecting Ramsar wetlands - $1,000,000 $500,000 $500,000

Progress

This initiative was delivered through two funding streams, Water for the Environment and Waterway Health. The four years of this initiative have achieved the following key outputs:

Water for the Environment
Number of environmental watering actions undertaken at priority sites 901
Volume of environmental water delivered to priority rivers and wetlands throughout Victoria 3,062,000 ML
Number of individuals engaged in environmental watering related networks and events 21,700
Waterway Health
Number of sites where works have been undertaken to improve instream health 525
Area of waterway vegetation works undertaken to improve the health and resilience of waterways 39,338 ha
Length of riparian land where works have been undertaken to protect or improve its condition 2,800 km
Number of individuals engaged to increase capacity/knowledge of waterway management 41,336

Water for the Environment

Program delivery and engagement

The Environmental Water Program provided $23.446 million of funding to catchment management authorities (CMAs) between 2016/17 – 2019/20 investing in:

  • Environmental Water Reserve Officers to undertake planning, delivery and reporting for environmental watering of rivers, wetlands, and floodplains within their CMA region.
  • Projects to manage environmental water to provide shared or complementary benefits for other water users, for example Aboriginal values, or recreational activities. This funding also supports CMAs to provide information to the Victorian Environmental Water Holder (VEWH) to assist its annual reporting on where environmental watering has achieved shared benefits.
  • Projects to improve the management and efficiency of use of environmental water at priority watering sites through on-ground works and measures.

During this time, over 21,700 individuals from 290 community groups, 420 agencies and corporations and 100 mixed groups have been established or supported to participate in environmental watering planning, monitoring and reporting. This has built the capacity and raised the awareness of communities and stakeholders, helping people understand why environmental watering is needed and what it achieves for the environment, as well as the shared benefits for the wider community.

This initiative also completed water recovery projects to add to the Thomson Environmental Water Reserve, and the creation of a 1 GL Environmental Entitlement for the Barwon River to be managed by the VEWH.

This initiative also funded the VEWH to manage environmental water entitlements across the state, and pay associated charges to meet its obligations under the Water Act 1989 and Ministerial Rules. Funding was also provided to support VEWH staff and office operations.

During this time, the VEWH published its annual Seasonal Watering Plans, Reflections Annual Watering Booklets and corporate plans for 2016-17, 2017-18, 2018-19 and 2019-20, along with 215 Seasonal Watering Statements. These publications can be found at: https://vewh.vic.gov.au/news-and-publications/publications

In 2017, the first Aboriginal Victorian was appointed to the VEWH Commission.

Monitoring and outcomes

Water for the environment was delivered to 218 priority sites on rivers and wetlands throughout the state in 2018-19, 225 sites in 2017-18, and 178 sites in 2016-17. These actions have contributed to the protection of key aquatic and riparian flora and fauna species, and over 2,172,000 ML of water for the environment being delivered.

The Victorian Environmental Flows Monitoring and Assessment Program (VEFMAP) and the Wetland Monitoring and Assessment Program (WetMAP) are being implemented to evaluate the effectiveness of water for the environment in rivers and wetlands. Between 2016-19, 80 environmental watering sites, including 25 rivers and 55 wetlands, have been monitored under the VEFMAP and WetMAP programs to ascertain ecosystem responses to environmental water management.

Citizen science programs have also been established to monitor the response of fish species to environmental watering, in association with VEFMAP and WetMAP. Through VEFMAP’s Angler Scientist project, anglers who catch and keep golden perch and Murray cod are collecting fish ear bones (otoliths) for genetic analysis. Analysis of the otoliths provides important information about fish origins and age.

Highlights from the monitoring results include:

  • construction of fishways and providing environmental water has delivered measurable outcomes for native fish in the Glenelg River, where Australian grayling were recorded for the first time in over a century. Estuary perch and tupong have returned to areas more than 270 km upstream of where they were seven years ago. Blackfish numbers have more than doubled and numbers of critically endangered variegated pygmy perches have increased ten-fold
  • VEFMAP surveys in the Glenelg River before and during environmental flow releases also found almost six times as many juvenile Common Galaxias and Short-finned Eels and 40% more juvenile Tupong moving upstream during environmental flow deliveries
  • coordinated environmental flows were delivered to the Macalister and Thomson rivers in spring 2017 to attract juvenile tupong, as well as Australian grayling and bass, into both systems. Following the flow, the highest catch rates of tupong in the Thomson River in 13 years were recorded – an improvement on the high catch rates that were also seen the year before. In 2018 similar watering events were particularly important due to the dry conditions experienced over spring and summer
  • a fishway built in 2019 at Horseshoe bend on the Thomson River that opened over 85 km of the upper Thomson and Aberfeldy rivers to endangered native fish such as Australian grayling for the first time in a century. For more information click here
  • Reedy Lake, in the lower Barwon system, was partially dried to maintain the ecological character of the Ramsar site and help reinstate a haven for a range of migratory waterbird species listed under international agreements
  • two fishways to connect the Ramsar listed Reedy Lake to the Barwon River were constructed in 2020, which will improve fish and eel passage and allow estuarine and freshwater fish to complete their life-cycle. Fish were observed using the fishway on Reedy Lake the day after construction was completed
  • VEFMAP monitoring in Cardinia Creek and the Glenelg, Werribee, Bunyip, Barwon and Tarwin rivers provided the first quantitative evidence that environmental flows can be timed to attract fish from the ocean and disperse them throughout our coastal rivers.
  • vegetation surveys conducted in the Campaspe, Loddon, Glenelg, Thomson, Moorabool, Yarra and Wimmera river systems showed that water for the environment is critical for sustaining fringing and emergent vegetation, has promoted growth and recruitment to the population of aquatic and semi-aquatic plants and increased riparian plant cover, seed dispersal, and germination
  • in the Wimmera system, river blackfish were captured in Mt William Creek and platypuses were recorded in the MacKenzie River for the first time since the millennium drought due to environmental water releases
  • environment water delivered to the Ranch Billabong on the Wimmera River improved wetland vegetation condition values while also supporting Aboriginal cultural values.  Water was delivered to the billabong for the first time in December 2018 in close collaboration with the Barengi Gadjin Land Council. Visible improvements in woodland bird abundance and river red gum health were observed during the Wotjobaluk festival in October 2019. More water was delivered to the Ranch Billabong in June 2020
  • Taungurung Traditional Owners and the North East CMA have worked with the VEWH and Goulburn-Murray Water to release water for the environment. In June 2019, 39 megalitres of water owned by Taungurung Land and Waters Council (TLaWC) was delivered as an environmental flow to the King River. Following the success of this release, a further 39 megalitres of water owned by TLaWC was delivered as an environmental flow down the King River in March 2020
  • waterbird breeding has been observed in many watered systems including Barmah Forest, Hattah Lakes, Black Swamp, Johnson Swamp, Lake Cullen, Lake Elizabeth, Lake Meran, Lake Yando, McDonalds Swamp and the Wirra-Lo Complex
  • nationally endangered growling grass frogs were also recorded at the Wirro-Lo complex. The North Central CMA has now commenced a monitoring program for this species
  • threatened waterbird species such as magpie geese returned to systems where they haven’t been seen for many years and have been breeding. A group of critically endangered Australasian bitterns were spotted at Lake Cullen in the Kerang Lakes regions after the lake was filled with environmental water in autumn 2017. These birds are rarely seen, and there may be as few as 1000 adults left in the world, making this a particularly exciting observation
  • environmental water releases have increased distribution of some rare and threatened fish species in north of Victoria, including trout cod and southern pygmy perch. The impact these water releases had on native fish population was seen in 2017, when coordinated delivery of environmental flows down four rivers in the Murray River system resulted in a big boost to Victoria’s native fish populations, especially golden and silver perch. As a result, anglers reported 2017 as the best year they’ve had in a decade and silver perch and Murray cod have returned to the Campaspe and Goulburn rivers in droves. Silver perch have also been detected in the river systems in good numbers for the first time in 10 years. Murray cod numbers are also at a 10-year high in the Broken River system
  • targeted delivery of water for the environment in the north of Victoria has triggered breeding responses in spawning of golden perch, recruitment of Murray cod and migration of silver perch and golden perch
  • please see https://www.water.vic.gov.au/reportcard for more detailed information on native fish outcome in Northern Victoria in the first two years of EC4.

More detail on the VEFMAP program and its results can be found at: https://www.ari.vic.gov.au/research/rivers-and-estuaries/assessing-benefits-of-water-for-the-environment

To discover more about the Environmental Water Program and investments over the EC4 period please see https://www.water.vic.gov.au/waterways-and-catchments/rivers-estuaries-and-waterways/environmental-water

Waterway health

Program delivery and engagement

The waterway health program provided Victoria’s ten catchment management authorities (CMAs) with $106,713 million between 2016-20 to implement a range of initiatives with their communities across Victoria. Key achievements from each of these initiatives are outlined below.

Flagship Waterways

The Government has identified 36 regional waterways for large scale restoration over the next 30 years (Flagship Waterways) – see Chapter 3 of Water for Victoria for a map which shows all these sites. During 2016-20, this initiative has invested in the first nine Flagship Waterways, with five of the ten launched by the Minister for Water in 2019. Achievements at these Flagship Waterways include:

  • The Living Moorabool: Delivered over 194 ha of waterway works including revegetation, weed and pest control. Protected over 37 km of waterway frontage. Over 90 site visits to monitor the Living Moorabool as part of the CMA’s citizen science program. Celebrated Water and Culture and the recognition of Wadawurrung values in waterway management. For further information on the Living Moorabool project, visit the Corangamite CMA website, and the Living Moorabool website.
  • Budj Bim Connections: The Budj Bim Connections project was launched to community members, landholders, agency partners and Traditional Owners in June 2018. It aimed to deliver waterway protection works, targeted weed control, aquatic habitat enhancement and knowledge sharing on Budj Bim Country - a section of volcanic plain that encompasses the area from Budj Bim (formerly Mt Eccles) to the sea.  This included the lower Fitzroy River (including the estuary and associated wetlands) and Darlot Creek downstream of Lake Condah. To see further details of work being undertaken by the CMA and Aboriginal partners, visit the Glenelg Hopkins website. This includes some great local video stories about the area.
  • Cann River: The project has completed significant on-ground works at the Cann River in conjunction with the Cann River Landcare Group and Far East Victoria Landcare. Approximately over 90% of the Cann River (flagship section) is fenced and under some form of agreement. Over 112 ha of non-woody weed control and over 205 ha of woody weed control have been completed, with over 99 ha of native revegetation also taking place. For further information on this project visit the East Gippsland CMA YouTube page and Working Together on the Cann River website
  • Merbein Common: On-ground works have delivered a 400 m walking track, a specialised canoe launch, revegetation of 1.87 ha of riparian banks with native indigenous plants, installed two Fluker Posts, 55 ha of weed control, 954 ha of rabbit control, treatment of approximately 136 willow stands, the installation of 1.7 km of bollards and fencing to control vehicle access and the installation of drainage at Cowanna Bend. For more information visit the Mallee CMA Facebook page
  • Upper Wimmera Catchment: Through the actions of landowners, community and Landcare groups, weed control on over 1,445 ha and pest control on over 1,345 ha of riparian land has been undertaken. This work complements recent erosion control works at Seven Mile Creek and Six Mile Creek. In addition, over 33 km of fencing has been constructed and 155 ha of riparian land has been protected from grazing around priority waterways in the Wimmera region.
  • Caring for the Campaspe: Willow control activity in the Carlsruhe and Kyneton areas has resulted in the removal of weeds across 165 ha of land along the Campaspe river bank, while over 44 km of fencing has been constructed and native vegetation has been planted across 168 ha by local contractors, Traditional Owners, Conservation Volunteers Australia, community and Landcare members and school students. Over 1,000 people have been engaged with the implementation of this project to date. You can see a short video regarding this project at the North Central CMA website
  • Thompson River: Rehabilitation work including 128 ha of woody weed control, 17 km of fencing and 22 ha of revegetation has resulted in the establishment of 14.9 km of continuous riparian protection on both banks and the preservation of high value vegetation along the lower section of the Thomson River. To learn more about this project visit the West Gippsland CMA website.

Many waterway health projects rely on partnerships with community groups, including Landcare. To read about a sample of these projects in West Gippsland visit the West Gippsland CMA website.

Regional Riparian Action Plan

The Regional Riparian Action Plan has now been completed. It was a five-year plan to accelerate on-ground riparian management works to improve the health of riparian land along Victoria's regional rivers, estuaries and wetlands. Works included fencing to manage stock, revegetation programs, weed management and construction of off-stream stock watering systems.

An additional $30 million was provided by the state government for riparian works as part of EC4 to implement the action plan.

The action plan was delivered by a range of stakeholders including the nine regional Victorian CMAs, farmers, Traditional Owners, Landcare, angling and other community groups.

With the four years of EC4 funding, the key outcomes achieved included the protection and improvement of over 2,800 kilometres and approximately 44,000 hectares of riparian land. CMAs worked with over 1,100 landholders and about 500 Traditional Owner, Landcare, angling, school and other community groups to achieve these outcomes.

Click here to see and hear three stories about how the Plan has supported the community across Victoria in achieving great riparian outcomes since 2015.

There are lots of great riparian projects featured on the CMAs’ websites too, like the North Central CMA ‘Caring for the Campaspe’ project, the West Gippsland CMA’s project targeting willows at their source, the Glenelg Hopkins CMA's Glenelg River restoration and the Goulburn Broken CMA’s Strathbogie Streams project.

Another achievement of the action plan is rolling out the Angler Riparian Partnerships Program. Healthy fisheries need healthy habitat. As a commitment in Victoria's Water Plan, Water for Victoria, the government provided $1 million from EC4 for the program.

The funding was used for partnerships between the nine regional CMAs and recreational angling groups to deliver riparian improvement works in areas of local priority for anglers.

In the four years of the program, over 1,000 volunteers from 156 angling clubs and community groups participated in 35 events and helped to plant over 41,500 native trees and shrubs and control 174 hectares of weeds in 39 separate projects. These efforts improved 70 kilometres of riparian land along 30 waterways across Victoria, including the Merri River, Wimmera River, Kings Billabong, Lake Boga, Goulburn River, Buckland River, Nariel Creek, Mitchell River, Macalister River and Curdies River. These actions will benefit fish species including Murray cod, trout, golden perch, Macquarie perch, estuary perch, river blackfish and bream.

Watch these two short videos of Angler Riparian Partnerships Program projects - on the Steavenson River near Marysville and the Barwon River downstream of Geelong, where local angling clubs worked with the Goulburn Broken CMA and Corangamite CMA respectively to plant trees, shrubs and grasses along the rivers.

Gippsland Lakes

The Gippsland Lakes Coordinating Committee has worked closely with its local communities and partner agencies to improve the health of the iconic lakes region. Highlights delivered include restoring habitat for native species, reducing sediment and nutrient loads, pest plant and animal control, and protecting native animals and vegetation around the Gippsland Lakes. Over the last four years, funding has been allocated to regional delivery partners to deliver works including:

  • improving the wetlands of Jones Bay and Lake King
  • enhancing connectivity and condition of Lake Wellington
  • protecting Traditional Owner Country of the Gippsland lakes outer barrier; and
  • understanding and improving aquatic habitats and ecosystems.

Additionally, the Gippsland Lakes Community Grants Program has provided four rounds of grants funding to community organisations and groups to complete environmental projects that help improve the health of the Gippsland Lakes. Some of these groups include the Marine Mammal Foundation, Birdlife Australia and various committee of management and landcare groups. Recent highlights include:

  • A project using Australian Pelicans as a platform for citizen science and drought refuge (in collaboration with Birdlife Australia and Birdlife East Gippsland) saw hundreds of monthly surveys recorded by volunteers and Birdlife staff, as well as banding and tracking of 37 adult pelicans. Colour banding allowed for easy identification by members of the public, and the use of social media via the Facebook page ‘Love our Pelicans’ has reported 194 sightings by community members to date. From this program, the greatest known distance travelled by a Gippsland lakes banded Pelican was recorded all the way in Brisbane Port https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-07-14/how-far-do-pelicans-travel-and-where-dothey-go/11305234;  https://www.loveourlakes.net.au/gippsland-lakes-pelican-spotted-at-brisbane-port/
  • A project promoting Traditional Owner management and involvement across the Gippsland Lakes has helped develop the Gunaikurnai Land and Waters Aboriginal Corporation’s (GLaWAC) Communications and Engagement Plan, and saw GLaWAC host three successful events through:
    • a site visit to Sperm Whale Head for NAIDOC week with over 100 members of the Gunaikurnai community, Government staff and other community members attending
    • a site visit to the Grange with a young dance troupe called ‘Culture Connect’ who performed traditional and contemporary dances on the 90 Mile Beach and did animal tracking exercises
    • a second site visit to Sperm Whale Head for the Annual Gippsland Lakes Pelican count.

Visit the Love Our Lakes website to see some of the great work that has been done at the Gippsland Lakes.

And visit West Gippsland CMA’s Gippslandscapes podcast website to listen to some longer interviews with key stakeholders who are working to enhance the Gippsland Lakes. Look for Episodes 19, 7 & 8.

Protecting Ramsar Wetlands

This initiative has improved the management of Victoria's internationally important Ramsar wetlands by completing all recommendations from the 2016 Victorian Auditor General's Office audit Meeting Obligations to Protect Ramsar Wetlands.

For detailed information on each of Victoria’s twelve wonderful Ramsar sites, please visit DELWP’s wetland information website.

The initiative supported a coordinated approach to management with robust governance arrangements in place and a dedicated site coordinator appointed at all 12 of the state’s Ramsar sites. Monitoring the ecological character of Ramsar wetlands has been improved through the development of site-specific monitoring, evaluation, reporting and improvement plans. This has been complemented with the development of an online tool that allows Ramsar managers to instantly track ecological character and the implementation of Ramsar management plans. Recommendations from the VAGO audit are now embedded within the waterway health program as business as usual activities.

The initiative has also supported the implementation of actions set out in the Ramsar site management plans and the development of Ramsar site management plans for the Port Phillip Bay (Western Shoreline) & Bellarine Peninsula (PDF, 4.5 MB), and Western Port (PDF, 6.1 MB) Ramsar sites. In addition, the Glenelg Estuary and Discovery Bay was listed in early 2018 as a new Victorian Ramsar Site. The site includes unique wetland habitats that support a variety of threatened species including plants, waterbirds and fish, and includes part of the Lower Glenelg National Park, Discovery Bay Coastal Park and the Nelson Streamside Reserve.  For further information, please visit the Glenelg Hopkins CMA website.

CMAs also work to restore and protect other wetlands around the state. To read about a special example on the Lower Latrobe River in West Gippsland, visit the West Gippsland CMA website.

Glenelg Hopkins CMA has also produced an excellent new series of fact sheets on the value of wetlands, and the public’s legal responsibilities for protecting them, found here.

Citizen Science Programs

This initiative also supports important citizen science programs that focus on waterway health, including EstuaryWatch and Waterwatch Victoria, and a range of other programs including monitoring frogs, waterbirds and litter. Every CMA region across the state is delivering citizen science programs, and between 2016 - 2020, more than 30,000 people were engaged as citizen scientists to record observations from Victoria’s waterways and collect important ecological data.

River Detectives, the educational arm of Waterwatch, is a hands-on citizen science program that supports school teachers and leaders to connect young people to their local waterways. Between 2018-2020, 4,000 school students have participated in monitoring the health of their local waterway and learnt more about actions they can take for Victoria’s waterways. For more information, visit River Detectives.

2018 was a momentous year that marked 25 years of the Waterwatch Victoria program. Celebrations were held across the state, with the Minister for Water, Lisa Neville attending a key event with Corangamite Waterwatchers as part of the celebration. “Thank you to Waterwatch volunteers across Victoria who put in countless hours of their own time to support the health of our environment and waterways. This is a great example of initiatives funded by the government that are run by the community and support the community. The 25-year milestone exemplifies the long-term commitment of the community to protect and enhance the health of their waterways – so that they will remain healthy for generations to come.” To read more, see the press release (PDF, 581.6 KB).

Spring 2018 saw the Waterwatch Program strongly involved in the launching of the National Waterbug Blitz, Australia’s first nationwide waterway monitoring event. The Waterwatch Program has been successful in getting thousands of schools, community members and organisations involved in water quality testing and water bug surveys over the past 25 years. To read more, visit https://www.waterbugblitz.org.au/.

The Victorian Index of Estuary Condition (IEC) is a program that aims to assess and report on the condition of estuaries across Victoria, assisting in their management and provide a baseline for assessing long-term changes in estuary condition. The citizen science contribution will help inform decision making for estuary management into the future. More Information is available at the Estuary Watch website.

During April and May 2019, an exciting new partnership project began between River Detectives, Waterwatch Victoria, Melbourne Water and Victoria University. In its first year, Masters Students (Primary Teaching) were tasked with developing a practical online unit of work for primary school teachers.

In a Victorian-first citizen science project, Melbourne Water’s collaborative Litter Trackers project saw RMIT University scientists working with schools and community groups to deploy 100 GPS-tracked bottles, in 20 locations across Melbourne’s catchments, to reveal precisely how litter makes its way from our streets to our beaches. In a regional Victorian-first citizen science project, Bendigo Creek Litter Trackers launched in 2019 with the deployment of GPS-tracked bottles in Bendigo Creek. This collaborative project between Waterwatch in the North Central CMA Region, RMIT University, River Detectives schools and the City of Greater Bendigo, was initiated following Landcare volunteers, in a few short hours, collecting 440 kilograms of litter from a small stretch of the creek. For more information, visit Litter Trackers.

Visitors to local waterways can get involved in a citizen science project to help track changes in stream flows and vegetation thanks to a new photo monitoring app that was launched at the Seven Creeks at Euroa. You can watch a short video about this innovative approach and download the app at the Goulburn Broken CMA website.

In 2018 the Barwon Heads community expressed an interest in establishing a public health-driven water quality monitoring program for the Barwon River Estuary to understand the health of the waterway and patterns in estuary water quality. The Barwon Estuary Monitoring Pilot Project (BEMPP) was developed to trial the monitoring of public health and recreational water quality indicators and educate the community about public health impacts. The pilot was delivered by the Corangamite CMA and involved sixteen volunteer citizen scientists who were recruited and trained to collect water quality information from eight sites in the proximity of stormwater outfalls and areas of high recreational use. For more information, visit the Estuary Watch website.

Pesticide Detectives, a collaborative project combining the scientific expertise of RMIT University scientists and citizen science volunteers, started in 2019 with a Victoria-first pilot project in partnership with EstuaryWatch, where volunteers investigated the occurrence and concentrations of pesticides at 13 Victoria estuaries. Pesticide Detectives sampling events also provided an opportunity to participate in a zinc-mapping citizen science program, whereby the EPA analyses water and sediment samples collected to determine the impact of stormwater on the level of metal concentrations in urban waterways. Over 2019-2020, more than 50 Victorian waterway sites were monitored by citizen scientists as part of the national program. This data is available on the Pesticide Detectives website to help improve awareness and management of pesticides in local areas. For more information, visit Pesticide Detectives.

One of Australia’s longest running community monitoring programs, Saltwatch, is the state’s annual salinity snapshot, helping communities to learn about salinity through the hands-on collection and testing of water samples from local waterways. Data gathered through Saltwatch snapshot monitoring provides a great opportunity to assess the condition of our waterways and can show changes in salinity ’hot spots’ over time. To find out more, visit the Water Watch Victoria website.

Monitoring and evaluation

Under this initiative, a suite of complementary monitoring programs was developed 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.

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.

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 3000 km of the stream network was established to assess changes in riparian vegetation and river channels. As part of this program we’ve developed a work-flow for processing 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.

The Wetland Intervention Monitoring Program was established to inform (i) how different grazing regimes influence biodiversity outcomes of wetlands, (ii) what site and landscape factors modify responses to grazing and (iii) the time frames over which changes occur. To answer these questions the program monitors twenty-eight 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 after one year of monitoring indicated the influence of grazing treatments on a range of vegetation indicators spanning all management objectives. 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 state-wide, long-term wetland hydrology monitoring project was commissioned under this imitative to quantify the inundation histories of wetlands in Victoria from 1988 to 2017 using Landsat satellite imagery. The primary goal of the project was to improve knowledge of the water regime of wetlands in the Victorian Wetland Inventory spatial layer. The dataset will inform wetland mapping across Victoria at an unprecedented resolution. The dataset will be integral as a source of information for the development of the next Victorian Waterway Management Strategy and Regional Waterway Strategies as well as meeting our Ramsar obligations to protect the ecological character of Victoria’s 12 internationally listed wetlands and supporting wetland management in general across the state. To see a presentation about this work, you can watch this short youtube video.

The initiative also funded a large-scale study that examined how fish populations across Victorian waterways relate to amounts of instream woody habitat (IWH). The findings predicted a two to three-fold increase in fish abundance and an increase in fish species richness when IWH densities increased from low to high levels. A subsequent investigation showed that fish responses take a minimum of 8-10 years to eventuate following instream habitat interventions (i.e. adding woody habitat). Findings also indicated that fish responses were enhanced when interventions occurred in areas with higher pre-intervention habitat loads. This information will help guide future management aimed at maximising fish responses for particular species at specific locations.

The Flagship Waterways concept was also supported through this initiative - a waterway management framework for planning, implementing and communicating long-term waterway management programs. The framework is being implemented at 10 priority waterways – one in each CMA region. 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 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. The Flagship Waterways framework also offered an opportunity to trial approaches to measure social, cultural and economic benefits of waterway management at some locations.

The first state-wide condition assessment for estuaries was competed under this initiative. The Index of Estuary Condition (IEC) will help guide state policy and regional investment programs and improve reporting back to communities.

In partnership with the Victorian Fisheries Authority a Native Fish Report Card Program was established to monitor the status and trend of native fish populations in priority waterways and report back to communities. The Native Fish Report Card web-portal was developed to communicate the results of this program, which has now been underway for four years.

An Applied Aquatic Ecology Research Hub (the Hub) was established to allow more coordinated and strategic research and monitoring, to support the Victorian Government’s investment in healthy waterways.

The Hub partners, including divisions within the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning, the Victorian Environmental Water Holder and CMAs, have set up a number of knowledge-sharing events and processes. These facilitated regular sharing and discussion of research outcomes, identification of knowledge gaps and prioritisation of further research and monitoring. Two stakeholder forums were organised by the Hub on key waterway management challenges - these forums focused on the ‘importance and management of drought refuges’ and the ‘management of specialist floodplain fish.'

The Hub capitalises on Hub partner research expertise and connects partners to broader research networks, to ensure they can better utilise and leverage available research funding and outcomes.

Waterway Permits and Licenses (statutory functions)

This initiative provided approx. $35 million to catchment management authorities to undertake their core functions under the Water Act 1989 to protect the health of our waterways. Under this initiative, the nine regional catchment management authorities (CMAs) have undertaken a range of vital activities to facilitate appropriate use and development of our public waterways, including:

  • in partnership with other relevant local Authorities (including water corporations and Local Government), assessing and issuing/approving licences and permits under the Water Act
  • provision of floodplain referral advice and related strategic floodplain management activities
  • improve waterway health and residential outcomes where subdivision and development are occurring, by more effectively integrating waterways into the subdivision design. This helps improve passive recreation opportunities, introduces green space into the urban environment, manages flood risk, and more efficiently treats stormwater run-off
  • disputes and enforcement activities regarding approved uses of waterways
  • education and information provision in the community regarding safe and appropriate use of waterways
  • provision of specialist technical waterway advice and input to a wide variety of local agency and community initiatives
  • support for appropriate cultural protection and use of waterways

The range of functions include:

  • authorising works on waterways and acting as a referral body for planning applications, licences to take and use water and construct dams, for water use and other waterway management issues
  • direct support to communities during flood and fire events, including working with local emergency response agencies
  • developing and coordinating regional floodplain management plans
  • providing advice and undertaking investigations regarding flood events

During the four years of this program, regional CMAs have processed over 33,000 permits and licenses, which is an average of 690 per month for the entire 48 months!!  Every one of these permits and licenses represents a positive result for the continuing protection of waterways that communities love and use.

Many of these permits and licenses are related to larger private or public developments that have the potential to impact waterways, including schools, sports stadiums, mines, quarries, farms, roads and bridges, wind farms, township precincts, and many more.

As part of Works on Waterways Licence assessments, some CMAs now offer a complimentary check of the Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Register and Information System (ACHRIS) as an optional service, which provides applicants with information that may assist them in determining whether a Cultural Heritage Permit is required. During the 2019/ 2020 financial year, the Glenelg Hopkins CMA undertook 36 ACHRIS checks on behalf of applicants.

As a further part of their statutory functions, CMAs regularly support emergency services at Incident Control Centres (ICC). The Mallee CMA provided support during the 2016 Murray River and Tyrrell and Lalbert Creek flood events, and 2018 storm event which caused flash flooding at Birchip.

CMAs also play a key role in natural disaster impact and assessment and recovery activities. Following the extensive fires in north east Victoria over the 2019-20 summer season, the North East CMA provided significant resources to bushfire recovery, including assisting the Bushfire Rapid Risk Assessment Teams with data and local knowledge on the natural resource and built asset risks from the impacts of bushfire and subsequent flash flood events. In East Gippsland, the number of Works on Waterways permits (65 issued) was significantly higher than the expected level (20) for 2019-20. This was driven by the impact of the bush fires on the old wooden bridges across the region with a large number destroyed or damaged. Response to the bushfire has seen significant funding directed to replacing or repairing these bridges typically with more bushfire resistant materials such as steel and concrete. Response to these and any bushfire related response has been prioritised above all other Statutory Response so that this important recovery work can proceed as quickly as possible.

Most CMAs also support and participate in regional water quality monitoring programs in relation to their Water Statutory obligations. These programs use high-tech equipment at strategic sites on waterways to continuously feed a range of data into central databases, particularly DELWP’s Water Measurement Information System, where high quality data is available to the public. This long-term data is vital in detecting changes in water quality and is used as a planning input to many local initiatives that may impact on waterways.

CMAs use innovative methods to protect and restore our waterways. To watch a short video on how salvaged timber is being used to improve habitat for fish, visit the Goulburn Broken CMA YouTube page.

Much of the work delivered by CMAs in relation to this activity involves engaging with local communities to help them solve issues in their local waterways and providing information about what might be possible. To see an example of this work, visit the Corangamite CMA website.

You can also listen to podcasts to learn more about the wonders of the lower Ovens floodplain and the groups who are working hard to manage this incredible resource in North East Victoria. The Ovens River is one of Victoria’s most iconic rivers, loved by many for its pristine waters, abundant fishing and quiet camping spots. To listen, visit the North East CMA website.

To discover more about the Waterway Health Program and investments over the EC4 period please visit https://www.water.vic.gov.au/waterways-and-catchments/rivers-estuaries-and-waterways

Page last updated: 27/11/20