The Water Act 1989 (Vic) establishes the Environmental Water Reserve, which consists of water held in environmental entitlements, along with other water in the system that can contribute to environmental outcomes, such as passing flows, and ‘above cap’ water.

Environmental watering is directed by the Water Act 1989 (Vic), the Water Act 2007 (Cth), the Victorian Waterway Management Strategy (DEPI, 2013) and Water for Victoria (DELWP, 2016).

Management of environmental water in Victoria is a state-wide partnership between the Victorian Environmental Water Holder, catchment management authorities including Melbourne Water, DELWP, land managers including Parks Victoria and local councils, water corporations, Traditional Owner groups, and interstate agencies including the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder and the Murray Darling Basin Authority.

The role of the Environmental Water program at DELWP is to oversee legislation, policy, and investment for management of the Environmental Water Reserve. The work we do can be split broadly into the following areas.

Identification of the required water regime for a river occurs through scientific work to determine the water regime required to support environmental values identified for river systems using the FLOWS method, estuaries using EEFAM, or wetlands using a similar approach. Environmental flow studies using the FLOWS method have been completed for 42 rivers across Victoria.

Decisions regarding additional water recovery for the environment have been made through regional Sustainable Water Strategies after a comprehensive consultation process with regional communities, water users and environmental managers. The Victorian Government’s strong preference has been that water recovery occurs through water saving infrastructure projects that upgrade irrigation infrastructure to reduce evaporation or leakage.

Water obtained through savings to date has been set aside in environmental entitlements. Since the creation of the EWR in 2005, the number of environmental entitlements has increased from 1 to over 20 and the volume of water provided under these entitlements has increased from 27 gigalitres to over 650 gigalitres per year (over the long-term average). See entitlements managed by the Victorian Environmental Water Holder.

The need for future environmental water recovery will be looked into through sustainable water strategies, taking into account the findings of long-term water resource assessments. Sustainable water strategies will rely on evidence-based principles, priorities and community input to develop future environmental water recovery targets. Use of stormwater, recycled water and the water grid to achieve environmental water outcomes at a more local level is also being examined.

In unregulated rivers, the environmental water reserve is provided primarily through management of existing diversions via licence conditions, rostering and restriction rules.

In priority unregulated systems that are flow-stressed in summer, formal management arrangements may be implemented for sustainably managing available water to balance the needs of all users, including the environment. Types of existing management plans include:

  • Streamflow Management Plans – statutory plans for managing water resources of priority unregulated waterways that are under stress, or where there is a demand for more development;
  • Integrated water management plans – recognise the connections between groundwater and surface water in systems where these water resources are highly-connected;
  • Local management plans – capture and formalise existing rules in unregulated systems where there is no statutory management plan.

In unregulated systems the focus is on maintaining and managing environmental water by strengthening existing processes relating to trade and allocation of water entitlements and conditions on water entitlements, to ensure the availability of environmental water is maintained.

Government is currently working with water corporations and environmental water holders to ensure that charges for the management (storage and delivery) of environmental water are clear, transparent and equitable, and in line with the level of service that environmental water holders receive. The following principles will apply to charging arrangements for environmental water:

  • Prices for services to environmental water holders will reflect costs;
  • Prices to reflect the level of service received;
  • Prices to provide signals for the efficient and sustainable use of water infrastructure; and
  • Prices will not deter environmental watering.

Works and measures are important to make the best use of existing environmental water. Environmental works, like pumps, regulators and pipes, help water sites in the absence of natural floods. This means that less water is needed to connect the river to its floodplain. Works also provide a way to target sites that cannot be watered due to the risk of third party impacts.

Environmental water is managed with other complementary works like protecting drought refuges, improving habitat connectivity for fish, improving landholder management practices and stronger integrated catchment management.  

The Basin Plan is part of the Commonwealth Water Act 2007, and aims to ensure that water is shared between all users, including the environment, in a sustainable way. Planning and delivery of held environmental water contributes to Victoria’s implementation of Basin Plan. Victoria’s annual watering priorities are completed each year by the VEWH.

Victoria’s long-term watering plans were completed by DELWP in 2015, and the Victorian Murray, Northern Victoria, and Wimmera-Mallee are each available for download.

The VEWH is an independent statutory authority established under the Water Act 1989 in 2011 to manage Victoria's environmental water entitlements.  The Environmental Water team provides governance oversight of the VEWH on behalf of the Minister for Water.  This includes supporting the VEWH where needed to ensure they meet their legislative objectives as a statutory entity and any additional requirements outlined in governing instruments.

Catchment management authorities and Melbourne Water have the designated role of waterway managers in Victoria, and  Environmental Water Reserve Officers work specifically to plan for and deliver environmental water with VEWH and other partners. Environmental Water Reserve Officers also implement environmental water policy, such as local actions in sustainable water strategies, engage in monitoring, complete works and measures projects, and undertake stakeholder and community engagement, in order to best manage environmental water outcomes in their waterways.

Catchment management authorities are also funded to engage with communities and stakeholders for awareness of and participation in environmental water management. This includes traditional owners, local landholders, environment groups, and recreational groups.

The acquisition and delivery of environmental water by the Victorian government represents a significant investment in aquatic ecosystem health and rehabilitation. Every year, the Victorian Environmental Water Holder report on where environmental water has been used across the state, and the benefits that it provides – for the environment as well as any shared benefits such as supporting aboriginal or recreational values.  View the Reflections reports.

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. With this in mind, two environmental flows monitoring and assessment programs have been developed in consultation between DELWP, CMAs, Melbourne Water and VEWH: VEFMAP for rivers and WetMAP for wetlands. These programs were established to investigate ecosystem responses to environmental flows in rivers and wetlands, with a view to providing new information to support flow-management decisions.

The current focus of VEFMAP involves collecting short-to-medium term monitoring data from priority rivers across Victoria. Monitoring is conducted before, during and after the delivery of environmental flows, to examine the response of native fish and vegetation to different flow types. VEFMAP has been designed to complement other monitoring programs and research currently underway across Victoria and throughout the Murray-Darling Basin. Data provided through VEFMAP will also be used as part of DELWP’s Rivers 2040 program.

WetMAP represents a short-to-medium term monitoring approach and will monitor native fish, waterbirds, frogs and vegetation in a subset of Victoria’s priority wetlands, from each CMA region, before and after environmental water delivery.

DELWP also undertake technical work as required to improve knowledge for environmental water management, such as updating the FLOWS method, or understanding how to best manage high value, high risk groundwater dependent ecosystems (GDEs), particularly rivers, estuaries, and wetlands. Current work on GDEs is focussing on distribution, condition and environmental values of GDEs, particularly on GDEs of high environmental value and high risk from groundwater extraction. Improved knowledge will help in groundwater management and allocation processes.