Our coast and bay - along with rivers, streams, groundwater and wetlands - are some of Victoria’s most valuable natural assets.

Healthy, productive waterways are vital for household supplies, industrial and agricultural use, aquaculture and recreation, and to support our tourism industry.

Good quality water, healthy plants and animals, as well as suitable flows in the waterways, are essential to maintain the many demands placed on our water environments.

Key policies such as State Environment Protection Policy (SEPP) Waters of Victoria and SEPP Groundwaters of Victoria help us address water quality requirements across Victoria.  

The State Environment Protection Policies for water are a legal framework to protect and improve Victoria’s water environments, as well as the social and economic values they support.  

Established under the Environment Protection Act 1970, SEPPs for water protect the health of environments by setting out the beneficial uses of water and the indicators and objectives to protect them.

Existing SEPPs

There are two existing SEPPs for water in Victoria:

  1. The State Environment Protection Policy (Waters of Victoria), including five catchment specific schedules:
    • Gippsland Lakes and Catchment;
    • Waters of the Latrobe and Thomson River Basins and Merriman Creek Catchment;
    • Waters of Port Phillip Bay;
    • Waters of the Yarra Catchment;
    • Waters of Western Port and Catchment.
  2. State Environment Protection Policy (Groundwaters of Victoria)

To ensure SEPPs are contemporary, reflect current values and incorporates recent science, they are reviewed every 10 years. This ensures Victoria has clear and relevant standards, legal rules and statutory obligations to protect and improve the health of our water environments.

Draft SEPP (Waters)

DELWP in partnership with the Environment Protection Authority (EPA) have completed a review of the water SEPPs and prepared a draft SEPP (Waters).  The draft:

  • brings together surface water and groundwater into one document
  • removes repeated obligations contained in other legislation
  • introduces a geothermal beneficial use
  • increases recognition of Traditional Owners and Aboriginal Victorians values
  • removes general roles, partnerships or programs into a separate implementation plan
  • provides a consistent suite of environmental quality indicators across rivers, streams and marine water segments
  • revises and updates environmental quality indicators and objectives based on relevant national and international standards and guidance
  • includes new indicators and objectives for sediment toxicology, marine biological indicators and for wetlands
  • puts roles and responsibilities into individual clauses for clarity.

The draft SEPP (Waters) is now available for public consultation.

Make a submission

View the draft State Environment Protection Policy (Waters), the policy impact assessment and the implementation plan at Engage Victoria.  

Engage Victoria also provides information on public forums to be held in regional locations during the consultation period.

Make a submission online at Engage Victoria or email Water.SEPPReview@delwp.vic.gov.au.

Submissions close 19 June 2018.

Image courtesy of the EPA.


Review of SEPP Beneficial Uses

The current beneficial uses in the SEPP WoV and GoV have been reviewed. We're proposing to combine these two policies into one and harmonise the beneficial uses across both water environments. The attached documents summarise the proposed changes.

Beneficial Uses Papers

Review of the SEPP science (segments indicators, and objectives)

An important component of the SEPP is that it provides a series of indicators and objectives to describe the level of environmental quality required to protect different beneficial uses.

These indicators include:

  • Specific chemical parameters, such a nitrogen and phosphorus concentrations;
  • Turbidity and total dissolved solids; as well as
  • Biological measures, such as the presence or abundance of macroinvertebrates.

Objective values are then derived for each of these indicators to represent the best assessment of what an environment would be like, if it had not been altered by human influences.

The EPA has completed a substantial program of work to develop new indicators and objectives that align with the latest science underpinning water management, reflect changes to relevant national guidelines, as well as defining policy segments that these objectives will apply to.

This work is overseen by an independent Scientific Advisory Panel, which has provided technical guidance, peer review, and approval for the components of work.

The revised segments, indicators, and objectives are in the draft SEPP (Waters).

Independent Inquiry into EPA (2016)

The Ministerial Advisory Committee responsible for the Independent Review into the EPA released its report on 16 May, 2016. Chapter 15 identifies a new approach for setting standards and includes a recommendation that SEPPs should be replaced with a new, simplified approach to standard setting. The Government response to these recommendations was provided in 2017.

Statutory Policy Review (2013)

In 2013, the then DEPI and EPA released the Statutory Policy Review (SPR) report which contains specific recommendations on how SEPP reviews are to be undertaken and a new model for SEPP content and ongoing oversight. Piloting the implementation of the SPR process is both a driver and requirement of the SEPP WoV and SEPP GoV Review.

The SPR noted SEPP (WoV) and SEPP (GoV):

  • Could more effectively integrate with other statutory policy and tools;
  • Attainment clauses are unclear or fail to address institutional accountability;
  • Require streamlining to reduce the regulatory burden on industry; and
  • Currently act as a 'catch all' rather than focusing on the key issues, and there is not a strong link with decision making on integrated catchment management or urban planning.

Reviewing SEPP (WoV) and SEPP (GoV) has allowed issues noted in the SPR to be addressed to deliver better environmental and stakeholder outcomes by ensuring the updated policy is simple, relevant and focussed on outcome and risk-based approaches.