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Waterways provide places to relax, holiday, exercise, fish, bird watch, hike and swim.

Healthy waterways support many environmental values such as native fish, riparian vegetation, habitat for plants and animals, drought refuges and rare or threatened species.

Our waterways supply water for agriculture and support important social values such as fishing, swimming and boating or cultural values such as Aboriginal heritage sites.

Visit the My Victorian Waterway Survey 2022 to read more about how the Victorian community values our waterways.

Types of waterways


Rivers are defined here as major rivers, streams or creeks and their feeders (tributaries) and include the water, the channel and surrounding land, known as riparian land.

Riparian refers to land or vegetation that adjoins a river, creek, wetland or estuary.


Estuaries are where rivers meet the sea and the fresh river water mixes with the ocean's salt water. Estuary health depends on land use, upstream river system, and the coastal and marine environment.

Most of Victoria's estuaries are brackish mouths of rivers and streams that flow directly into the ocean or large marine bays, such as Western Port, Port Phillip Bay and Corner Inlet.

There are more than 100 estuaries in Victoria; 83 of these exceed one kilometre in length.

The definition of estuaries also includes:

  • coastal inlets, like Tamboon Inlet and Anderson Inlet
  • smaller bays, like Swan Bay and Limeburners Bay
  • coastal barrier lagoons, like Jack Smith Lake and Lake Dennison.

These inlets may also be classed as wetlands.


Wetlands are still-water environments, usually occurring where water collects in depressions in the landscape from either surface water or groundwater. Wetlands can include swamps, lakes and peatlands (organic matter collections).

Some wetlands depend on groundwater for their existence; others depend on surface water run-off or large floods from adjacent rivers.

The 2013 inventory of Victoria's wetlands recorded 23,739 natural wetlands covering 604,322 hectares and 11,060 artificial wetlands covering 170,613 hectares.

Some wetlands naturally have water in them all the time, while others naturally dry out for short or long periods of time.


Floodplains are defined as the low-lying land adjacent to a river or stream with unique ecosystems dependent on overflow from flood events.

Connectivity between the river, fringing wetlands, floodplains and the ocean is important for many ecological and biological processes, including allowing some fish species to complete their life cycles. Visit Floodplain management for more information.

The Living Murray

The Living Murray is a joint initiative funded by the New South Wales, Victorian, South Australian and the Commonwealth governments, coordinated by the Murray–Darling Basin Authority. In Victoria, environmental water, planning and delivery are managed by a partnership of state government departments and catchment management authorities.

Page last updated: 16/09/23