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Water set aside for the environment can be increased by increasing the volume of environmental entitlements – this is called water recovery. In Victoria, decisions to recover additional water for the environment have been made through regional sustainable water strategies (SWS). These were developed through a consultation process with:

  • local communities
  • water users
  • environmental managers.

This work minimises economic and regional impacts by looking for opportunities to maximise environmental outcomes from environmental water entitlements.

Setting targets using the environmental flows method

Victoria’s environmental flow assessment method is known as the FLOWS method. This determines the water regime which supports environmental values such as plants and animals that depend on water in each river system. The environmental flow assessment is also known as the environmental water reserve.

This work also helps to identify the environmental water deficit of a river. This is the difference between the volume of water needed to support the environmental values of a river and the volume of water that is protected for the river by the environmental water reserve. This assessment of the deficit can then help make decisions to set a target for water recovery for that river.

We cannot recover all the water our rivers need immediately. Environmental water recovery targets are initially developed to meet critical environmental outcomes without taking water away from other uses.

In southern Victoria, new 10-year water recovery targets were set in 2023 using the information from applying the FLOWS method.

Environmental flow studies using the FLOWs method have been completed for over 50 rivers. Assessments for wetlands use a broadly similar method to the flow requirements.

Water recovery from infrastructure projects

The government’s preference when recovering water for the environment, has been through water saving infrastructure projects and upgrades to irrigation infrastructure, such as delivery channels reducing evaporation or seepage. This means less water is lost when travelling from waterways to irrigators, saving water for consumptive purposes or to meet environmental objectives. An example of this work is the state and federal government investment into modernising the Goulburn Murray Irrigation District.

Victoria’s water grid connects some of the state’s key water resources such as reservoirs and the Victorian desalination plant to sites across Victoria.

When new water supplies are developed to meet the needs of our growing population, there are opportunities to free up a portion of existing river water used for drinking via substitution. This happens by agreement, that the right to draw on one water source is replaced by the right to draw on another. This water grid expansion is another opportunity to recover more water for the environment.

The Upper Barwon Environmental Entitlement was created in April 2018, when the water grid was expanded so that urban consumption needs in Geelong could be met with water from the Greater Yarra System-Thompson River pool. This work allowed water to be recovered for the Barwon River which would have otherwise been needed for urban use.

Water obtained through water infrastructure projects has been set aside in environmental entitlements. Since the creation of the environmental water reserve in 2005, the number of environmental entitlements has increased from one to over 20. The volume of water provided under these entitlements has increased from 27 gigalitres (GL) to over 620 GL per year.

Page last updated: 16/09/23