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Rivers and wetlands are the lifeblood of Victoria - we need to look after them

Healthy rivers and wetlands support healthy communities.

They sustain people by supplying water for towns, farms and businesses and contribute to local economies through industries such as agriculture, fishing, real estate and tourism. Healthy rivers and wetlands make cities and towns more liveable and contribute to the physical and mental wellbeing of people.

They provide places for people to play, relax and connect with nature, and sustain Indigenous communities who have been continually connected to Country.

Rivers and wetlands cannot sustainably provide all of these benefits unless their ecological health is protected and maintained. Environmental watering is crucial in achieving this.

The way water flows has changed

Rivers and wetlands provide water and land that is important to towns, industry and farms. As a result, many of Victoria's rivers and wetlands have become highly modified.

For example, instead of water flowing across the landscape naturally, water is captured in storages by dams and weirs, diverted via pipelines, levees and man-made channels, and used for towns, cities, industry and farming.

Some of our rivers give up more than a third – and sometimes half – of their water for homes farms and businesses. Instead of flowing naturally, with high flows in winter and low flows in the hotter months of summer, rivers now run higher when water needs to be delivered for farming and urban use.   

These changes have interrupted many of the natural river and wetland processes needed by native plants and animals to survive, feed and breed.

Rivers and wetlands have declined

Changes to rivers and wetlands have resulted in a decline in the condition of our waterways. In Victoria we have seen significant declines in:

  • Native fish, including the extinction of three native freshwater fish species1
  • Waterbirds. For example Barmah Millewa Forest, once known as "the largest known egret rookery in Victoria", did not host a successful breeding event for the 30 years to 20102. It was once the largest known egret nesting sites in Victoria.
  • Native plants. For example, river red gum forests are under severe stress as a result of less frequent flooding3.

Declines in river and wetland health can also affect people. Poor water quality in rivers can impact water supplies for towns, cities, industry and farming and reduce opportunities for tourism. It can result in higher health risks and more expensive water treatment. Poor water quality and low rivers can also reduce fish numbers and affect recreational fishing, with potential flow-on effects for local businesses.

  1. Department of Sustainability and Environment, Advisory List of threatened vertebrate fauna in Victoria, 2013
  2. Kingsford, R., Lau, J., O'Connor, J., Birds of the Murray-Darling Basin, May 2014
  3. Victorian Environmental Assessment Council, River Red Gum Forests Investigation – Final Report, July 2008
Long neck turtle at Gunbower