Anyone who lives in Melbourne knows the Yarra River. Home to platypus, kingfishers and galaxia fish, it’s also a place where boaters, fishers, rowers, cyclists and walkers all spend time. The Yarra is Melbourne’s lifeblood.
But the Yarra is under threat, with overdevelopment and pollution causing serious problems for the river. Wildlife is at risk because the connectivity they need is destroyed when developers concrete over river banks. The water quality suffers badly from urban and industrial run off and plastic litter.
Just before Victoria’s state election, the ALP promised to introduce a Yarra River Protection Act, along with a trust to guard the river corridor from inappropriate development and promote the river’s amenity and significance.
Successive governments have realised that the Yarra has big problems. Over time, many plans have been written, but there has been no real change. This is our chance to get the change the Yarra needs in order to return to health.
Right now, the key threats that a Yarra River Protection Act needs to address are:
- Housing development right down to the banks is destroying habitat for birds, animals and plants
- There is huge inconsistency and confusion about who manages the Yarra and its banks. The river runs through 12 council areas, each with their own planning rules. There are 16 government agencies with various responsibilities for aspects of the river, and 21 pieces of legislation.
- Water quality is very low. In the city areas, the river has e.coli bacteria levels 21 times greater than safe levels. Stormwater run off, faulty septic tanks, and upstream cattle grazing all contribute to the problem. There are also toxic heavy metals in the sediment on the river’s floor.
It’s clear that the complex regulatory and institutional system we have is not working. A central agency is needed, with a mandate to protect the Yarra, along with clear and consistent development rules. This is what the Yarra River Protection Act must deliver.
Environmental Justice Australia is working with Yarra Riverkeeper Andrew Kelly to develop and implement a co-design process for the future of the Yarra. Working with stakeholders and the Melbourne community, we will be asking people about their vision for the Yarra and working with them to design a solution that will work.