A new campaign aims to secure improved legal protections for key urban waterways in Melbourne’s west, comparable to the safeguards provided for the Yarra River in a law established in 2017.
The Rivers of the West campaign seeks to have the Maribyrnong and Werribee Rivers and other smaller waterways acknowledged as valuable community assets and better protected in law.
“The rivers of Melbourne’s west are valuable assets for communities in the suburbs and rural hinterland, but their protection and restoration is constrained by weak and fragmented laws,” said EJA lawyer Dr Bruce Lindsay.
“For decades these rivers have been neglected and inaccessible, damaging species, biodiversity and the rivers’ resilience to climate change,” Dr Lindsay said.
John Forrester, the Werribee Riverkeeper, said the Werribee and Maribyrnong Rivers, like the Yarra, flowed through several council areas, leaving them subject to varied planning rules.
“Our rivers now face the additional threats associated with rapid suburban growth, which is eating into riverside environments, exacerbating problems such as stormwater runoff, compromising delicate river ecologies and making the job of repair more difficult,” he said.
There are a number of threats to the health of Melbourne’s western rivers:
- Urban growth (Werribee, Sunbury, Romsey etc) combined with historic over-clearing of vegetation and interception activities (dams) in the river catchments is adding to the poor water quality and significantly impacting on their natural hydrology
- Threatened species like the pygmy perch are in serious trouble and populations of platypus are at risk from changes to inflow, such as the increase in stormwater runoff
- Contaminated land near rivers, like the Commonwealth Defence site at Maribyrnong and the quarry adjacent to Brimbank Park, are earmarked for re-development without adequate controls
- Fragmented governance makes it difficult to manage these rivers effectively
Helen van den Berg, from the Friends of Steele Creek, said laws to protect and oversee the restoration of Melbourne’s western waterways would bring great benefits for the whole community.
“People’s lives are enriched when they have a beautiful river or creek they can walk beside and appreciate the birds, frogs, fish and platypus.
“These rivers are vital assets that belong to the whole community and for future generations – they should be acknowledged as such and given proper legal protection,” she said.
“With the significant expansion of Romsey and increased development around Deep Creek and its catchment area, a new approach is needed to restore the integrity of our unique local environment, species and landscape,” said Ken Allender, Deep Creek Landcare.
Christina Cheers, President of the Jacksons Creek EcoNetwork, said Jacksons Creek feeds a beautiful and fertile valley that has been used by Aboriginal people for thousands of years and remains an asset for the community today.
“As it cuts through deep gorges, Jacksons Creek provides a natural and recreational resource for Sunbury that is now threatened by rampant over-development,” she said.
The Rivers of the West campaign is led by Environmental Justice Australia and several community groups throughout the western suburbs and the Maribyrnong and Werribee catchments.
EJA was instrumental in getting the ground-breaking Yarra River (Wilip-gin Birrarung murron) Protection Act passed through the Victorian Parliament in 2017.