Press Release - October 8, 2021

‘Once in a decade opportunity’ to halt southern Victoria’s water crisis

An alliance of community and environment groups have called for the Victorian government’s latest water strategy for the Central and Gippsland regions to lead to a major uplift in ambition and action to halt the crises facing our rivers and wetlands.

The discussion draft of the Central and Gippsland Region Sustainable Water Strategy, released by the Victorian Government on Friday, is a critical opportunity to protect rivers and wetlands across southern Victoria which are on life support and desperately need a better deal.

The strategy sets out the next 10-years of water management for the region covering waterways from the Great divide to the coast and from the Otways to East Gippsland.

The release of the draft strategy is required under Victoria’s water legislation to set a strategic planning framework to manage reliability and quality of Victoria’s water and drive the ecological health of rivers, wetlands and aquifers.

Every major river in southern Victoria is under threat and many from East Gippsland to the Otways are at the limit of their resilience.

The Alliance is calling on the government to ‘let rivers be rivers’. This means:

  • A moratorium on new extraction licences and entitlements for consumptive use across all catchments
  • Restoring flows to rivers sufficient to support ecological processes and allow rivers to function as living entities
  • Maintaining connectivity between headwaters and estuary, river channel and floodplain and surface water and groundwater
  • The strategy will need to be driven by far greater security for environmental outcomes, both in terms of volumes and quality of water in our rivers and wetlands. Allocations for the environment and First Nations must be secure in all rivers, with water recovered where no more is available.

Since the last strategies for the Central Region in 2006 and Gippsland Region in 2011 the health of our rivers has continued to go backwards with no overall improvement in condition.

The new strategy must do better and drive real change to halt the cycle of decline and let our rivers be rivers.

The Concerned Waterways Alliance consists of community and environmental groups committed to keeping the rivers, wetlands and aquifers of southern Victoria healthy for the benefit of current and future generations.

The Alliance has nearly 30 member groups across southern Victoria from East Gippsland to the Otways. The alliance published a Joint Statement earlier this year on the need for strong water reform from the SWS to protect our waterways.

Dr Bruce Lindsay, Senior Lawyer for Environmental Justice Australia said:

“This is a once in a decade opportunity to set the strategic direction for Victoria’s water resources. We welcome the opportunity to engage in the robust debate with government on the future of water management. The outcome must avoid pushing more and more waterways to their ecological limits and beyond them.”

Tyler Rotche, Healthy Rivers Campaigner for Environment Victoria said:

“Fundamentally, as both local and global science shows, the fate of our rivers and water resources in southern Victoria is in lock-step with climate change. Protecting rivers and restoring them to health is intrinsic to the buffers and resilience we need in confronting climate change. We need to keep water in landscapes, not just treat landscapes as criss-crossed by pipes and drains.”

John Forrester, Werribee Riverkeeper said:

“The rivers of southern Victoria are facing an almighty squeeze between reduced inflows due to climate change and already unsustainable demand for water. They are in desperate need of a fair share of their own water and just can’t take a ‘business as usual’ approach anymore.”

Dr Kaye Rodden from Friends of the Barwon said:

“Towns and cities must become more self-sufficient for water supply. The government must invest in stormwater harvesting, recycled water use and renewable powered desalination to take the pressure off rivers and aquifers to meet urban water needs.

“We have the tools to make our major cities generate their own water supply so water can be returned to rivers like the Yarra and the Barwon and their tributaries protected from flash flooding and ‘urban stream syndrome’. Climate change is driving this need to substitute new innovations in water supply to take the pressures off stressed rivers and wetlands.”

Tracey Anton from Friends of Latrobe Water said:

“Non-urban industries that have a major impact on water cycles and river health, such as irrigated agriculture and extractive industries, cannot consider themselves quarantined from the need to return water to rivers, the environment and Country, enable resilience in water systems, and avoid putting waterways in peril in the first place.”

Media contact: 03 8341 3110 (redirects to mobile)