Melbourne residents will be able to turn on a hose to green up their gardens any time of the day in a pre-election sweetener environment groups say will come at a cost to river systems.
The Victorian government on Monday announced that householders in the capital would be able to hand-water gardens at any time and wash cars at home when water restrictions are eased to stage 2 for the first time in four years.
Sprinkler systems can be used to water at designated times on alternate days.
The restrictions will be eased from level 3a to level 2 from September 1 following heavy rains and water storage levels rising to almost 40 per cent, their highest level in almost three years.
Lawns, however, still cannot be watered at any time with drinking water.
Environment Victoria chief executive Kelly O'Shanassy said reducing water restrictions would come at the cost of a healthy Yarra River, still 10 billion litres short of environmental flows promised by the state government in 2006.
"Everyone wants to see water restrictions eased, but not at the expense of the environment," Ms O'Shanassy said in a statement.
The Yarra was one of 15 Victorian rivers missing out on promised flows, she said.
"Ahead of the state election we need to see a plan from the government and opposition for providing Victorian rivers with the water they need to remain healthy," she said.
The easing of restrictions follows announcements in March and June allowing sports ovals to be watered for the first time in three years, gardens to be watered up to four times per week, and residents in regional Ballarat eased to stage 1 restrictions from stage 3.
Victoria's crippling drought has seen the construction of controversial infrastructure including the $750 million north-south pipeline between the Goulburn River and the Sugarloaf Reservoir on Melbourne's northeastern fringe, and the $3.5 billion Wonthaggi desalination plant in the state's southeast due for completion next year.
Premier John Brumby said the desalination plant was critical to the state's water security, despite the welcome recent rainfall.
"We would not be able to reduce restrictions without knowing that we've got Sugarloaf, without Tarago (Reservoir project) coming on board and without the certainty that desal brings in the future," he told reporters.
Opposition Leader Ted Baillieu said that despite the high rainfall, Victorians' water bills would increase to pay off the water projects.
"These changes are because it has been raining and Melbourne families have been saving water and have nothing to do with John Brumby," he said.
"Victorians will be paying for the desal plant and for the water for years to come."