Blog | 2nd Sep, 2010

Let’s improve the Victorian Water Act so it guarantees a fair share of water for our rivers.

On the first day of Spring, we launched our report Bringing the Victorian Water Act into the 21st Century.

That same day, the Brumby government (yet again) relaxed water restrictions for Melbourne, without first giving our rivers a fair share of total available rainfall and water in dams.

This inequity is one reason why together with the Environment Defenders Office, we’ve had a good look at the Victorian Water Act. In short, the Act does not yet guarantee enough water for our rivers, which despite all the recent rain, are suffering from years of too much water being taken out. 

The way things stand, the Act needs to be brought into the 21st Century. It was first written in the 1880s when irrigation was developing in northern Victoria.

There have of course been various amendments since then, but our rivers and environment are suffering by the Act’s long-standing focus upon and prioritisation of consumptive water.

Some ask “So, do you want greater protection for environmental water?” No, not greater protection, just the same protection for environmental water as consumptive water enjoys. This means a fair share for Victorian rivers of rainfall and water in our dams.

Professor Lee Godden, Director of the Centre for Resources, Energy and Environmental Law at Melbourne University, spoke to the report, and commended its recommendations. She reminded us all that law reform, coupled with support for community expectations that the state government manage water well, will be a necessary component of rescuing Victoria’s rivers.

Almost forty river health specialists, enthusiasts and advocates gathered to hear Nicola Rivers, Director of Policy and Law Reform at the Environment Defenders Office, discuss a subset of the nine recommendations in the report.

One of our key proposed reforms is to establish ‘sustainable basefows’ for our rivers.


Years of unsustainable practices including land-clearing and over-extraction of water for agriculture have left Victorian rivers, wetlands and estuaries stressed and degraded.

Before it’s too late, we need to ensure they are supported by having enough water retained in them. They can then, in turn, continue support urban and regional water users alike.

We believe that legally enforceable ‘sustianable baseflows’ for Victorian rivers should be set aside as a share of total inflows to maintain ecosystem health. They would be the minimum required amount of water to maintain and promote freshwater biodiversity. They would vary in volume and timing, depending on total inflows and water available, natural flow regimes, seasonal flows and fluxes, and species and habitat requirements.

An important aspect of this ‘sustainable baseflow’ recommendation is that rather than having the amount of water that goes to the environment being based on what’s left over after other water entitlements have been met, our rivers would get a share of available inflows based on sustainability criteria. We’d like to see them moved up the priority list in the sharing of this precious resource – water.

You can have a read our report Bringing the Victorian Water Act into the 21st Century here, and I encourage you to use our handy two-page guide to our report and its recommendations to call for a fair share of water for our rivers.

This election year, we need to Rescue Our Rivers. ‘Sustainable baseflows’ will make the most difference to the provision of environmental water, and to rescuing our rivers.

Add your voice to the call