Blog | 17th Nov, 2021

Will our rivers survive climate change? The government's answer is “maybe” (and that’s not good enough)

Southern Victoria’s rivers are already stressed, but a new draft water strategy makes their survival dependent on ‘manufactured’ water that doesn’t even exist yet.  

That’s not good enough. Our rivers, fish and beloved animals like the platypus need their survival guaranteed, not a noncommittal ‘maybe’. We must aim higher than just narrowly avoiding total catastrophe.

Join us in calling on the Victorian government to make river health a priority in their new Sustainable Water Strategy. With the right leadership now, we can stop too much being taken from our rivers and ensure they have a future under a hotter, drier climate. But we need your help to make this happen.

Help make the sustainable water strategy better

In this blog:

  1. Why is a plan to manage our rivers so important?
  2. What is the Sustainable Water Strategy?
  3. How does the plan fail our rivers?
  4. Why is connectivity so important for healthy rivers?
  5. What does a better plan look like?
  6. How to get involved?
  7. What do we need to do now? 3 key solutions

1. Why is a plan to manage our rivers so important?

As population growth drives ever increasing demand for water, we are also facing the consequences of a damaged climate, where less and less water is flowing into our rivers.

These trends are intensifying, and we need to think carefully about how we use water, where we get it from and the impact that has on our rivers, local communities and environment.

Click to read more about the impacts of climate change and population growth

2. What is the Sustainable Water Strategy?

The Sustainable Water Strategy (SWS) deals with the next 50 years of water management for southern Victoria. This is a region stretching from the Great Divide to the coast, from East Gippsland to the Otways.

Click to read more about how the plan aims to address decreasing water supply and increasing demand

3. How does the plan fail our rivers?

In this deal, water for rivers is far from guaranteed. Instead of a plan to increase river flows, waterways are dependent on the leftovers after industries and cities have had their fill.

The best the government’s draft strategy can say is this: if other sources come online and if other industries have had their fill and if there is more water available … it could maybe flow through rivers.

Click to read more about why water for rivers isn’t guaranteed in the plan

4. Why is connectivity so important for healthy rivers?

One foundation of a thriving river is connectivity. It is connected from upstream to downstream; from the channel to the floodplain forests over the banks; and between surface water and groundwater.

When we extract too much water and don’t sustain these processes, it threatens the entire river system and landscape. A river without connectivity means a river without fish, platypus, waterbirds, shade, quality water and healthy soil.

Click to read more about the ecological importance of a connected river system

5. What does a better plan for our rivers look like?

In summary, the draft Sustainable Water Strategy presents a big ‘maybe’. If we can grow our water supplies to sustain nearly double today’s demand, then maybe there will be some water leftover to flow through rivers.

What we need instead is a plan that works backwards from waterway health. This is the approach that was put forward (but only half-heartedly implemented) in the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.

Click to read more about the steps the Victorian government could take to let our rivers be rivers

6. How to get involved

The Victorian government will finalise their plan in the middle of this year, which will set our rivers up for the next 50 years of water management.

The survival of our rivers and the incredible diversity of life they support rivers is something that affects us all. That’s why we’ve been working with community groups across the state to stand up for our local rivers and show Minister Neville just how many Victorians want to see them protected.

Together, we’ve created an Open Letter, calling on Water Minister Lisa Neville to prioritise healthy rivers in the Sustainable Water Strategy. Add your name to the Open Letter >>

By standing together, we can influence a better plan and make sure our rivers have the water they need to survive and thrive – long into the future.

sign the open letter

7. What do we need to do now? 3 key solutions

1. We need to stop taking more water from our rivers, which means a ban on any new licences to extract water.

We know there will be population growth across our region, but this cannot result in more water taken from our rivers. We’ll need to get it from other sources: fit-for-purpose water treatment, desalination and efficiency.

2. We need targets to get our rivers flowing – not just to keep them alive but to let rivers be rivers.

We have to do more than narrowly avoiding catastrophe. This means setting targets based on restoring the foundational conditions for waterway health, like connectivity from the channel to wetlands and floodplains.

3. We need guaranteed water for rivers.

The survival of our rivers can’t depend on yet-to-be-invented technological fixes happening elsewhere. Some of this should come from water that we know exists – which means all water recovery and restructuring options need to be on the table.