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Report Card

The Yarra River and Port Phillip Bay Report Card was developed to report on the water quality at sites in Port Phillip Bay and its surrounding catchments. Click on the map or list below to explore.

Land Use




Water Quality Index

Very Good




Very Poor

Port Phillip Bay and catchments in context

Healthy river catchments and bay environments are important to a city’s liveability. The catchments and bay of the Port Phillip region are popular social and recreational areas, and are important to the livelihoods of farmers, fishers and businesses across Victoria.

Port Phillip Bay (the Bay) and the catchments that flow into it are interconnected ecosystems. The types of land uses in these catchments impact on water quality, both in the waterways of the catchment and in the Bay where the water ends up. Water quality in waterways is typically best in natural, forested areas, and tends to decline downstream as the surrounding environment becomes increasingly urbanised.

High levels of nutrients and sediment travel from the catchments into the Bay during heavy rainfall and can contribute to algal blooms, fish deaths and the alteration of seagrass habitat.

This Report Card was developed to report on the health of Port Phillip Bay and its associated catchments by looking at standard water quality parameters. Details about these parameters and how they are combined to provide overall score for water quality are available via the following links:

Report Card 2013-14

This Report Card provides a snapshot of water quality in the Bay and catchments from 1 July 2013 to 30 June 2014. The quality of the water is given an overall score by combining the results of a number of standard water quality parameters: nutrients, water clarity, dissolved oxygen, salinity, pH, metals and algae.

Summary Table: The table below shows the percent of the Bay and surrounding catchment in one of five ‘condition’ categories. See scoring method for more information.

Area Score

Very Good
Near-natural high quality waterways

Forested upper catchments and entrance to Port Phillip Bay


Meets Victorian water quality standards

Upper catchments and Port Phillip Bay


Some evidence of stress

Mostly main rivers and tributaries mid-catchment areas on the urban fringe


Under considerable stress

Mostly lower reaches of the main rivers and urban tributaries


Very Poor
Under severe stress

Mostly small urban tributaries

Routine monthly monitoring across 110 sites in the Bay and catchments represents 89 per cent of the total area. The remaining 11 per cent of unmonitored catchments are mostly rural and typically score as ‘Fair’ for this region.

What do the results mean?

The overall water quality scores across the Bay and catchments vary greatly depending on local catch use and development, but there is a general trend of declining water quality from the most upstream, ‘pristine’ areas, to the more urbanised downstream areas..

A good way to make sense of the results is to follow the flow of water down the catchments into Port Phillip Bay.

The upper areas of the Port Phillip Bay catchment area well forested, and the waterways tend to have ‘Good’ to ‘Very Good’ water quality because there is very little development that could impact on water quality.

Moving downstream, the waterways flow though rural areas. Here, vegetation-clearing around waterways, sediment runoff and use of agricultural chemicals can impact the waterways and reduce water quality. The water quality in these rural areas is usually ‘Fair’.

Towards the bottom of the catchment, waterways flow through a highly urbanised catchment before entering the bay. Water quality in these areas is often ‘Poor’ to ‘Very Poor’ due to the impacts of residential development and industry. Pollutants in urban areas include:

  • oils and hydrocarbons (fuels) from vehicles,
  • zinc from rubber tyres,
  • metals from industrial estates,
  • soil from construction sites,
  • nutrients from garden fertilisers
  • litter from our streets

Port Phillip Bay receives water from the rivers and drains across the Bellarine, Werribee, Maribyrnong, Yarra, Dandenong and Mornington catchments. Pollutants in this water have an impact on the Bay’s water quality where it enters. Areas of the Bay that are closer to mouths of rivers and drains have poorer water quality more often than areas that are further away.

We also know that weather can have a big impact on water quality, so it helps to look at what the weather was like over the reporting period for this Report Card. Between 1 July 2013 and 30 June 2014 the Port Phillip Bay region received slightly below-average (9 per cent below average) rainfall and it was very dry during summer (rainfall approximately 50 per cent below average) (source: Bureau of Meteorology, Melbourne Regional Office). These slightly dry conditions generally make for fairly stable water quality. So if we see any big changes from previous years, it’s likely due to a factor other than the weather.

Melbourne CBD Yarra River, Parks Vic

Yarra River, Melbourne CBD. Source: Parks Victoria

Changes over Time

Since the 1970s the Bureau of Meteorology has identified a long-term ‘drying’ trend in the Melbourne metropolitan region, which shows that the annual rainfall is decreasing by 50 mm every 10 years. This is one of the most significant rainfall declines across the state of Victoria.

Since 2000, we’ve seen the climate change from long-term drought (1998-2009), and move to generally wetter conditions thereafter. Increased flows in recent years have decreased salinity and increased dissolved oxygen in the waterways, which has generally resulted in improvements to water quality. These increased flows have also transported more pollutants such as sediment and nutrients to the Bay, but despite this, Bay water quality is also improving. These improvements are likely due to a combination of factors including relatively moderate rainfall (i.e. not as low as drought levels but not as high as in 2010/11) and a reduction in the amount of nutrients sewerage treatment plants discharge into the Bay.

Notably, the Dandenong and Mornington catchments have consistently shown ‘Poor’ to ‘Very Poor’ water quality regardless of improvements to water quality in other regions. In these catchments, waterways tend to be small and highly modified from their previous natural state, making them more susceptible to the impacts of urban and industrial land use and the pollution that these land uses bring.

Click on the map above for further details about water quality in each catchment.

Plot of score history for catchments and bay

Plot of score history for catchments and bay

Program Partners

Department of Environment and Primary Industries Environmental Protection Agency Melbourne Water