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Werribee Catchment

Land Use

Urban

Rural

Forest

Water Quality Index

Very Good

Good

Fair

Poor

Very Poor

See the ‘Werribee Catchment’ page for a detailed description of the catchment.

Report Card for July 2014 – June 2015

This Report Card provides an overview of water quality in Werribee catchment from 1 July 2014 to 30 June 2015. The quality of the water is given an overall score by combining the results of six standard water quality parameters: nutrients, water clarity (turbidity), dissolved oxygen, salinity (conductivity), pH (acidity/alkalinity) and metals.

In 2014–15 the water quality in the Werribee catchment was ‘Fair’.

Summary Table: The table below shows the percentage of the Werribee catchment that falls into each scoring category. See scoring method for more information.

Area Score
0%

Very Good
Near-natural high quality waterways

21%

Good
Meets Victorian water quality standards

The Lerderderg River in the upper catchment

36%

Fair
Some evidence of stress

The Werribee River and rural areas in the upper and mid-catchment

19%

Poor
Under considerable stress

Small creeks in rural areas and the lower catchment

24%

Very Poor
Under severe stress

Smaller creeks that drain industrial areas in the lower catchment

The routine monitoring across 13 sites give us information for about 57 per cent of the catchment. Approximately 16 per cent of the catchment was not included due to incomplete data due to the drying of waterways in the catchment or unsafe site access. The remaining 27 per cent of unmonitored catchment is mostly rural, which would typically score as ‘Fair’ for this region.

See the Monitoring Programs page for changes to the monitoring program.

The section Changes over time’ compares these annual index scores and indicators with Werribee’s scores from previous Report Cards (since 2000). Results can also be compared to other catchments.

Site-specific details about parameters can be accessed via the map.

What does this mean?

The water quality in the Werribee catchment is ‘Fair’. We can see a clear pattern throughout the Werribee catchment, where the water quality scores reflect the impacts of climate and various land uses.

Several stream locations in the upper Werribee which historically display ‘Good’ to ’Very Good’ water quality dried up during the year, resulting in their exclusion from the assessment. The exclusion is based on the lack of data from these sites and it is expected that the return of water to these streams will result in an improvement to the catchment’s overall rating.

In the upper Werribee catchment, the near natural areas in the Lerderderg State Park usually have ‘Good’ to ‘Very Good’ water quality due to minimal human impact, whilst the rural streams in the upper and middle catchment typically score ‘Fair’. In rural locations, streams flowing though farm land often have been heavily cleared of vegetation which means that sediment and nutrient runoff can enter the waterways. Additionally, nutrients can enter waterways from livestock damaging creeks and river banks, and through discharges from septic tanks.

As the waterways of the Werribee catchment flow into the more populated and industrial regions of the lower catchment, water quality declines further. This is largely due large volumes of stormwater draining off hard surfaces into waterways when it rains, carrying sediment and other pollutants (such as metals) into waterways from roads, industrial, and intensive agriculture areas. The water quality in these areas is generally ‘Poor’ to ‘Very Poor’.

Events

Short-lived environmental and extreme weather events can impact water quality in waterways. Long-term dry spells can result in reduced river flows, increases in salinity and algal blooms, while heavy rainfalls can cause flooding and river bank erosion, and can wash sediments, nutrients and pollutants into waterways.

Below average rainfall was observed in 2014–15. The Bureau of Meteorology (BoM – 2016) noted just three events during the year when significant rainfall (21mm – 40 mm) was recorded.

In early February, a blue-green algae bloom developed in the Werribee River, downstream of the Maltby Bypass and persisted for several weeks. The algal bloom dissipated following an environmental flow release of approximately 140 million litres into the Werribee River from Melton Reservoir. The algal bloom returned in late April, but dispersed by mid-May after seasonal rain and cooler temperatures.

Five environmental flows with a total of 894 million litres of water were released in the Werribee catchment. Two releases were made from Merrimu Reservoir into Pyrites Creek but these did not continue to flow downstream from Melton Reservoir. One of these releases provided several months of baseflow to provide habitat for aquatic species as natural river flow was absent due to the dry conditions. The second release was to improve habitat for aquatic species by scouring sediments. Three releases from Melton Reservoir into the Werribee River were to improve water quality in the lower reaches and to promote the downstream migration of native fish to the estuary.

Environmental flows improve water quality and habitat for aquatic species, boost recreational fishing, increase waterbird and wildlife numbers and improve the amenity of local waterways for people to enjoy.

Bar chart of WQI and indicator scores for Werribee Catchment. Bar chart of WQI and indicator scores for Werribee Catchment.

Werribee River. Source: Melbourne Water Werribee River. Source: Melbourne Water

Werribee River, Werribee Gorge. Source: Melbourne Water Werribee River, Werribee Gorge. Source: Melbourne Water

Changes over time

Water quality scores for the Werribee catchment from 2000 to present, show a trend of an overall improvement in water quality. During this time, changes in water quality can be attributed to both climatic and human activities.

During times of low rainfall, stream condition may appear to be good as there are little or no inputs from runoff, resulting in lower levels of nutrients and pollutants and improved water clarity. However, reduced water levels and dissolved oxygen levels, at these times can decrease overall water quality. In its “natural” state the streams of the Werribee catchment would regularly dry during low rainfall years leaving remnant pools were ground water meets the surface.

More sustained river flows occurred after the drought broke in 2009–10, continuing into 2010–11, resulting in an increase in nutrients and pollutants entering the waterways, which slightly reduced the water quality. Gradual water quality improvements under average climatic conditions occurred up to 2013–14.

2014–15 saw the onset of dry conditions, the drying out of the Werribee catchment and a subsequent decline in water quality. This decline was observed in the upper Werribee River and the small waterways of Kororoit and Skeleton Creek. Several sites in the upper Werribee River dried up completely during the year due to the low rainfall, resulting in their exclusion from the assessment. It is expected the return of water to these streams will result in an improved catchment WQI score.

Plot of WQI history for Werribee Catchment Plot of WQI history for Werribee Catchment

Actions

What's happened?

Government agencies, local councils and the community have implemented the following initiatives to improve waterway health in the Werribee catchment:

  • Victorian Environmental Water Holder issued a seasonal watering statement authorising Melbourne Water to 894 million litres for environmental purpose in the Werribee River. Melbourne Water released five environmental flows into the Werribee River system. One of these releases in the upper catchment provided several months of baseflow to provide habitat for aquatic species as natural river flow was absent due to the dry conditions. The remaining four releases were to improve water quality and habitat for aquatic species and to promote the downstream migration of native fish.

Melbourne Water

  • Planted 19 kilometres of native vegetation, maintained 452 kilometres of native vegetation and installed 7 kilometres of stock exclusion fencing.
  • Removed 3500 cubic metres of silt and sediment, and removed 2100 cubic metres of litter and debris from waterways that were affecting basins in the Werribee catchment.
  • Constructed a new fishway in the Werribee River to support the migration of native fish species.
  • Conducted fortnightly blue-green algae monitoring during the summer period at two sites to manage health risks to people and animals.
  • Partnered with local councils to construct water-sensitive urban-designed rain gardens, bioswales and other integrated water management projects to capture stormwater for treatment and reuse.
  • Worked with landholders to implement on-farm practices and on-ground works to reduce pollutants and runoff into waterways, and to remove stock access to waterways.

Environment Protection Authority Victoria (EPA)

  • The $2 million 2014-2017 Litter Hotspots grants program was introduced by EPA in 2014. This program is led by the Melbourne Waste and Resource Recovery Group, working with local councils and community groups to find local litter solutions.

For more information on projects and works in the Werribee catchment please see the Waterways Local Updates.

What's planned?

A number of priority areas and actions have been identified in the Werribee catchment that will build on existing projects and initiatives. Future priority management actions include:

  • Melbourne Water implementing their 'Healthy Waterways Strategy and Stormwater Strategy’. These strategies cover the five years from 2013–14 to 2017–18 and contain information about planned actions to improve the health of rivers and creeks in the Werribee catchment.
  • Continuing to deliver environmental water entitlements in the Werribee waterways.
  • EPA hotspots investigations into high-risk waterways.
  • Roll out of the Litter Hotspots grants program.

Compare to other Catchments

The following figures show a comparison of scores for each identified water quality indicator in the catchments and Port Phillip Bay.

Diagram of nutrient score history for catchments and bay

Diagram of oxygen score history for catchments and bay

Diagram of water clarity score history for catchments and bay

Diagram of salinity score history for catchments and bay

Diagram of score history for catchments and bay

Diagram of metals score history for catchments and bay

Program Partners

Department of Environment and Primary Industries Environmental Protection Agency Melbourne Water