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Yarra Watch 2015–16 summer highlights report


The Yarra River is widely used for recreational activities such as boating and swimming throughout summer.*

Environment Protection Authority Victoria (EPA), in partnership with Melbourne Water, runs the Yarra Watch program, which forecasts and monitors recreational water quality at four sites along the Yarra River – Kew, Warrandyte, Healesville and Launching Place.

The summer season ran from 1 December 2015 until 10 April in 2016.

* Please note that it is illegal to swim in the Yarra downstream of Gipps Street, Abbotsford. Kew at Chandler Highway Bridge is the only Yarra Watch site in the Lower Yarra where it is legal to swim.

How did swimming spots along the Yarra perform?

Location Objective
Launching Place

Warrandyte had the best water quality for swimming, meeting our water quality objective for swimming. Launching Place, Healesville and Kew did not meet the objectives this summer. This does not mean these swimming spots were unsafe for swimming the whole season, but they did experience a higher number of days with poorer water quality which can increase the risk of disease to swimmers. These locations had higher bacterial levels which can sometimes be related to stormwater runoff during and after rain. Bacterial levels in Launching Place and Healesville can also be variable during dry weather. While we did not find specific pollution sources, higher bacterial levels during these periods can come from a range of sources such as leaking septic tanks and animal faeces (e.g., birds or agricultural livestock). EPA and Melbourne Water will continue to monitor these sites closely next summer.

All sites meet objectives for secondary contact recreation (i.e., boating, rowing, canoeing).

Yarra River water quality affected by weather

Yarra River sites: water quality objectives and trends for swimming.

Swimming objectives met?

2013–14 2014–15 2015–16 Water quality trend
Launching Place No change
Healesville Variable
Warrandyte No change
Kew Variable

Water quality in the Yarra River has varied over the last three seasons, with stormwater pollution after rain being the most common factor determining whether a Yarra site meets the objective for swimming.

Healesville was less safe for swimming than in 2014–15 due to bacterial levels in water at Healesville continuing to be variable, with water quality at times posing an increased risk of disease to swimmers. The variability may be due to stormwater runoff or dry weather pollution sources (e.g., leaking septic tanks or animal faeces). EPA only provided a forecast of either ‘Fair’ or ‘Poor’ at this site (no ‘Good’ forecasts) due to the variability of the water quality.

Kew did not meet the objective this season. This is related to how stormwater pollution affects bacterial water quality. This site can be susceptible to stormwater pollution after rain due to its location downstream of stormwater drains and tributaries to the Yarra.

What information do we gather about the Yarra River?

The information we report on this website and through Twitter includes the following:

  • Water quality forecasts – 
    • These are reported twice daily.
    • Forecasts of ‘Good’, ‘Fair’ or ‘Poor’ are given for each location to inform decisions about recreational use.
    • They are based on weather forecasts, observations and warnings, water quality history, and weekly water sampling results.
  • Weekly water quality monitoring –
    • Samples are analysed for the presence of E. coli bacteria, which indicates that water may not be safe for recreational use due to an increase risk of disease to swimmers from water quality.
    • If it’s not considered safe to swim, the public are notified on the website and Twitter.
    • EPA works with local councils and water authorities to investigate the source of water pollution.
    • These samples are used to assess whether the site has met the end-of-season water quality objectives for swimming.
  • Alerts about pollution incidents, fish deaths and algal blooms – 
    • Water quality alerts are given all year round.
    • Alerts are based on reports from the community, businesses and government, and EPA or other responding agency.

Pollution can be reported at any time to EPA on 1300 372 842.

What influenced water quality and forecasts this summer?

Weather events impacting Yarra River water quality

Yarra River

During rain events, pollutants in runoff wash down stormwater channels and into the Yarra River, making it unsafe for swimming from increased risk of illness.

When a rain event happened, Yarra Watch informed the public by issuing a water quality forecast of ‘Poor’, advising the public to avoid swimming near stormwater outlets after rain.

These ‘Poor’ forecasts were mainly issued during periods of heavy rain. These occurred around late December 2015, late January, early-mid March and early April 2016.

What else impacted water quality over the summer?

There were four water quality alerts issued for the Yarra River, with two in the lower Yarra where it is illegal to swim:

  • A pollution alert was issued on 16 December 2015 for the Yarra after a silt discharge was reported near Flinders Walk, Elizabeth Street in Melbourne CBD. After investigation, the most likely source was a burst water main, although this could not be confirmed.
  • On 20 December 2015 a pollution alert was issued after foam was reportedly discharging from a drain into the Yarra River at Yarraford Avenue, Alphington. The source of the foam could not be located.
  • On 26 January 2016 a pollution alert was issued after an oil film was reported in the Yarra River near Queens Bridge, Southbank. The source of the oil film could not be located.
  • On 7 April 2016 the results of weekly water quality monitoring showed high E. coli levels at Kew and Warrandyte. These elevated results were linked to heavy rainfall in the region shortly prior to and during sampling.

Alerts were removed after the pollution could not be detected or was no longer visible. Pollution to rivers and creeks can be difficult to investigate as EPA relies on timely public reports of pollution and for the pollution to still be occurring when EPA officers arrive at the scene. Pollution should be reported to the EPA hotline on 1300 372 842..

Yarra Watch Fast Facts

  • The water quality forecast breakdown was ‘Good’ 47% of the time, ‘Fair’ 30% and ‘Poor’ 23%.
  • During the summer there were four water quality alerts issued for the Yarra River.
  • The most water quality alerts were issued for Merri Creek in the north of Melbourne. Other tributaries to the Yarra River, such as Darebin, Stony and Gardiners Creek were also issued with a higher number of alerts than other waterways.
  • Forecasts were provided to more than 3000 followers on Twitter.

Future directions

EPA Yarra Watch will continue to work with Melbourne Water to better understand and track pollution sources that cause water quality to be unsafe for swimming.

EPA is working with selected councils to erect permanent information signs at swimming holes. These aim to educate swimmers about the risks of swimming after rainfall so they can make an informed choice. During future seasons, temporary signage will be placed at swimming holes when sampling shows very high and unexplained levels of the bacteria known to increase risk of disease to swimmers from poor water quality.

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