The waterways of the Corangamite region are diverse and complex ecosystems and the ‘lifeblood’ of many communities. They have unique environmental values, providing habitat for native fish, invertebrates and water birds, while supporting extensive vegetation communities. They also have strong cultural and historic significance, are a focal point for recreation and tourism, and their catchments provide our community with water for drinking, irrigation and industry.

There are approximately 19,600 km of waterways in the Corangamite Region. The Otway National Park contains some of the most naturally intact waterways in Australia, featuring good water quality. In contrast, other waterways (such as the Moorabool and Woady Yaloak rivers) have experienced significant degradation and now exhibit poor water quality. 

Waterways act as connections between catchments, aquifers, riparian zones (streamside environments), estuaries, and the marine environment, and their health and functioning can substantially impact upon these dependent ecosystems. Since European settlement, human interactions with waterways, through changes in and intensification of land use, as well as modification of the natural environment, have led to altered water flows and a decline in waterway health.  

Bushland stream

The Corangamite region consists of four drainage basins that reflect the geology and landscape evolution of the region. These basins are:

Moorabool Basin – includes the Moorabool River, which is the major river system flowing through the east of the region, and Hovells Creek, a small creek system that rises in the southern foothills of the You Yangs and flows into Corio Bay.

Barwon Basin – includes the Barwon River, which rises in the northern slopes of the Otway Range, and the Leigh River, which begins in the central Victorian uplands around Ballarat, joining the Barwon River at Inverleigh.

Lake Corangamite Basin – a landlocked system that includes the Woady Yaloak River and a number of small ephemeral creeks feeding Lake Corangamite, as well as other significant lakes and wetlands.

Otway Coast Basin– includes the Curdies River, which occupies the western section, the Gellibrand, Aire, and numerous small coastal streams which occupy the central Otways, and the Erskine River, Spring and Thompson creeks, which flow through the eastern section.

Corangamite drainage basins map

Management of the region’s waterways is guided by the Corangamite Waterway Strategy 2014-2022 which sets out a plan for the conservation and restoration of all water bodies in the region (including wetlands and estuaries). Waterway management in Corangamite has a strong community-based program history, through Landcare, WaterWatch and EstuaryWatch initiatives. These volunteer initiatives are especially important, given that 78% of the region is under private ownership.

The Corangamite Waterway Strategy focuses on the management, maintenance and improvement of all waterways within the region, recognising the importance of waterways as a connection between catchments, aquifers, streamside vegetation, estuaries and the marine environment, at the same time acknowledging the strong influence land use and catchment condition have in this context. Integrated catchment management also brings together people, ideas and practices across land tenure boundaries and a range of natural resource management themes.

The Corangamite Regional Floodplain Management Strategy outlines how the ecological and cultural values of the natural floodplains can be protected while also managing the risks to life, property and assets associated with flooding. Corangamite Flood Portal has flood related information for individual properties and the region.

Given the importance of waterways to the Wadawurrung and Eastern Maar Traditional Owners, it is important that they have a strong voice in how they are managed. Opportunities for management and use of water by Wadawurrung and Eastern Maar people for cultural, economic, tourism and business opportunities need to be explored and implemented. Developing enduring partnerships with the Wadawurrung and Eastern Maar people will help to ensure their voice is not only heard but used to develop and implement jointly agreed goals for priority waterways in the region.

Waterways also support a range of human “amenity” values related to the quality of the sensory visitor experience. The amenity values of waterways are defined by the experience of naturalness, escape and safety and the built infrastructure designed to enhance these experiences. For instance waterways support many recreational activities such as walking, cycling, boating and cultural heritage education. Visitors to waterways have different expectations on the types of recreational activities catered for, the feeling of naturalness that they would like to see and the absence or presence of facilities, signage and access to various river lengths. Therefore, planning waterway amenity should be driven by community expectations, the existing natural features of each waterway and the current infrastructure and recreational activities catered for. Careful planning is required to ensure that along any one waterway, there are a variety of amenity values catering for different user experiences.