Managing Victoria’s water resources

Where does our water come from? What is the Millennium Drought? How do we manage our water resources?

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Did you know Victoria has a number of different types of water resources?

In the Victorian Water Accounts, we report on surface water, groundwater, recycled water and desalinated water.

Surface Water

Surface water is exactly what it sounds like – water found on the surface. Surface water occurs or flows on land, in waterways such as rivers, creeks and streams, and in bodies of water such as lakes, reservoirs, dams and wetlands.


Groundwater is found in the spaces and fractures in rock and sediment underneath the ground's surface. Groundwater forms part of the earth's water cycle when water or snowmelt slowly seeps from the surface and reaches the water table to form groundwater.

Recycled Water

Recycled water comes from sewerage systems or industry processes and is treated to a standard appropriate for its intended use.

Desalinated Water

Desalinated water is seawater that has been treated by removing dissolved salts. Desalinated water has a range of different uses, including as drinking water when water storages are low.

In September 2009, construction started on the Victorian Desalination Project (VDP) at Wonthaggi, to supplement Melbourne’s water supply. Construction was completed in December 2012. The first order from the VDP was made in March 2016 by the Minister for Water.

The VDP uses reverse osmosis technology to remove salt and other minerals from seawater to create high quality drinking water.

The VDP is not dependent on rainfall and can supply up to 150 gigalitres of high quality drinking water a year. That’s around one third of Melbourne’s annual water consumption.

It includes a two-way underground transfer pipeline that connects the plant to Melbourne's water network through a delivery point at Berwick and transfer main to Cardinia Reservoir. Offtakes are included along the pipeline so that areas in South Gippsland and Western Port can access the water from the plant or Cardinia Reservoir if required.

Who manages Victoria’s water?

Water Corporations

In Victoria we have 19 water corporations who provide a range of water services to customers in their areas.

For more information about water corporations, visit

16 of these are for urban water supply, sewage and trade waste disposal.

6 of these are rural, providing water supply, drainage, domestic and stock water and managing salinity for irrigation.

Grampians Wimmera Mallee Water, Coliban Water and Lower Murray Water function as both an urban and rural water corporation.

Melbourne Water provides bulk water supply and sewerage services to water corporations in the Melbourne metropolitan area. Its other responsibilities include:

  • managing rivers, creeks and major drainage systems in the Melbourne, Port Phillip and Westernport regions, developing and implementing management plans on behalf of the Minister
  • administering the diversion of water from waterways
  • supplying recycled water, through a number of retail water corporations, for irrigation and other purposes.

Catchment management authorities

Victoria is divided into 10 catchment and land protection regions, each reflecting the unique biophysical qualities of its area.

For more information about CMAs, visit

In each region, a catchment management authority (CMA) is responsible for integrated catchment management in conjunction with local communities. Integrated catchment management is the coordinated management of land, water and biodiversity resources and incorporates environmental, economic and social considerations.

Water Entitlements

Who can take and use water from our water systems and how is this managed?

Victoria's water resources are managed under a water entitlement framework which balances demands for water for both consumption and environmental purposes.

A water entitlement is the right to take, use, extract or have water that may be limited by conditions. Different entitlements are necessary depending on where and how water is taken, and what it is used for.

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Managing resources and responding to water availability

All water resources are managed in accordance with the Victorian Water Act 1989 and statewide policy.

The amount of water available for consumptive use and environmental purposes varies from year to year.

The Water Entitlement Framework ensures we conserve and share water when there are water shortages, through strategies such as urban water restrictions and seasonal allocations.

Lessons from the Millennium Drought

Millenium Drought Graph

Between 1996 and 2010, Victoria experienced unprecedented dry conditions – a period now known as the Millennium Drought.

These 13 consecutive years of drought, including the lowest annual inflows to storages ever recorded (2006-7), resulted in conditions well outside the boundaries within which water supply systems and water-sharing rules across Victoria were designed to operate.

What happened during the Millennium Drought?

What has the Millennium Drought taught us?

Victoria’s water management frameworks were tested by the Millennium Drought.

It has brought about changes in how water is managed in Victoria, to ensure water supply security in the future.

What kind of changes?

The Millennium Drought has highlighted that we can’t assume that climate is static or predictable.

Guidelines for urban water supply/demand strategies focus on scenario planning and adaptive management to ensure water supply security into the future.

Monitoring and Reporting

The information we gather through monitoring helps us to make informed water resource management decisions.

In Victoria, data is collected from around 1400 groundwater sites and around 780 surface water monitoring sites.

What do we use the data for?