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The Victorian Government has released the Yarra River Action Plan, which outlines $580 million of initiatives to improve the health of the Yarra River over the long-term.

The Action Plan outlines the priority projects including: reducing stormwater pollution, improving sewage management, tackling the litter problem, improving water quality, and addressing rural run-off.

So, did our Yarra get the 20 billion litres of water it was promised? No. Instead our Yarra River has almost 100,000 million litres less water flowing down it than it did 10 years ago.

More water is being taken from The Yarra River to supplement Melbourne’s drinking and household supplies.

But tapping into the Yarra has come at a high environmental cost, with reduced flows preventing toxins from being properly flushed from the river. The result? The river is slowly turning stagnant.

The government argues that the river and consumers must share the burden during drought. But the reality is that whilst use is now 80 per cent of 1990s’ levels, the Yarra’s annual flow is only 22 per cent of its long-term average level, says Ian Penrose, Yarra Riverkeeper.

This means that flows in the Yarra are down from an annual average of 804 billion litres (based on records between 1964 to 2003), to 88 billion litres.

‘Ahhh, so what?’, you might be thinking. A stagnant and toxic Yarra means less oxygen in the water, which means a loss of habitat for native plants and animals, including native fish and other aquatic life. It will also mean algal blooms which are dangerous to animals and dangerous to us.

It’ll be a Yarra without life. Just smelly, brown slush: no babbling brooks, no trickling creeks, and no rushing falls.

‘Sustainability means ensuring that future generations have no less access to nature’s assets than current generations, so depleting the Yarra further is not a sustainable water strategy. The river can never be healthy until water extraction levels are reduced.’

 Ian Penrose, Yarra Riverkeeper.