Protecting water quality in a catchment area

If you are a resident living in a Central Highlands Water catchment area it’s vital that you're aware of how everyday actions can impact the local surface water and groundwater aquifers that are the source of the drinking water we supply to our customers.

In order to secure the best water quality possible from within our water supply catchments, we ask that you follow some simple guidelines:

On the farm

  • Apply chemicals in accordance with manufacturer’s recommendations
  • Reduce the flow of fertilisers, soil nutrients and agricultural chemicals into waterways when it rains heavily – this also includes livestock manure – by not overgrazing and utilising reticulated water supplies
  • Maintain vegetation – trees, shrubs and groundcovers – along waterways
  • Limit stock access to waterway vegetation alongside creek beds by fencing off areas and provide adequate shade in grazing paddocks

Septic tanks

  • Conduct ongoing care and maintenance of your septic tank system to ensure it functions correctly
  • Inspect your septic tank regularly to ensure it doesn’t build up sludge and overflow
  • Clean your septic tank at regular intervals
  • Protect the land receiving liquid waste from septic lines from vehicle movement and overgrazing

Disposing of rubbish

  • Think before disposing of any type of rubbish to ensure that it is disposed of appropriately as it often ends up in a waterway

Recreational activities

  • When pursuing recreational activities (whether you’re in a car or four wheel drive, on a motorcycle or a horse) be sure to follow sign posted directions, remain on marked tracks and camp in designated areas.



What is a drinking water catchment area?

A catchment is an area where water is collected by the natural landscape. In a catchment, all rain and surface water eventually flows to a creek, river, lake or ocean, or into the groundwater system.

Natural and human systems such as rivers, bushland, farms, dams, homes, plants, animals and people can co-exist in a catchment.

Healthy catchments provide:

  • a source of clean drinking water
  • unspoilt natural areas for recreation
  • habitat for plants and animals
  • healthy vegetation and waterways
  • reliable and clean water for stock and irrigation
  • opportunities for sustainable agriculture and industry.

How can waterways in catchment areas affect public health?

Drinking water for many Central Highlands towns is sourced from natural waterways. If this source becomes contaminated, the safety of our drinking water supplies can be affected.

The hazards include:

  • disease causing organisms
  • chemicals
  • sediment and nutrients

Pathogens in drinking water pose a serious risk to human health. Farm animal waste (faeces) contain disease-causing microorganisms (pathogens). If they contaminate our drinking water these pathogens can cause serious outbreaks of disease.

Heavy rainfall can wash large amounts of chemicals, soil, manure and rubbish into waterways. When managed correctly, the land and vegetation immediately alongside waterways, known as the “riparian area”, naturally filters and reduces the amount of contaminants entering waterways.

Good land management in water catchments leads to better water quality at the source which has a significant impact on drinking water quality.

Who is responsible for protecting our waterways?

Protecting our waterways is a responsibility shared by government, industry, business, communities and individuals.

Landholders, in particular, have a responsibility to manage their activities to avoid polluting waterways.

I'm a farmer, what can I do to protect water quality in the catchment area?

Farms generally make up a large proportion of water catchment areas so it's important that sustainable farm management practices are used to protect water quality.

Stock accessing natural waterways depletes surrounding vegetation, introduces stock faeces and increases the risk of erosion.

Maintaining healthy riparian vegetation (trees, shrubs and groundcovers) along waterways can help to:

  • filter sediments and other contaminants washing off surrounding paddocks
  • stabilise creekbeds to prevent erosion
  • support and create habitat for native wildlife.

Where stock rely on streams and rivers to access water, disturbance to the soil and vegetation can be minimised  by limiting stock access to waterways vegetation and pumping water to troughs.

To reduce the flow of fertilisers, soil nutrients and livestock manure into waterways don't overgraze and utilise reticulated water supplies.

Agricultural chemicals should always be applied in accordance with the labels recommendations. When used properly, agricultural chemicals are retained by the soil and are unlikely to contaminate water supplies.

Your local Landcare group can also provide practical advice about how best to integrate farming with good environmental management practices. They also provide access to incentive opportunities for environmental and sustainable farming projects.

What if I have a septic tank on my land?

Septic tanks and other types of sewage management systems need to be properly located, well constructed and receive ongoing maintenance to ensure they don't pollute waterways and groundwater supplies.

It's important your tank be inspected regularly to ensure sludge (solid waste) doesn't overflow - septic tanks generally need cleaning out every three to four years. 

Protect the effluent disposal field (land receiving liquid waste from septic lines) from vehicle movement and overgrazing so that the ground properly absorbs the liquid waste.

There are tight controls on developing land in drinking water catchment areas as they pose a significant threat to both surface water and groundwater supplies. Prior to purchasing land and planning to build, contact the town planning department of your local council to find out what controls apply to the land.

If you suspect that your septic tank system is not operating correctly, seek advice from a licensed plumber with experience in wastewater treatment systems or talk to your local shire’s environmental health officer.

I live in a township, how does this affect waterways?

Stormwater that runs off roads, roofs, pavements and gutters eventually finds its way “untreated” into our waterways. Stormwater can become very polluted by the time it reaches a waterway. Nutrients from animal faeces, leaves and garden fertilisers can be found while heavy metals can be collected from road surfaces.

More than 80% of litter in waterways originates from irresponsible disposal of litter or rubbish around shopping malls, milk bars and factories. It is important to be thoughtful when disposing of any type of rubbish as it could easily end up in a waterway.

What about recreational activities?

When pursuing recreational activities in drinking water catchment areas, follow sign-posted directions, remain on marked tracks or trails, and camp in designated areas.

Seasonally closed tracks are generally closed during winter because vehicle traffic causes erosion, leading to significant water quality issues.

Whether you’re in a car or four wheel drive, on a motorcycle or a horse, remain on marked tracks and trails.

Who can I contact for further information?

Further information regarding catchment management is available through the following sources:

Central Highlands Water - Catchments Officer   1800 061 514 Email
Corangamite Catchment Management Authority  03 5232 9100
Landcare Victoria
North Central Catchment Management Authority 03 5448 7124
Port Phillip and Westernport Catchment Management Authority 03 8781 7900
Department of Primary Industries 136 186

Local councils

City of Ballarat 03 5320 5500
Central Goldfields 03 5461 0610
Hepburn Shire Council 03 5358 2306
Moorabool Shire Council 03 5366 7100
Pyrenees Shire Council 03 5349 2000