Agency Roles and Responsibilities

 

There are a number of factors which make for a diversity of agency roles in relation to waterways and their environs. A primary one is land ownership.

Land Owners

Duties of Land Owners under the Catchment and Land Protection Act

Duties of Land Owners under the Catchment and Land Protection Act

In relation to his or her land a land owner must take all reasonable steps to[3]

(a) avoid causing or contributing to land degradation which causes or may cause damage to land of another land owner; and

(b) conserve soil; and

(c) protect water resources; and

(d) eradicate regionally prohibited weeds; and

(e) prevent the growth and spread of regionally controlled weeds; and

(f) prevent the spread of, and as far as possible eradicate, established pest animals.

Statutory authorities who manage land must have regard to the Port Phillip and Western Port Regional Catchment Strategy except where a provision of the Strategy conflicts with an Act of Parliament.[4]

Along Merri catchment creek corridors there are a host of different land owners holding properties adjacent to the stream. Private individuals and companies, Councils, the Crown, Melbourne Water, VicRoads, SPAusNet and the Public Transport Corporation are the main land owners.

As separate private and public entities each of these land owners has different purposes and objectives in relation to that land. While most land owners would be sympathetic to environmentally sensitive management of creek corridors, some would not see it as a primary concern in management of their land. Some are unaware of their responsibilities under the Catchment and Land Protection Act or feel hostile about them. This can occasionally create conflict.

Achieving sustainable land management may require a change of ownership through a range of planning processes.


Watercourse and Open Space Management Responsibilities

Land ownership along waterways is complex, with various Councils, Melbourne Water, VicRoads, other government agencies, freehold owners and crown land managers all owning and/or managing land within the Merri Creek valley and corridor. These complex arrangements sometimes also apply to ownership and management of paths and trails.

The roles of a number of agencies with management functions for waterway corridors throughout the Port Phillip and Western Port catchment are described below.

The Merri Creek Trail Review discusses management responsibilities for trails in more detail[5].

Australian Government

Australian Government Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts

The Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts (DEWHA) has a role because it administers the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act, which lists a number of species occurring in the Merri Catchment. Current listed species include the Growling Grass Frog, Golden Sun Moth, Grassland Earless Dragon, and Striped Legless Lizard. The Western (Basalt) Plains Grasslands is also listed under the Act.

Waterwatch

Waterwatch is a program of the Australian Department of Water, Heritage, Environment, and the Arts. In Victoria the state level coordinators are employed by Melbourne Water, as are most local Waterwatch Coordinators. However Merri Creek Waterwatch (and also Moonee Ponds Creek Waterwatch) is hosted by MCMC. Funding for the program is provided by the Australian Government, Melbourne Water and local Councils.

Victorian Government Agencies

Department of Sustainability and Environment

The Victorian Department of Sustainability and Environment (DSE) has a diverse range of roles in relation to waterways. It plays a role in management of environmental flows, oversees bulk water entitlements and is a support agency in the area of aquatic and freshwater ecology and in-stream habitats. It is the key fisheries manager and this function sits within its flora, fauna and fisheries monitoring and management functions.

DSE assists the work of the Port Phillip & Westernport Catchment Management Authority.

DSE advises government on state-wide policy and undertakes state-wide land use and catchment planning, urban policy and river health policy and planning. Key policies are Our Water Our Future (2004), the Victorian River Health Strategy (2002) and Melbourne 2030 (2005)

DSE purchases or requires service delivery from a wide range of agencies including local government. It establishes consistent processes and standards for planning and implementation related to river restoration, and manages government investment in river health.

A further role of DSE is to provide advice to land managers generally (including Parks Victoria), about the management of sites with flora and fauna significance and to administer the State Governments commitment to native vegetation net gain. DSE is also involved in providing for the protection of sites and in some cases this may involve acquisition.

Once key conservation sites have been secured, DSE has a further role in recommending the nature and scope of their management to provider organisations such as Parks Victoria.

DSE also administers the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act, which lists for protection a number of species and ecological communities occurring in the Merri catchment.

Department of Primary Industries

Since 2007 the Department of Primary Industries (DPI) has had the responsibility for monitoring and enforcing the Catchment and Land Protection Act in relation to weeds and pest animals. It is also responsible for licensing of extractive industry. In the Merri Creek catchment this mainly includes basalt and clay quarries.

The Catchment and Agriculture Services division of DPI is responsible for developing, promoting and nurturing partnerships with industries, communities and government agencies for the benefit of Victorias primary industries. DPI encourages the adoption of new agricultural technologies and practices through a range of community education and extension programs. In water management, this includes programs on nutrient and salinity reduction in rural areas.

DPI also has an enforcement role in the proposed Plant Biosecurity Act (currently the Plant Health and Plant Products Act 1995), the Biological Control Act 1986 and in relation to agricultural and veterinary chemicals amongst other things.

Port Phillip & Westernport Catchment Management Authority (PPWCMA)

The PPWCMA aims to facilitate integrated catchment management and sustainability of the regions catchment assets by building cooperation, coordination and partnerships with stakeholders in catchment management including individuals, community groups, businesses, local government and government agencies. In particular it has the responsibility under the Catchment and Land Protection Act 1994 of preparing the Regional Catchment Strategy (RCS), which was published in 2004. The RCS provides a plan for investment in natural resource management for the Port Phillip and Western Port Catchment until 2009.

The main focus of the Regional Catchment Strategy is management of land, water and biodiversity in the region. Key sub-strategies to the RCS are the Regional River Health Strategy[6], which outlines priorities for the management of waterways as a basis for works programs, the Regional Water Quality Plan (under development) which strategically identifies and addresses key water quality issues, particularly the management of nutrients and sediments, the regional Native Vegetation Plan, the Rabbit Action Plan, Weed Action Plan, and the Strategy for Support & Coordination of Landcare and Community Groups.

A partnership agreement has been established with Melbourne Water such that Melbourne Water is responsible for delivering river, floodplain and drainage management services.

Melbourne Water Corporation

Melbourne Water is a statutory corporation[7] wholly owned by the Victorian Government.

Under the Water (Governance) Act 2006, Melbourne Water has the powers in relation to the management of the bed and banks of waterways and the land within 20m of a waterway. This extends to the power to make bylaws regarding Designated Land within 20m of a waterway.

Under the Catchment and Land Protection Act 1994, Melbourne Water is the Waterway Authority for Port Phillip and Westernport Catchment. It is designated as caretaker of river health and the authority responsible for drainage, river and floodplain management, as well as management of the environmental water reserve for the entire Port Phillip and Westernport region.

In relation to the Merri catchment, Melbourne Water has the primary responsibility for waterway, drainage and floodplain management along Merri Creek and its major tributaries and main tributary drains. As a rough guide, Melbourne Water manages drains, waterways, stormwater treatment wetlands and retarding basins which have a catchment of greater than 60 ha.

The Melbourne Water Statement of Obligations requires the protection, restoration and care of the physical and environmental health of creeks, rivers and wetlands[8]

Melbourne Water is required to deliver:

· waterway, drainage, floodplain and riparian zone management, including protection and enhancement of flora, fauna and habitat values within the floodplain; and

· flood protection and flood warning services.

Melbourne Water also facilitates:

· water quality protection and improvement works, (including revegetation on the banks of Merri Creek);

· the monitoring and reporting of the performance of stormwater managers and the state of water environments;

· identification of best practice and the setting of standards and targets for stormwater management;

· the funding of research to identify best practice for stormwater management and the development of new technology; and

· waterway recreation setting provision so others can develop waterway recreation facilities.

Where a trail is located on Melbourne Water land, it requires that an agreement be entered into with the trail owner to recognise use of the land and ensure potential liabilities are addressed. As manager of the waterway Melbourne Water approval is also required for all bridge crossings, road underpasses and infrastructure located within the 1:100 year floodplain. Similarly the Merri Creek Environment Significance Overlay indicates that path projects require the approval of Melbourne Water.

Melbourne Waters Waterways Operating Charter (2006) identifies a number of relevant aims:

· To ensure that Melbournes rivers and creeks are healthy, with increased numbers of native fish, Platypus and plant life.

· To ensure appropriate flood protection standards for existing and new urban areas.

· To ensure that urban development achieves appropriate standards of flood protection and environmental performance.

· In collaboration with others, to achieve objectives for water quality in accordance with State Environment Protection Policies and targets set out in the Regional River Health Strategy.

· To gain a better understanding of waterways in order to manage them efficiently to protect and enhance their values.

Melbourne Water is a referral authority for planning applications for works within the urban floodway zone and inundation and flood overlays. These overlays are designed to include all lands which would be flooded a 1 in 100 year flood event.

Melbourne Waters primary planning documents for river health works are the Regional River Health Strategy 2006 (RRHS) and Regional River Health Strategy Addendum (RRHS Add), which was developed to align the RRHS delivery period to the second Melbourne Water Water Plan. To help ensure that the Regional River Health Strategy is effectively implemented, Melbourne Water are currently developing Management Unit Investment Plans (MUIPs), which will form the basis of Capital Works investment planning for the current Water Plan period. The Merri Creek Waterway Management Activity Plan (Draft 2003) is still utilised by Melbourne Water as a support planning document for River Health works in the Merri Creek catchment; however, future activities will be based on those outlined in the RRHS (Addendum) and defined in the Management Unit Investment Plans.

Other specific responsibilities Melbourne Water holds include:

· Implementation of the Port Phillip & Westernport Regional River Health Strategy;

· Coordination, with EPA, of the development of the Better Bays and Waterways Regional Water Quality Improvement Plan;

· Water quality monitoring;

· Development of Drainage Schemes

· Coordination of Port Phillip and Western Port Waterwatch program;

· Litter collection in waterways bed and banks;

· Development of a Floodplain Management Strategy

Melbourne Water also hosts and supports Clearwater a not for profit program which provides practical and informative training sessions on stormwater, reuse, and integrated urban water management.

Most stream bank revegetation work along the waterways in the catchment is carried out by Melbourne Water. Melbourne Water also has two funding programs for revegetation work: the Stream Frontage Management Program which allows for a wide range of river health activities including funding private landowners to fence and revegetate stream frontages, weeds control, off stream watering provision and community education, and the Corridors of Green Program which also funds community organisations including Councils.

Melbourne Waters investment in river health is based on its 5 year water plan which is subject to approval by the Essential Services Commission. Funding for this investment is from Melbourne Water drainage rate income etc.

Melbourne Water does not consent to being assigned actions under the MCES as it already has a primary planning document for Merri Creek which sets its direction for future activities. It has requested being withdrawn from actions assigned under the MCES[9]

Parks Victoria

Parks Victoria (PV) is a statutory body[10]which provides services to the Victorian Government and its agencies in the management of parks and reserves and other land in the control of the State. It is the custodian of a diverse estate of significant parks in Victoria and of the recreational management of Port Phillip Bay, Western Port and the Yarra and Maribyrnong Rivers. Specifically the estate includes:

· 40 national parks

· 13 marine national parks

· 11 marine sanctuaries

· 3 wilderness parks

· 27 state parks

· 31 metropolitan parks

· 63 other parks (including regional and reservoir parks)

· 2785 natural features reserves and conservation reserves

· 8400 Aboriginal Affairs Victoria registered Indigenous cultural heritage sites/places

· 2500 (non-Indigenous) historic places.

These assets total approximately 3.96 million hectares (17 per cent of Victoria).

Along Merri Creek, Parks Victoria currently manages the 330 ha Craigieburn Grassland Reserve (Galgi ngarrk) and the 35 ha Cooper Street Grassland Reserve (Bababi marning). It also manages Yarra Bend Park.

Parks Victoria is also responsible for developing and ensuring the planning and implementation of a major new park in the Merri Creek corridor from the Western Ring Road north to Craigieburn Road East. It is anticipated that although the new park will be a multiple-ownership park, there will be a substantial increase in the area of land directly managed by Parks Victoria (see chapter 2.5).

In the urban area Parks Victoria has a lead role in the planning for the entire open space network, producing documents such as Linking People and Spaces A Strategy for Melbournes Open Space Network[11]. An annual grants program administered by Parks Victoria provides funding to local councils to undertake trail construction and improvement works as listed in Linking People and Spaces.

Environment Protection Authority

The EPA is responsible as the regulatory body to set long-term water quality objectives, manage licensed discharges, investigate pollution incidents and take enforcement action. It sets objectives through State Environment Protection Policies (see chapter 3.2) and is jointly responsible with Melbourne Water for the development of the Better Bays and Waterways water quality improvement plan. It conducts auditing and reporting of environmental conditions.

EPA also licenses discharges to waterways and has a key role in responding to pollution events. It can also take a proactive role, for example the Merlynston Creek Strike Force, and the Edwardes Lake Neighbourhood Environment Improvement Program.

EPA also has a role in emergency pollution management, and can issue pollution abatement notices. It encourages the preparation of Neighbourhood Environment Improvement Plans.

VicRoads

VicRoads has an interest in the Merri Creek corridor due to the Metropolitan Ring Road and the Craigieburn Bypass which cross Merri Creek and traverse remnant grasslands in the region of Barry Rd, Thomastown. Runoff from the Bypass is treated in bio-retention trenches and wetlands which eventually drain to the Merri or tributaries.

VicRoads also manages a number of other major roads in the catchment, such as Cooper Street, Edgars Road extension, Donnybrook Road etc, and works on these roads can have major effects on Merri Creek or its tributaries.

VicRoads owns a number of parcels of former freeway reservation land in Coburg North and Fawkner, which it is currently (2009) divesting itself of. Moreland Council has been given the option of buying it at market rates.

VicRoads manages the Principal Bicycle Network which is a network of mostly on-road cycle ways criss-crossing Melbourne, some of which cross Merri Creek and its tributaries and link to waterway trails in the catchment.

Growth Areas Authority

The Victorian Governments Growth Areas Authority works with Victorian Government agencies, Councils and developers to:

· deliver communities in the Growth Areas that are socially, environmentally and economically more sustainable,

· improve the operation of the regulatory environment and administrative processes in order to reduce costs and increase efficiencies for developers and local government, and

· work with industry and councils to ensure the governments economic, employment and housing policy priorities are achieved in the growth areas.

Sustainability Victoria

Sustainability Victoria is a State Government agency responsible for waste management and recycling, developing litter campaigns and programs, and administers litter grant programs and plastic bag reduction programs. It also has a major role in promoting energy conservation.

Local Government

Map 5 - Merri Creek Catchment showing municipal
boundaries

Local Governments (i.e. Councils) in the Merri Catchment include the Cities of Darebin, Hume, Moreland, Whittlesea and Yarra, and the Mitchell Shire.

Councils have a key responsibility for open space and amenity provision and development on lands that they own, and Crown lands they manage.

Open space along waterways is also important for local government in terms of recreation provision.

Councils play a key role in the health of waterways through their management of streets and local drains which feed into the Melbourne Water regional drainage system. As a rough guide councils are responsible for waterways, drains and wetlands with catchments of less than 60 ha. Councils thus have an important role in protection of water quality and quantity prior to discharge to main drains and waterways. They have a key role in implementing water-sensitive urban design (see below) and statutory requirements of the planning scheme including Clause 56 controlling residential subdivision.

Councils have Stormwater Management Plans to guide their actions in managing stormwater and will be reviewing these periodically. Many are also developing water conservation plans and are considering options for the capture and reuse of stormwater.

Councils are required under the EPA Act to develop Domestic Waste Water Management Plans for the control of domestic septic tank effluent. Effective use of these strategies contributes to the control of septic discharge to waterways.

A number of Councils have their own revegetation programs along waterways.

Councils are planning authorities under the Planning and Environment Act 1987, making them responsible for preparation of planning scheme amendments (with the Ministers prior approval). They are also responsible authorities under the Planning Act empowering them to administer planning schemes, determine development applications and issue permits etc.

Councils are required by the State section of the Planning Scheme to assist in the protection of habitats of threatened and endangered species, and to manage applications to clear native vegetation and achieve net gain in native vegetation under the Victorian Native Vegetation Management Framework[12].

In their roles as planning and responsible authorities, Councils can influence planning requirements to assist in stormwater quantity management and the protection of water quality (e.g.: through implementation of Water sensitive urban design requirements), (see further section 3.1 and 3.2). There is also scope to influence the visual character of developments within the viewshed of the waterway and to require landscaping and screening vegetation to protect waterway amenity. They have lots of scope to ensure that public open space is established along waterway corridors during the development process. They can also establish planning controls such as Environmental Significance Overlays which have been established along some sections of waterway in the catchment.

Similarly Councils are required to identify, conserve and protect places of natural or cultural value from inappropriate development. These include places of Aboriginal cultural heritage significance and historical and archaeological sites. They also must take account of the requirements of the Aboriginal Heritage Act 2006.

Councils are taking an active role in combatting climate change which is likely to have a major impact on Merri Creek.

Councils have an important role in environmental education, and incentives and support for good land management.

Councils also have the power to create and enforce their own local laws, providing these do not conflict with State or Federal Government laws.

Council health departments also respond to complaints about discharges to creeks.

 

Utility managers

Victorian Rail Track (VicTrack) is a State Government-owned utility which owns the rail reservation land which includes highly significant conservation areas, e.g. the Beveridge rail reserve grassland remnant. It conducts some land maintenance activities associated with rail reserves adjacent to the waterway corridors (e.g. near Rushall Station).

Yarra Valley Water is a water retailer wholly owned by the Victorian Government. It is responsible for the operation of the Craigieburn and Wallan Sewage Treatment Plants and the Aurora Treatment Facility which is under construction, a combined sewage treatment and recycled water treatment facility that will service the new suburb of Aurora. The Craigieburn STP is has an EPA licence to discharge treated sewage into Merri Creek.

Yarra Valley Water is also responsible for developing major infrastructure for water supply and sewerage. Together with Melbourne Water, it is implementing the Northern Sewerage Project, which will help meet the rapidly growing demand for services in the northern suburbs. It will also help to protect the Merri Creek from wet weather sewage overflows from Yarra Valley Waters emergency relief structures which allow diluted raw sewage to overflow into the waterway during extreme wet weather events.

Trade Waste Agreements with Yarra Valley Water are an important mechanism for ensuring industrial waste is not discharged to the stormwater system.

SP AusNet manages the high voltage transmission line between Thomastown and Brunswick Terminal Stations and its extension via an underground cable along the creek valley to Queens Parade Clifton Hill, before ultimately connecting to the Richmond Terminal Station. SP AusNet has responsibilities to maintain its easements to provide for safe and secure power supply, and this has implications for vegetation management along waterways adjacent to their assets.

Citipowerand Solaris Power have distribution power line assets within the creek corridor

Melbourne Water and Yarra Valley Water sewer lines and water mains, and AGL Energy Limited high pressure gas pipelines are also located within various parts of the creek corridors.

Merri Creek Management Committee

The MCMC is an incorporated association whose current members are:

· the municipalities of Darebin, Hume, Mitchell, Moreland, Whittlesea and Yarra; and

· the Friends of Merri Creek and the Friends of Wallan Creek.

Representatives of its members form a Committee of Management which meets regularly to discuss policy and issues, oversee MCMCs operations, and to coordinate management.

MCMC's purposes

MCMC's statement of purposes

As an incorporated association the MCMC is required to act in accordance with its Statement of Purposes[13].

The MCMC was set up to do this through the employment of a dedicated works team; and through its Committee of Management bringing together representatives of its member groups and acting as a vehicle for overseeing its operations, and for providing advice and coordination on management related issues through its meetings.

Historically, a large component of the MCMCs works have been vegetation management on open space and other lands associated with the urban sections of the waterway corridors. While, since its inception, the MCMC has been responsible for the majority of revegetation along the creeks, other works have also been conducted by Councils, Community groups, the former Yarra Bend Park Trust, and increasingly for the creek banks, Melbourne Water.

In addition to delivery of vegetation management, the MCMC has provided advice to member Councils and others in the areas of: environmental, strategic and statutory planning; community education and water quality monitoring activities; and other land management and conservation works.

MCMCs key activities include: revegetation and restoration of remnant vegetation; community education and water quality monitoring activities (particularly in schools); and environmental, strategic and statutory planning advice. The MCMC has developed a significant knowledge base in relation to the waterways of the Merri catchment and associated issues.

MCMC also works collaboratively with its neighbouring creek committees, the Darebin Creek Management Committee and the Moonee Ponds Creek Co-ordination Committee.

Funding of MCMC

The MCMC currently receives income from a number of sources. Member agencies provide core funding to support the MCMCs management component (Manager and administrative assistance). As well, most local government members provide core funding to the Parklands Management Program to carry out revegetation and restoration works, and to the Catchment Program to carry out environmental education and water quality monitoring activities. Various grant programs provide additional funds for specific projects. For example, the Natural Heritage Trust has granted monies to the MCMC to conduct major revegetation and restoration works. Other grants have been received from organisations such as Sustainability Victoria and philanthropic trusts.


MCMC also undertakes works as a contractor, mostly to Councils. This work has included mainly revegetation and weed control work, but also at times strategic work, such as mapping and site survey towards preparation of open space strategies and stormwater education.

Friends of Merri Creek

Friends of Merri Creek is a voluntary incorporated association established in 1989 which undertakes activities which support community interest and involvement in the care of the Merri Creek, its tributaries and their environs. It is a strong advocate for creek conservation. The Friends conduct a range of activities to engage the community including planting, talks and walks, litter collection and participation on the Committee of Management of the MCMC, where it has six representatives.

Friends of Merri Creek includes a number of key sub-groups:

· Friends of Edgars Creek,

· Friends of Malcolm Creek

· Friends of Merri Grasslands

· Friends of Edwardes Lake

· Merri and Edgars Creek Confluence Area Restoration Group (MECCARG)

Friends of Wallan Creek

Friends of Wallan Creek is a voluntary incorporated association established in 2004 with the aim of restoring and enhancing the environment of the Wallan Creek (an upper tributary of Merri Creek). It plays an active role in advocating the protection of Wallan Creek environs.

Friends of Wallan Creek is a member group of MCMC and participates on the Committee of Management of MCMC where it has one representative.

 

[3] Section 20 of the Catchment and Land Protection Act 1994

[4] Section 26, Catchment and Land Protection Act 1994

[5] Thompson Berrill Landscape Design P/L page 11

[6] Melbourne Water (2007)

[7] Established under the Melbourne Water Corporation Act 1992

[8] Water Industry Act 1994 Statement of Obligations, signed by John Thwaites commencing 1/7/07, page 8.

[9] Correspondence from Michelle Ezzy, Program Leader, Waterway Planning West River Health, Melbourne Water to Luisa Macmillan, Manager MCMC dated 18 June 2008.

[10] PV is established under the Parks Victoria Act 1998.

[11] Parks Victoria (2002)

[12] DNRE 2002e

[13] MCMCs Rules and Statement of Purposes are available at MCMCs website www.mcmc.org.au