Yarra River's environmental health at risk due to litter, pollution, pests and urban development
Victoria's Commissioner for Environmental Sustainability rated the river's health as "poor" in 18 out of 25 environmental indicators in its first State of the Yarra report, which provides a comprehensive assessment of the baseline health of the ecosystem.
The 117-page report found the water quality of the Yarra River had mostly remained "poor" for more than a decade, indicating "that the system is under considerable stress, mostly in the lower urbanised catchment of the Yarra River".
It also stated that over a four-year period between 2014 and 2017, a waste and litter program collected 179 tonnes of litter, including 1.29 million cigarette butts from the river and its mouth at Port Phillip Bay.
Between 2013 and 2017, the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) received 338 water pollution reports — the vast majority of which came from Alphington and further downstream.
Meanwhile, the outlook for frogs and fish was deteriorating in inner-city Melbourne and urban parts of the river system, but platypuses were assessed as being in a "fair" and "stable" state by the report.
The report also found the critically endangered Leadbeater's possum, which lives in areas north-east of Melbourne near the upper and lower rural Yarra reaches, was facing a shortage of suitable hollows in its state forest habitat.
"It may be necessary to supplement these natural hollows, using alternative approaches for providing den sites while natural hollows develop over coming decades," the report said.
Report warns against 'inappropriate urban development'
The report included seven recommendations, including the establishment of a chief biodiversity scientist to oversee a coordinated effort to monitor the river's health.
"Victoria's biodiversity science and data capability are undermined by a lack of coordination and a strategic approach to investing in … critical research" to inform policy, the report said.
It also recommended the Government expand planning controls over the river to combat "inappropriate urban development" as Melbourne's population expands in the north-east of the city.
The current river protection zone should be extended from Warrandyte to the boundary of the Yarra Ranges National Park, the report said.
Environment Minister Lily D'Ambrosio said the Government would consider the report's recommendations and that care for the river was a "shared responsibility" of all Victorians.
"Smokers in particular need to make an effort to properly dispose of cigarette butts because whether they're dropped in the water, or on the street, they still end up in our rivers," she said.
She cited revegetation, pollution control and pest control programs as some examples of Government investment to help improve the river system's health.