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Thinking like a river

Updated: Mar 16, 2023

This is where a river starts, in a thousand small flows up a hundred valleys.

In April, environment groups from across Macedon Ranges gathered in Riddells Creek to discuss what Greater Western Water (GWW) have in mind for waste water. An hour into our 90-minute meeting, as the consultant finally made it through the introduction, we all decided that maybe we shouldn’t rush to a quick opinion on options for waste water.

Better to understand the water system first, and then venture an opinion.

GWW, bless them, said: ‘Okay, let’s do that!’

Water is a simple thing, but it flows through our lives in complicated ways. Rain falls and runs into tiny creeks, then into private dams and sometimes public reservoirs. Mt Macedon has four on its southern face, for example. Southern Rural Water decides who can and who can’t take surface and groundwater.

Melbourne Water manages the reservoirs as an integrated supply system that stretches across Melbourne, but GWW delivers and bills us for that drinking water. For those of us connected to a sewer line, GWW also takes the waste water that flows out of our properties and runs treatment plants in Sunbury, Riddell, Gisborne and Romsey.

Once it’s cleaned up, that water gets used by farms or for watering footy grounds, or it goes back into the big creeks, Deep Creek and Jacksons Creek. Big rains bring a flush of water, and stormwater runs in from housing developments and roads. Oh right, there’s another job: local government organises the stormwater drains. Dry months see the creeks dwindle to pools.

Everything is connected—what happens upstream affects downstream. Water siphoned off for gardens in Mt Macedon and dams in the valleys means that many summers now Riddells Creek stops. Waste water released at Romsey ends up in the drinking water of cattle at Darraweit Guim, in the waters that glide beneath canoeists in Essendon, and eventually, in Port Phillip Bay.

At each point in this flow, there’s data and decisions. Is it all working okay for the creeks? For the humans? We need to think like a river, a network of groups across the Macedon Ranges and downstream along the Maribyrnong.

Agency staff can get locked inside their specialisations, but local groups too get locked into a narrow view. We need to see through the local to the big picture behind it. We need to think like a river.

If you’d like to follow what we discover, get in touch at

Ross Colliver, Riddells Creek Landcare

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