Waterways provide substantial economic value 

Waterways provide regionally-significant ecosystem services and contribute to the health and wellbeing of the communities who visit, use and care for them. 

The economic benefits delivered by waterways, estuaries and wetlands to the people of Melbourne are many and varied. They include: 

  • maintenance of affordable drinking water for Melbourne and surrounding towns  
  • low-cost places for public recreation, exercise and sport  
  • ecosystem services such as air quality benefits, carbon capture and natural water treatment and dilution/assimilation of waste  
  • provision of water for livestock and irrigation of crops 
  • pleasant places for travel and tourism  
  • avenues for active transport such as walking and cycling 
  • drainage and flood conveyance for the protection of personal and public property and community safety  
  • premium property value associated with proximity to waterways 
  • proximity to waterways delivering a market advantage for business e.g. restaurants and bars on and alongside rivers and estuaries.   

Economic values of waterways are currently not well understood or comprehensively analysed, and at this stage they are only addressed in the strategy at the regional level.  

Environmental economics applies new international standards to record and demonstrate the economic value of waterways and to understand the return on investment for efforts in waterway management.  

Southbank Pedestrian Bridge (Evan Walker Bridge) links Flinders Street Station to Southbank.

We are still developing ways to measure the economic value of waterways 

Kayaking along a riverWaterway economic values are rarely reflected in organisational, state or national decision-making frameworks. The strategy commits to exploring and developing a system of environmental-economic accounts that would work alongside conventional accounts with the aim of tracking the health of ecosystems and their ability to produce goods and services that benefit populations.  

Victoria is broadly adopting a System of Environmental-Economic Accounting (SEEA) framework to provide better, integrated and more consistent information and analysis of our all of the state’s environmental assets and their contribution to the economy. The aim of the work proposed under the regional performance objectives of the strategy will be consistent with the state direction in developing the SEEA for waterways at the regional scale.   

Understanding the economic value of waterways is complex. The use of environmental-economic accounting can help to understand the multiple benefits associated with waterways and investment in their improvement.  

For example, accounting can be used to consider the environment benefit of releasing environmental flows to meet ecological objectives as well as the social benefits gained from the same flow.  Social benefits such as improving visual amenity and odours through flushing stagnant pools, or providing greater opportunities for kayaking, provides broader community benefits such as health and wellbeing.  

Actions to improve our understanding of the economic benefits of waterways 

The strategy includes performance objectives focussed on developing a system of environmental-economic accounts at the regional scale with the aim to:  

  • Increase understanding of the role of healthy waterways in the region’s progress and growth. 
  • Strengthen capability to assess benefits from healthier waterways and hence better balance trade-offs between competing uses of waterways and water resources. 
  • Identify synergies where more sustainable practices improve waterway health, while supporting economic activity and social outcomes.  
  • Improve transparency and accountability in measuring the outcomes and effectiveness of government and community investments in the region’s waterways. 
  • Undertake consistent analysis to improve programs and policy design over time. 

See the regional performance objectives under Economic in the Report Card for details of actions to improve economic values.