Water for Traditional Owners

Traditional Owners have managed land and water sustainably for thousands of generations. Caring for Country, including its waterways, is the custodial obligation of Traditional Owners. Keeping Country healthy can deliver thriving cultural economies and benefits for all Victorians.

Water is Life

Under Water is Life: Traditional Owner Access to Water Roadmap (Water is Life), the Victorian Government is committed to working with Traditional Owners to increase their access to water and their involvement in water management. Water is Life provides an important framework to support Traditional Owner self-determination in water access and management.

In 2021-22, the VWA is reporting on the volume of water entitlements held by Traditional Owner organisations for the first time. This reporting will help us monitor our progress against Targeted Outcome 7 in Water is Life Traditional Owner Access to Water Roadmap:  Water is returned to Traditional Owner groups across Victoria through the issue of water entitlements for their self-determined use.

Future accounts will build on this reporting in partnership with Traditional Owners.

2021-22 overview

Traditional Owner organisations hold surface water and groundwater entitlements. The entitlement volume held by these organisations as at 30 June 2022 was around 6.8 GL. The organisations used for this estimation include Registered Aboriginal Parties as well as other known Aboriginal organisations and cooperatives.

An example of how water has been returned to Traditional Owner Groups is March 2022 when Gunditj Mirring Traditional Owners Aboriginal Corporation was allocated a 2.5 GL water entitlement in the Palawarra (Fitzroy River) within the UNESCO World Heritage Listed Budj Bim Cultural LandscapeExternal Link in the Portland Coast basin. Budj Bim was inscribed in 2019 for its cultural values to the Gunditjmara community and contains the world’s most extensive and oldest aquacultural system. Managing the flow of water over Country is an essential aspect of managing for cultural values, including the iconic aquaculture of kooyang (short-finned eel).

An example in the previous year was the 2 GL entitlement that Gunaikurnai Land and Waters Aboriginal Corporation was issued from unallocated water in the Mitchell River.

Traditional Owners also work in partnership with the Victorian Environmental Water Holder (VEWH) to manage water for environmental and cultural outcomes. In the Ovens basinExternal Link in 2021-22, 36 ML of water allocation was transferred to the VEWH by the Taungurung Land and Water Council Aboriginal Corporation for environmental and cultural outcomes.

In addition to the entitlements mentioned above, under section 8A of the Water Act, any member of a Traditional Owner Group with a natural resource agreement under the Traditional Owner Settlement Act 2010 can access water from a waterway or a bore for traditional purposes. Like other Section 8 rights, these entitlements are not recorded in the Victorian Water Register. Visit our How is water managed?External Link page for more information on these entitlements.