Water-related policies

On this page:

State environment protection policies

State environment protection policies (SEPPs) are pivotal in protecting water environments as they set uses and values of water environments that communities want to protect (these are called beneficial uses), establish ‘goalposts’ so we know when they are protected (these are called environmental quality objectives) and provide clear guidance on what we need to do to protect them (this is called an attainment program).

These policies are legal tools made under the Environment Protection Act 1970 and they set in law community expectations, needs and priorities for protecting and sustainably using Victoria’s water environments.

The state environment protection policies that protect Victoria’s water environments are:

Waste management policies

Like SEPPs, waste management policies (WMPs) are legal tools made under the Environment Protection Act 1970. These policies are designed to meet community expectations for protecting Victoria’s water environments from waste discharges.

To protect Victoria’s environment from marine pests introduced via domestic ballast water, the Victorian Government established management arrangements that apply to all ships entering the State waters. These arrangements took effect in 2004 and are outlined in the Waste Management Policy (Ships’ Ballast Water). In 2006 the Victorian Government introduced the Environment Protection (Ships' Ballast Water) Regulations 2006 to support the existing ballast water requirements.

State Environment Protection Policy (Waters of Victoria)

The State Environment Protection Policy (Waters of Victoria) sets the framework for government agencies, businesses and the community to work together to protect and rehabilitate Victoria’s surface water environments.

There are three main features of the policy and its schedules:

  1. beneficial uses
  2. environmental quality objectives
  3. attainment program.

1. Beneficial uses

The health of our water has a direct impact on different uses and values of water (beneficial uses) including drinking, industrial use and aquatic ecosystems that a waterway or waterbody can support. The protection of beneficial uses will be achieved through maintenance of the current level of environmental quality or through realistically achievable improvements.

Beneficial uses of water environments include:

  • aquatic plants and animals
  • water suitable for aquaculture and edible seafood
  • water-based recreation
  • water suitable for human consumption
  • cultural and spiritual values
  • water suitable for industry and shipping
  • water suitable for agriculture.

Beneficial uses are those uses and values of water environments that communities want protected both now and in the future. Not all beneficial uses are currently protected in all water environments and the challenge ahead is to work together to improve the environment and enable their full protection.

2. Environmental quality objectives

State environment protection policies (SEPPs) set out environmental quality objectives and indicators to measure whether beneficial uses are being protected. Indicators can be used to see whether beneficial uses are protected, including:

  • water quality indicators
  • biological indicators
  • flow
  • sediment quality
  • habitat indicators.

Current state environment protection policies (SEPPs) include water quality, biological and sediment quality indicators, and work is proposed to develop objectives for other indicators.

Some of these policies also include targets for environmental improvement – these policies include both objectives (long-term goals) and targets (interim milestones) to provide the ultimate objectives and encourage and drive continuous improvement, towards these objectives.

3. Attainment program

A state environment protection policy (SEPP) articulates, at a broad level, the actions needed to meet its purpose. If the policies did not provide this information, they would be ineffectual. An attainment program:

  • identifies clear roles and responsibilities for environment protection and rehabilitation
  • identifies strategic actions and tools to address activities that pose a risk to Victoria’s water environments.

It is vitally important that the strategic measures in the attainment program support, integrate and build upon the existing environmental management arrangements that Victoria has in place. EPA works with others on a number of issues.

Supporting documentation

A consolidated version of the State Environment Protection Policy (Waters of Victoria) has been produced, incorporating all the variations. This document has not been published in the Gazette but rather was produced to provide a single source of information to those wishing to read the policy. It is not an authorised version of the policy.

  • View the consolidated policy – Word (2.3MB) PDF (1.6MB)

EPA has prepared a policy impact assessment (publication 905), which describes in more detail why we need to protect Victoria’s waters and how the Waters of Victoria policy helps us to do this.

The policy was gazetted as below:


Page last updated on 24 Jan 2017