Surface Water

Surface Water 

Goulburn-Murray Water (GMW) is responsible for all Victorian water ways and bodies in its region north of the Great Divide covering approximately 68,000 square kilometres.

The surface water managed includes an extensive network of streams, creeks, rivers, lakes, weirs and reservoirs, and also irrigation canals.

Surface water is managed in two ways, in unregulated systems and regulated systems.                                  

Unregulated systems

An unregulated catchment is one that does not contain a storage managed by a water authority to provide releases in order to meet the water needs of downstream customers.  An unregulated catchment may contain rivers, creeks and numerous small waterways and in the case of several unregulated catchments in Victoria, extend well over 1,000 km 2 in area.


GMW's management of water quantity within unregulated catchments is undertaken through a licensing regime for the taking and use of water.  All water use for commercial or irrigation purposes must be licensed; this includes water taken from dams. 


All licenses for new developments must be sourced from existing licenses through trading.  The use of water and trading of licenses between users are managed by GMW to share water resources between users, which include the environment.  


Take of water from unregulated systems is managed under local management rules, which details conditions for rosters and restrictions.

Regulated systems

A regulated system is a system of streams, creeks and rivers that is controlled or ‘regulated' by water storages which allow the water to be released when it is required.

Almost all of the GMW's systems are regulated systems.

Storing water

Water storages are created by building a wall or embankment called a dam to stop water flowing.

The water then spreads out, covering the land and forming a body of water. The stored water can be controlled and released to supply urban, industrial and agricultural needs. Since the water is kept ‘in reserve' for use when the need arises, the storage may be called a reservoir.

Storages can be either ‘in-stream' or ‘off-stream'. If the dam is built across a river, the storage is called ‘in-stream'. If the dam is built away from a river, and water is diverted into the storage using a canal and released water returns to the river using another canal, then the storage is called ‘off‑stream'.

Releasing water

Water storages have different methods for releasing stored water. The common feature is an outlet valve, which can be controlled to release the right volume of water.

Most reservoirs have an outlet tower built immediately upstream of the dam wall, which means that most of the tower is under water.

At the side of the tower and leading into the outlet pipe there may be various inlets. These allow water from different levels of the reservoir, not just the bottom, to pass into the outlet pipe. This allows some control over the quality of water released.

Water leaving the outlet usually splashes over rocks or a special concrete buffer which reduces the tremendous force of the fast flowing water and allows it to pass into the river without severely eroding the banks.

At some reservoirs water is released via a turbine which turns a generator to produce electricity, for example Dartmouth and Eildon.

At diversion weirs such as Goulburn Weir, the purpose of the structure is to create a weir pool and raise the water level so that water supplies can be diverted and allowed to flow, under gravity, along a network of channels, (and also in the case of the River Murray weirs - to improve navigability of the river).

Goulburn Weir allows diversion of water into three major channels - the Stuart Murray Canal (alongside the weir) and the Cattanach Canal which transfer water to Waranga Basin, and the East Goulburn Main Channel which supplies the Shepparton Irrigation Area. 

Water use compliance

Water is a precious and limited resource. It is critical to our economy, environment and communities. This is why water needs to managed fairly for all water users. GMW takes a zero-tolerance approach to water theft to ensure equity of access to limited water resources and protects those who are doing the right thing.

It’s illegal to take and use more water than allowed under your entitlement. Whenever a little more water is taken than is allowed, it can easily add up and there is limited water to go around.

Water theft affects everyone in your community and it is important that individual water users do not adversely impact other users or Victoria’s environmental values. Individual water users should make sure they have the right authorisations before they take water from a dam, bore, stream, river, creek or irrigation channel.

A zero-tolerance to water theft provides equity of access to limited water resources and protects those who are doing the right thing. If you see something, say something. To report an alleged breach/offence, phone us on 1800 013 357. 

For more information on compliance and enforcement at GMW, please see our Water Use Compliance page.