Catchment area

0.4% of the Murray–Darling Basin

Contribution to Basin water


Annual stream flow

Campaspe: 352 GL

River length

220 km

Major tributaries

Coliban River, Axe, McIvor, Mt Pleasant and Sheepwash creeks

Major towns/cities

Kyneton, Rochester, Echuca

Major water storages

Lake Eppalock (304 GL) on the Campaspe; Malmsbury (18 GL), Lauriston (20 GL) and Upper Coliban (32 GL) reservoirs on the Coliban

Key water users

Urban water supply, industry, stock and domestic, irrigation


Typical of many rivers of the southern Murray–Darling Basin, the Campaspe River rises in wooded hilly terrain of the Great Dividing Range, descends through undulating foothills and emerges onto the wide, flat riverine plains of northern Victoria.

The Campaspe catchment is 0.4% of the area of the Basin, and it provides 0.9% of inflow for the Basin. The catchment uses more than 0.2% of all surface water diverted for irrigation and urban use in the Basin and 1.7% the groundwater used in the Basin.

The waters of the Campaspe River and its main tributary the Coliban River are highly regulated and natural flows have been disrupted. However, environmental flows are important to maintain several threatened vegetation communities, aquatic life and habitat for many terrestrial species, such as the threatened swift parrot and squirrel gilder.

The catchment is home to about 2% of the population of the Basin; the income of the population is primarily derived from dryland agriculture across much of the catchment but on the lower plains of the Campaspe, dairying is the main industry. Water from the catchment supplies several urban centres, including Victoria’s fourth largest city, Bendigo, which is in the Loddon River catchment.

Photo of the still water of the Campaspe Weir at sunset.
Photo by Arthur Mostead (2010)
Campaspe Weir on the Campaspe River, Victoria.

The landscape and its water

The Campaspe River rises between Daylesford and Woodend in the Central Highlands of Victoria, which form part of the Great Dividing Range. The river rises about 20 km east of the Loddon headwaters, and flows north and slightly east, whereas the Loddon flows north and slightly west. The Campaspe has many tributaries, the main one being the Coliban River which flows into Lake Eppalock, the major storage in the catchment. The Campaspe flows through foothills and the riverine plain before it meets the River Murray at Echuca.

The Campaspe and Coliban rivers rise at elevations up to 600 m within the Great Dividing Range, where waterways have cut deep ravines in rich volcanic plateaus. These parts of the region may have an average annual rainfall of up to 1,000 mm. Parts of the region are heavily forested, while other areas support commercial forestry and agriculture. North of the volcanic country are rolling foothills of granitic soils and low rocky ranges that were mined for gold in the 1800s. The riverine plains are much warmer and drier than the southern regions, with annual rainfall in the north-west of the region being around 400 mm.

Groundwater in the catchment exists in alluvial aquifers in the northern catchment, and fractured rock aquifers in the central and southern catchment. Shallow aquifers in the region can be quite saline but deep aquifers contain good quality water.

People, industry and water use

Aboriginal people have had a long association with the river valleys of northern Victoria. West of the Campaspe River was the traditional land of the Dja Dja Wurrung Nation and east was the land of the Taungurong Nation. On the plains north of Rochester, the area is the traditional land of the Yorta Yorta and Bangerang Nations.

The explorer Major Thomas Mitchell reported ‘lush and fertile plains’ north of the Great Dividing Range and by the 1840s farmers and squatters were establishing grazing properties along the Campaspe River. Thousands of gold miners arrived in the catchment in the 1850s to mine the extensive alluvial gold deposits of central Victoria, resulting in the establishment of towns such as Woodend, Kyneton and Heathcote. After the gold deposits were exhausted, many miners remained in the region and took up farming.

The population of the Campaspe catchment is just over 2% of that of the Basin. Victoria’s fourth largest population centre, the city of Bendigo in the Loddon catchment, is a major service centre for residents of both the Loddon and Campaspe catchments, providing health, education and financial services to the region as well as employment through many and varied industries. Other centres in the catchment include Echuca with a population of about 13,000 (ABS 2011), Rochester with 3,000 and Kyneton with 4,000. In the northern part of the catchment, the main centres provide employment by way of food processing and manufacturing and tourism. In the southern part of the catchment, many people commute to Melbourne for work.

More than 75% of the catchment supports dryland livestock production and some cropping. Irrigated agriculture is predominant in the north, with dairy being the main industry, but there is also broadacre cropping, fodder production, livestock grazing and horticulture.

Tourism is an important industry, with national parks and historic gold-mining towns drawing visitors to the southern catchment, and the waterways of the River Murray attracting fishermen, hunters and water-sports enthusiasts to the central and northern catchment, especially Lake Eppalock and Echuca. Echuca also attracts visitors with its rich history as a major inland port during the paddle-steamer era.

As of 2008, CSIRO reported 36% of available surface water is used, which is high compared with other catchments in the Basin. Water is primarily used for irrigation but about 20% of water used is for urban water (mainly in Bendigo). Groundwater extraction accounts for about 9–12% of total water use in the catchment, most of which is in the northernmost region, and almost entirely used for irrigation of dairy pasture.

Regulation of water in the catchment

The course and condition of the Campaspe and Coliban rivers changed substantially as European settlers took up landholdings in the south of the catchment through the 1830s and 1840s, and the land was cleared, stream banks grazed and the waterways de-snagged. In the 1850s, the gold rush in the region resulted in irreversible sedimentation and erosion of the waterways. The growing population centres required reliable water and a reservoir was built on the Coliban River. An additional 2 reservoirs were built in 1903 and 1941 to supply domestic water to residents of both the Loddon and Campaspe catchments.

The Campaspe Weir was built south of Rochester in 1882, to supply water to irrigators. The Campaspe Irrigation District did not become a significant irrigation area until the construction of Lake Eppalock in 1963. Lake Eppalock became the major water storage for the Campaspe and Coliban catchments, and supplies water to Bendigo and other towns and cities, including Ballarat if required. Water supplies in Eppalock can be augmented by water piped in the Goulburn–Broken system, via the Waranga channel.

Water used in the Campaspe Irrigation Area is also sourced from the Goulburn River and in some circumstances water for irrigation is transferred to northern Loddon region.

With regulation, stream flows in the lower catchment have been reversed (high in summer and low in winter), which has had a significant effect on native species in the river and wetland environments. High salinity and algal blooms are major water quality issues within the catchment, as a result of historic mining and modern land use.

Environmental importance

The Campaspe catchment supports a range of environmental features, significant ecosystems and a diverse range of flora and fauna that is of national, regional and local significance, including the Murray cod, trout cod and platypus. Environmental flows are important to improve the condition of the river channels as well as provide ecological links for fish.

The Sustainable Rivers Audit 2 (released in 2012) reported the overall ecosystem health of the Campaspe River to be very poor. Flow regulation has seriously impacted species abundance and diversity for fish, but not so much for macroinvertebrates. Riverine vegetation was in extremely poor condition overall. The physical form of the river was rated to be in moderate condition, although impacts of sedimentation were evident. Flow seasonality and variability was in moderate condition.

Water recovery

The Basin Plan specifies how much water is required to satisfactorily manage environmental sites and functions in the Murray–Darling Basin. A sustainable diversion limit (SDL) was established for each catchment (or group of catchments) and the reduction in diversions required to achieve the SDL was identified.

For the Campaspe catchment, the baseline diversion level of surface water determined by the Basin Plan is 153 GL per year. The required local reduction in take to achieve an environmentally sustainable level of diversion is 18 GL per year. In addition to the 'local reduction', a further 971 GL per year is to be recovered from all southern Basin catchments (the southern zone 'shared reduction') to meet the needs of the Murray system.

Groundwater extractions and/or entitlements determined by the Basin Plan for the Campaspe highlands were less than the sustainable diversion limit set for the groundwater units, however, groundwater extraction from deep aquifers on the plains equal or exceed the sustainable diversion limit.

Further information on water recovery in the Murray–Darling Basin including an interactive map with catchment-specific information, is available at water recovery progress.

The Basin Plan allows for adjustments to SDLs if new works or changes in river operation and management rules increase the quantity of water available to be extracted, or efficiency measures through infrastructure works and upgrades reduce the quantity of water required in a delivery system.

The use of environmental water in a specific catchment or region will vary from year-to-year. The MDBA has produced a Basin-wide environmental watering strategy to guide the use of environmental water across the Murray–Darling Basin to help achieve the best possible results over the long term. Environmental water managers make the day-to-day decisions on what to water and when, in line with the strategy and taking into account seasonal conditions, priorities and the availability of environmental water. Watering decisions are made in consultation with various waterway managers and local landholders.

Catchment or regionally-specific details about environmental water use in the catchment including watering actions, portfolio details and planning, and monitoring of environmental watering, can be found through the Commonwealth Environmental Water Office or the state government environmental water manager (see table below).

Water management

The management of the water resources is the responsibility of local, regional, state and Australian government organisations.

Delivery to households, industry and farms is managed by local councils or regional water authorities.

State government departments for water ensures that: the network of authorities manage water responsibly and fairly; catchment and waterway health is maintained or improved through catchment management authorities; and water saving, re-use and flood management projects are implemented. State governments must manage their state’s water resources according to state and commonwealth water legislation.

In addition to directing operations of the regulated River Murray system, the MDBA implements a number of plans and programs to ensure the waters of the Basin, which flow through four states and one territory, are managed cohesively and in the best interests of all water users of the Basin. Such programs include:

Useful links

Rural water authority

Goulburn-Murray Water

Urban water authority

Coliban Water
Lower Murray Water (small northern portion of catchment)
Western Water (small south east portion of catchment)

State government water manager

Water (Department of Environment and Primary Industries, Victoria)

Water recovery

Basin Plan targets (MDBA)
Restoring the balance in the Murray-Darling Basin (Australian Government)

Infrastructure upgrades and efficiency projects

Sustainable Rural Water Use and Infrastructure (Australian Government)

Use of environmental water

Environmental watering in the Campaspe catchment (Commonwealth Environmental Water Office)
Environmental watering in Victoria (Victorian Environmental Water Holder)

Water storage levels

Campaspe catchment (MDBA)

Irrigation water allocation

Goulburn–Murray Water

Longitude map