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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 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.


Catchment area

0.4% of the Murray–Darling Basin

Contribution to Basin water


Annual stream flow

Campaspe: 352 GL

River length

220 km


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

Towns include

Kyneton, Rochester, Echuca

Water storages

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

Water users

Urban water supply, industry, stock and domestic, irrigation

The landscape and its water

The Campaspe River rises south of Woodend in the Central Highlands of Victoria, which form part of the Great Dividing Range. The river rises close to the Coliban River headwaters and about 20 km east of the Loddon headwaters, flowing 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 joins the Campaspe at 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 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 and central 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 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 around 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. Centres in the Campaspe catchment include Echuca with a population of about 13,000 (ABS 2016), Rochester with 3,000 and Kyneton with 6,000. In the northern part of the catchment, the main centres provide employment in food processing, 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 fishers, 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.

The latest CSIRO report found that 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 northern 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 the Loddon region.

Stream flows in the lower catchment have been reversed due to regulation (high flows in summer and low in winter), which has had a significant detrimental 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  plants and animals 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  reported the overall ecosystem health of the Campaspe River as very poor. Flow regulation has seriously impacted the species abundance and diversity for fish, but not so much for macroinvertebrates. Riverine vegetation was rated in extremely poor condition overall. The physical form of the river was rated in moderate condition, although impacts of sedimentation were evident. Flow seasonality and variability was rated in moderate condition.

Water recovery

The Basin Plan sets Sustainable Diversion Limits, which is how much water can be used in the Murray–Darling Basin, while leaving enough water for the environment. 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.

The use of environmental water in a specific catchment or region will vary from year-to-year. The MDBA has 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 Holder or the state government environmental water manager. 

More information

Water management

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

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

State government departments ensure the network of authorities manage water responsibly and fairly, that catchment and waterway health is maintained or improved through catchment management authorities, and that 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.

Rural water authority

Urban water authority

State government water

Use of environmental water

Irrigation water allocation


Updated: 16 Jun 2020