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The Goulburn–Broken catchment has many creeks and rivers that flow into the 2 main rivers in the mountains and highlands of Northern Victoria. The Goulburn and Broken rivers are fed by high annual rainfall and snow melt and contribute 11% of the Basin's water.

The Goulburn River is one of the largest tributaries of the River Murray. Since the 1880s, the waters of the Goulburn River have been diverted for irrigation and urban use, with the Goulburn one of the most regulated rivers of the Basin.

The catchment is home to about 7% of the population of the Basin and the income of the region is derived from wholesale and retail trade, manufacturing (including food processing), agriculture and community services. Dairy and fruit production are the key industries that use irrigation water in the region.


Catchment area

2% of the Murray–Darling Basin

Contribution to Basin water


Annual stream flow

3,000 GL per year

River length

Goulburn River: 570 km, Broken River: 174 km


Goulburn River: Rubicon, Acheron, Yea and Broken rivers
Broken River: Lima East, Blind, Holland and Ryans creeks


Broken Creek

Towns include

Shepparton, Kyabram, Benalla, Seymour, Mansfield

Water storages

Goulburn River: Lake Eildon (3,334 GL), Goulburn Weir (26 GL), Waranga Basin (432 GL), Greens Lake (33 GL)
Broken River: Lake Nillahcootie (40 GL)

Water users

Irrigated agriculture, urban water supply, industry

The landscape and its water

The headwaters of the Goulburn and Broken rivers are the southern-most of all rivers of the Basin.

The Goulburn rises south of Lake Eildon in the Great Dividing Range. It runs through mountain forests where the rivers are clear, cold and fast-flowing with gravel and rubble beds. The surrounding mountains rise to more than 1,800 metres above sea level but the Goulburn runs in deep valleys at an elevation of about 300 m. The Broken River rises in forested country in the Wellington–Tolmie highlands south of Benalla, with an elevation up to 1,000 metres. The north of the catchment on the riverine plains, has an elevation of about 100 metres.

The Goulburn–Broken catchment has many creeks and rivers that flow into the 2 main rivers in the mountains and highlands on their north-west journey. The Broken River emerges onto the riverine plain at Benalla. Just north of the city, the Broken River splits, with the river continuing westwards and the Broken Creek heading north and then west past Nathalia, joining the River Murray upstream of Barmah. The Broken River meets the Goulburn River at Shepparton, and the Goulburn continues north-west for about another 100 km to where it meets the River Murray, upstream of Echuca.

The rivers are fed by high annual rainfall and snow melt – on average up to 1,600 mm – from the mountains. Rainfall on the plains drops significantly to 400–500 mm annually.

Groundwater is found in both shallow and deep aquifers that vary in character and connectivity across the catchment. Fresh groundwater is extracted for urban, domestic and stock use as well as irrigation. Some shallow and saline aquifers across the floodplains are a threat to productivity and natural assets, and are managed accordingly with pumping. Several groundwater systems are important elements of the river and wetland ecosystems.

People, industry and water use

The First Nations people of the northern plains of the Goulburn and Broken catchments are the Yorta Yorta and Bangerang Nations. The Taungurung is the main Nation of people in the Broken River Valley and upper Goulburn Valley.

Following in the steps of explorer Thomas Mitchell, settlements were established on the Goulburn River in the 1830s near what would become the towns of Seymour and Nagambie, to cater for overland travellers from Melbourne to Adelaide (via the river system) and to Sydney (via land). Settlers and squatters took up land from the 1840s for sheep grazing and wool production. Wine production began in the 1860s.

The construction of the Goulburn Weir in the late 1880s enabled irrigation for grain, fodder, pasture, orchards and vines. A regional food processing industry was established in the Goulburn Valley with the construction of a large fruit processing plant at Shepparton in 1917. The population and economy of the region expanded with soldier-settlement schemes after World War I and European immigration after World War II.

The population of the catchment is culturally diverse and includes First Nations people and migrants from Europe and the Middle East. There is also a high seasonal population, with more than 10,000 people coming to the Shepparton region each year during the fruit harvest season. The Greater Shepparton region (encompassing Shepparton city, Mooroopna and Tatura) has the largest population with about 60,000 people (ABS 2011). Smaller centres include Benalla (9,000 people), Kyabram (7,000 people), Seymour (6,000 people) and Numurkah (5,000 people).

The catchment supports a wide range of industries, with the most predominant being agriculture and food processing. Of the 2.4 million hectares in the catchment, 1.4 million hectares is dryland agriculture and almost 300,000 hectares is irrigated. The Shepparton region is renowned for (irrigated) fruit production, particularly peaches, pears and tomatoes, but a wide range of horticultural crops are produced. Dairying is a significant broadacre industry and to a lesser degree, irrigated. Dryland crops produce cereal, legume and oilseed grains, and fodder for livestock.

Timber, tourism and recreation are also important industries. The large population of the region also creates the need for substantial service industries such as health, education and finance.

The latest Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) report found that 50% of available surface water was extracted for use, which is extremely high compared with other catchments in the Basin. Groundwater extraction is 10% of available resources, and mainly occurs west of Shepparton for salinity control purposes.

Regulation of water in the catchment

River regulation in the Goulburn catchment began as early as the 1880s, with the construction of irrigation channels near Echuca. The Goulburn Weir at Nagambie was built in 1890 and the Waranga Swamp was converted to a water storage in 1905. Construction of Lake Eildon commenced in 1915 and its capacity was expanded almost ten-fold in 1955 to 3,334 GL.

Water in the Goulburn–Broken catchment is highly regulated. Water from much of the upper catchment (upper Goulburn, Jamieson, Big, Howqua and Delatite rivers and Ford and Merton creeks) flows into Lake Eildon for storage and is released according to urban and irrigation requirements in the Goulburn Valley, and urban and environmental requirements along the River Murray. In times of low urban water supplies, water from Lake Eildon may be piped from the Goulburn River to Melbourne, and from the Waranga Basin (via Lake Eppalock on the Campaspe River) to Bendigo and Ballarat.

Just north of Nagambie, the Goulburn River is further controlled by the Goulburn Weir where water is diverted east and west of the river, to service the Goulburn–Murray Irrigation District. Diversion for irrigation has reduced the average annual river flow through the lower Goulburn floodplain (a 150 km stretch from the Goulburn Weir to the River Murray) to less than half of the pre-regulated flow.

The lower reaches of the Broken River have been highly regulated since 1967. Flows are modified by Lake Nillahcootie to ensure supplies for irrigation, domestic, stock and urban water supply, as well as supplement flows via the lower Goulburn River to the River Murray.

Environmental importance

Although flow regulation and extensive development of the riverine plain has affected many ecosystems, the Goulburn–Broken catchment still contributes significantly to Australia’s biodiversity. Water recovered through the implementation of the Basin Plan will enable the lower Goulburn River floodplain to be managed in order to improve water quality and maintain and restore floodplain environments.

Another important function of the Goulburn–Broken catchment is to provide sufficient water to downstream environments, as it would have done prior to regulation of the rivers. The catchment provides 11% of the Basin’s water, and its water is important to River Murray sites such as the Gunbower Forest (a Ramsar site) and the Koondrook section of the of the Central Murray Forests (also Ramsar sites), as well as to contribute to whole-of-system flows for the River Murray channel.

The Sustainable Rivers Audit reported that the overall ecosystem health of the Goulburn and Broken rivers to be very poor. Flow regulation has significantly impacted species abundance and diversity for fish and macroinvertebrates. Riverine vegetation was in good condition in the upland zones of the valley but in poor condition in the lowlands. The physical form of the river was rated in good condition. Flow seasonality and variability was rated as good in the upland zones but very poor in the lowlands.

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 Murray–Darling Basin Authority (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 4 states and 1 territory, are managed cohesively and in the best interests of all water users of the Basin.

Rural water authority

Urban water authority

Catchment management authority

State government water

Use of environmental water

Irrigation water allocation


Updated: 29 Oct 2021