Durt’Yowan: The Life Source (Living Latrobe Strategy)

The Latrobe system is undergoing a significant transition…

Due to the start of the staged coal mine closures in the Latrobe Valley, as well as challenges like climate change and competing demands for water, there is now a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to restore resilience and accelerate change for the benefit of the environment and all community members.

Now released publicly Durt’Yowan (Latrobe River): The Life Source short film, is available for you to watch and learn why Durt’Yowan has been the life source for people in Gippsland for thousands of years.

Film synopsis

With some big changes on the horizon for the Latrobe River or Durt’Yowan as Gunaikurnai people have called it for thousands of years, it is important to know the story behind one of Gippsland’s longest rivers.

Coined a “working river”, since colonisation the Latrobe has been straightened, its floodplain drained, trees cleared, and dams built, all to make the river work for us. All is not lost; we are at the edge of a once in a lifetime opportunity to change the Latrobe from a working river into a river that works again. In the special short film that will be fully released soon, you will be shown a brief history of Durt’Yowan including the ups and downs of its life to date and be inspired to help the river in it new chapter.

You can sit back and enjoy the film in your own time by clicking the play button above to learn why Durt’Yowan has been the life source for people in Gippsland for thousands of years, or you can organise a screening for your group or organisation, by sending an email to eflows@wgcma.vic.gov.au.

Transformation of the Latrobe

The West Gippsland CMA has developed a strategy to turn this ‘working river’ into a river that works again. ‘Transformation of the Latrobe: Pathways for the Latrobe River System’ comprises a package of management actions to improve the condition and health of the River system.

The proposed program of works to improve the health of Durt’Yowan (Latrobe River) ranges from:

  • removing fish barriers
  • riverside fencing and revegetation
  • rehabilitating Lower Latrobe Wetlands

Below is a diagram that shows the proposed program of works in more detail and an image of the Upper Latrobe river.

Graphic showing Durt'Yowan proposed program of works
Graphic showing Durt’Yowan proposed program of works


Fish species such as the Australian Bass, Dwarf Galaxias, Australian Grayling and Estuary Perch call the river system their home along with platypus, rakali, frogs and burrowing crayfish. Numerous bird species such as the Azure Kingfisher, White-bellied Sea Eagle, Australasian Bittern, Caspian Tern and Nankeen Night Heron also call the system home.

Australian Bass were released into Traralgon Creek a tributary of the Latrobe River, in December in partnership with Victorian Fisheries, this “King of the River” video tells the story in full.

Frequently asked questions

Q. What is Durt’Yowan (the Latrobe River system)?

A: Durt’Yowan is the Gunaikurnai name for the Latrobe River system, it comprises the Latrobe River, its tributaries and the Lower Latrobe Wetlands, an important part of the Ramsar-listed Gippsland Lakes site.

Figure 1 – Durt’Yowan – the Latrobe River system

Q. What are the water dependent values of Durt’Yowan (the Latrobe River system)?

A: Durt’Yowan supports plant and animal species of high conservation significance. The Latrobe River also provides an essential source of freshwater to the Ramsar-listed Gippsland Lakes site, of which the Lower Latrobe Wetlands are an important component.

In addition to the environmental values, the Latrobe system supports cultural, social, recreational and economic values. Gunaikurnai people are the traditional owners of Gippsland, and the Latrobe system. Waterways and wetlands in the region contain important ceremonial places and for thousands of years the Latrobe River provided resources such as food and medicines to the Gunaikurnai people.

Figure 2 – Durt’Yowan – Ramsar significance table

Q: What are the environmental objectives for Durt’Yowan (the Latrobe River system)?

A: Environmental objectives guide the water requirement for the river system and represent the values that society seeks to improve or maintain with water for the environment.

Figure 3 – Environmental objectives guide

Q: What are the historical and current impacts and threats to Durt’Yowan (the Latrobe River system)?

A: The current impacts to the environment and Traditional Owner values of the Latrobe River system (including its estuary and the Ramsar listed lower Latrobe wetlands) are high due to historical river course modifications, river straightening, draining of swamps/wetlands, land clearing, removal of riparian vegetation, weeds, invasive animals, construction of large on-stream storage’s and (critically) the large volume of water removed from the river for power generation, industry, urban supply, agriculture and other purposes.

Changes to the river course have induced significant erosion problems, reduced habitat for native species, created barriers to fish migration and altered flooding patterns. Changes to the flow regime of the river degrade it’s physical and ecological health, and therefore its ability to provide environmental, social economic and cultural benefits to the community. Although some water for the environment has been allocated to the Latrobe River system (in Blue Rock Reservoir), it is not sufficient to meet the communities objectives for the river and downstream environments.

Q: What are the future risks to Durt’Yowan (the Latrobe River system)?

A: Competing demands for water including water for mine rehabilitation, new and emerging industries, urban growth and agricultural expansion will all place pressures on the Latrobe’s precious water resources. This is likely to be overlaid by a trend toward a climate typified by drier conditions interspersed with intense weather events. Reduced freshwater flows in the river is the greatest threat to riverine health.

Additional risks associated with mine rehabilitation, and the potential formation of large pit lakes are being investigated through processes such as the Latrobe Valley Regional Rehabilitation Strategy and the Hazelwood Mine Rehabilitation Environment Effects Study.

Q: What would repurposing water for mine rehabilitation mean for the river system?

A: Repurposing water for mine rehabilitation would impact the ability to meet the water needs of the river system (including the estuary and the lower Latrobe wetlands) and Traditional Owners.  It would entrench the significant legacy impacts of coal fired power generation in the Latrobe Valley on the Latrobe River system.  This would create an enduring opportunity cost to the Victorian community to heal Country and meet community expectations to improve the health of the Latrobe River system (see diagrams below). 

In addition, it would see a change in the usage pattern of the water. Water used for power generation varies throughout the year, particularly when it comes to water stored in Blue Rock Reservoir, with a higher demand for water in the warmer months. Mine rehabilitation would see a consistent extraction of water throughout the year changing the flow regime, or pattern of flows, the river has seen for the last 50-60 years.

There are also impacts to the river’s health associated with the infrastructure built to harvest and supply river water for power generation (i.e. dams and other in-stream structures) including barriers to the movement of fish and sediment down the river. 

Q: Why are flood flows so important for the health of Durt’Yowan?

A: The plants and animals that live in rivers rely on flows that naturally fluctuate over time according to patterns in climate and weather.  This includes floods and low flows, and everything in between. Rivers need floods to remain healthy. 

Floods are also vital for the health of salty environments, including estuaries and the ocean. The importance of moderate to large floods for Lake Wellington and its fringing wetlands cannot be overstated.  Floods are responsible for flushing of salts through the system and providing important ecological cues for plants and animals. Plans to harvest floods to assist with rehabilitation of the Latrobe Valley coal mine voids should be carefully considered in this context.

Q: Wouldn’t using mine pit lakes as a flood mitigation measure, such as ‘flood trimming’, benefit the community?

A: The majority of towns and cities along the Latrobe River were settled at a time when floods were a regular occurrence. This meant that the towns and cities were built on higher ground to avoid most of the impacts of flooding. Now, any development on or around the floodplain is required to go through a planning permit application process which considers the likelihood of flood impacts to the site as well as the implications of the development of neighbouring and downstream properties. Through this process, specific design elements are put on the development (e.g. minimum ground floor level heights for a building) to reduce or remove the impacts of floods.  It is unlikely that “trimming” floods will provide any meaningful flood mitigation benefit for downstream communities or landholders.

Q: What is the West Gippsland CMA doing to help restore the health of Durt’Yowan (the Latrobe River system)?

A: The West Gippsland CMA are passionate about river health. The CMA has a 25-year legacy of working with the community to improve the health of our waterways and wetlands. The CMA will be continuing in its efforts to help landholders and the community protect and revegetate riparian habitat, reinstatement natural river flow paths, remove barriers to fish passage, implement weed control and importantly secure more water for the environment.

We also recognise that the transition process in the Latrobe Valley provides a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to accelerate these river health initiatives and build resilience into the river system to give it the best chance of surviving future challenges. The West Gippsland CMA has developed a strategy to turn this ‘working river’ into a river that works again. ‘Transformation of the Latrobe: Pathways for the Latrobe River System’ comprises a package of management actions to improve the condition and health of the River system.

Q: What can community members do to help?

A: We encourage all community members to be curious, ask questions and get involved in the important discussions about the future of the Latrobe Valley and the river system.

If you wish to be informed of future opportunities via the CMA please sign up using this form.

How to get involved

To stay up to date with news and events relating to Durt’Yowan (Latrobe River) submit the form below and we will keep in touch via email.