platypus underwater

Yarra Ranges Council, in collaboration with South East Water, University of Melbourne’s Waterways Ecosystem Research Group and Melbourne Water, has unveiled a new water system set to support fragile platypus habitats. 

The novel system of ‘smart’ rainwater tanks and urban lakes is expected to provide crucial water to support platypus habitat when it’s most needed – just before the breeding season.

Platypus have disappeared from many urban areas in Victoria due to habitat loss and modification, but some populations still exist across outer Melbourne, including Monbulk Creek in the Yarra Ranges.

Professor Tim Fletcher, Professor of Urban Echydrology Ecosystem and Forest Sciences at the University of Melbourne, said, “There’s often not enough water in streams for platypus.

“The loss of summer and autumn base flow has major consequences for the platypus distribution and reproductive success, decreasing their habitat and their primary food source right at the time when female platypus need abundant nourishment to prepare them for breeding.

“On the other hand, when it rains in urban areas, runoff from hard surfaces like roofs and roads causes erosion, pollution and loss of habitat. Between these two extremes, the platypus is caught between a rock and a hard place!”

Starting in 2022, households in catchment areas managed by Yarra Ranges Council and Melbourne Water will be offered a smart rainwater tank. 

Using ‘Tank Talk’ flow control technology developed by South East Water, the smart tank can be remotely controlled to release water to the stormwater network, to manage flows for the local platypus population, and help improve broader stream health, while ensuring enough water remains for household use.

“These tanks can be programmed to release water to the stormwater network before rain events – giving the tank capacity to absorb peak flow rates during rain, reducing the risk of flooding – but also release a steady trickle of water to the creek during dry periods, to sustain flows for the platypus,” Dr David Bergmann from South East Water said.

The smart network will also include two large water storages: Belgrave Lake and Monbulk Creek Retarding Basin at Birdsland Reserve.

Dr Rhys Coleman, Melbourne Water’s Manager of Waterways and Wetlands Research, said, “These storages will give us greater ability to regulate the flows provided to the creek.

“This is an exciting collaboration where research, technology and the community all have a significant part to play. It has the potential to demonstrate a new way of managing urban waterways that could have far reaching benefits for not only streams and aquatic life here, but globally.”

Yarra Ranges Council will be constructing demonstration sites featuring the new technology.

Dr Beth Wallis, Water Management Officer at Yarra Ranges Council, described the project as “an opportunity for Council to demonstrate more sustainable ways of managing our water, and of protecting the beautiful waterways for which the Yarra Ranges are so well-known.”

The waterways study is funded by the Australian Research Council’s Linkage Program, Melbourne Water, South East Water and Yarra Ranges Council.

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