Not to water it down, but rain is the key to our big green city

2 May 2023

Water is essential for liveability in Melbourne, keeping our green spaces healthy and cooling the city. Learn how we’re creating a more sustainable water system for the city. 
Melbourne’s four seasons in one day may dampen the spirits of some, but the truth is our much-maligned wet weather is actually the key to ensuring our city stays cooler and greener in the face of climate change. 

Each year enough rain falls in our municipality to fill 8000 Olympic swimming pools. Of this rain, a little over half is collected on sealed surfaces, such as roofs and roads.  Which means, 10,000 million litres of stormwater literally washes down the drain, taking with it litter and pollution. 

So, at the City of Melbourne, we’re doing everything we can to collect more of it, clean it and store it for irrigation. 

Because by 2050, demand for water to maintain our parks and growing urban forest will double.  

And while we have been fortunate to have healthy rainfall; we remember the Millenium Drought when we experienced rainfall 14 per cent below average.   

This saw our world-renowned parks and gardens significantly impacted, turning to dust and trees suffering from lack of water – not just during the drought but for a decade after.  

So we’re prioritising water sensitive urban design, especially using stormwater runoff to support our precious trees and gardens.  

Historically, cities were designed to be impermeable, and that’s the thinking we’re now challenging. 

Bourke Street Mall, for example, is a traditional streetscape. Rain falls and runs straight off the pavement, into the drain and out into Port Phillip Bay. It’s a waste. So we’re trying to find more ways to capture and reuse it in a more sustainable way. 

This includes introducing permeable surfaces, rather than letting it literally drain away. 

We have developed six stormwater harvesting systems across the city collectively storing and supplying an average 230 million litres per year. 

Our greening projects across the city are kept green with stormwater, including our raingardens and tree pits, as well as underground soil trenches that increase soil moisture for trees.   

A person walking across tree-lined Swanston Street after heavy rainfall. There is a blue tram in the background.
We’re making our surfaces more permeable to capture rain as it falls to keep our trees green.

We’re also encouraging partnerships with private buildings and developers, helping them intercept rainwater run-off from rooftops to irrigate their plants. 

Our city’s re-development areas are low-lying and flooding is a major challenge.  

So we’re designing and delivering lush and cool streetscapes that carry out a flood management role.  

For instance, in Fishermans Bend, the largest urban renewal project in Australia, we are part of the team implementing the largest water-sensitive urban design project.  

The flood management interventions will reduce flood risk by increasing permeability, retaining water in the landscape, capturing water for later use.  To learn more about our Water Sensitive Urban Design approach, visit Urban Water.

Water use targets

We’ve set a goal that by 2030, 50 per cent of all council’s water use will be sourced from alternative sources – stormwater or recycled water – rather than drinking water. We want to see 20 per cent of all water use across the municipality sourced from alternative water sources.

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