Tarago Reservoir Catchment Project

Aerial photo of the Tarago Catchment  

The Tarago Reservoir Catchment Project is a water quality and public health initiative jointly funded by Melbourne Water and the Baw Baw Shire Council. Together, we are collaborating with landholders and other key stakeholders to manage the potential risk to drinking water supplies and public health from on-site domestic wastewater systems in the Tarago drinking water catchment. 

The Baw Baw Shire Council is committed to the monitoring and management of on-site domestic wastewater management systems within the Shire and regularly updates its records on these systems.


The Baw Baw Shire area incorporates seven drinking water catchments, of which the Tarago Catchment is one.

Map of Victorian water catchment areas, highlighting the Tarago Catchment

There are around 12,000 septic tanks across the Shire and the potential negative impact of underperforming domestic on-site septic tanks/wastewater systems in the Tarago Declared Water Supply Catchment has been formally recognised as a risk to water supply since the first iteration of Melbourne Water’s Tarago Catchment Management Plan in 2003 (for more information visit the Melbourne Water website and the Gippsland Water website). The original plan and the review conducted in 2013 assign responsibility to the Baw Baw Shire Council to address this risk.

The Baw Baw Shire Council’s Domestic Wastewater Management Plan 2016 seeks to manage the risk from new and existing domestic on-site wastewater systems under regulatory requirements of the Environment Protection Authority and the Victorian Government’s Public Health & Wellbeing Act

The Project

The Tarago Project is guided by the strategic framework of the Tarago Reservoir Implementation Program and was executed by Baw Baw Shire Council and Melbourne Water in June 2017.

The framework incorporates a:

  • Stakeholder engagement program including design and delivery of a targeted communications strategy for the Tarago Reservoir catchment;
  • Delivery model to address systems WITH and WITHOUT an on-site wastewater permit, initially through best value community incentives/voluntary compliance;
  • Delivery model to address domestic wastewater maintenance actions and compliance enforcement.

The State Planning Policy Framework and Local Planning Policy Framework, including the Municipal Strategic Statement, provides strategies and policies which may affect the use and development of land are supported by local planning zones and overlays. Special Water Supply Catchment Area and indicates the land must be carefully managed to not adversely impact water quality. 

The Tarago Catchment Project is overseen by a dedicated Tarago Catchment Project Officer and representatives of Melbourne Water and the Baw Baw Shire Council Public Health team. The two-year position is externally funded by Melbourne Water and the officer commenced with Baw Baw Shire Council in early October 2017. The project officer has worked extensively with landholders, schools and volunteer groups in the area since 2009, farmed at Neerim in the Tarago catchment and is well-known in the local community.    

The Tarago Catchment Project Officer works with stakeholders to raise awareness around the importance of properly maintaining septic tanks and encouraging and guiding landowners to take up the maintenance incentives offered under the project. 

Incentives include:

‘Dilution’ may be the ‘solution’ for farm sediment and nutrient runoff, but it is no match for bacterial and viral pathogens from domestic wastewater.  The implications to public health from these threats in drinking water catchments cannot be underestimated. 

Decisions made by Baw Baw Shire Council during 2017 were used to guide over 500 planning permit applications in the future use and development of land across the municipality. Council provides educational information to community on domestic wastewater management, and its authorised officers undertake inspections for new on-site wastewater system applications. 

Failing systems may produce pools of ‘smelly’ water outside the home and around sheds and are non-compliant with EPA if this water is discharging from the property. Baw Baw Shire Council encourages landowners to seek the advice from a professional plumber where domestic wastewater systems are deemed faulty.

The Baw Baw Shire Council’s Tarago Catchment Project presents an important opportunity for other councils and water authorities managing drinking water catchments with unpermitted and/or failing domestic wastewater systems.