Ecological, cultural, social and economic values of our waterways

Many values are provided by our waterways. These values depend on their ecological condition or ‘waterway health’.
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Western Australian waterways have many ecological, cultural, social and economic values.

Waterways in Western Australia have intrinsic ecological value and also provide a wide range of ecosystem services. 

Ecosystem services result from a waterway's hydrology, landforms, vegetation, fauna and micro-organisms functioning together as an ecosystem to provide benefits for people, our cities and communities, the economy and environment.

Ecological values

The intrinsic ecological values of waterways include a diverse range of aquatic fauna such as fish and invertebrates (such as crayfish, crabs, snails, octopus, shellfish, and aquatic macroinvertebrates),  dolphins, rakali (water rats), water birds and migratory wading birds, frogs and reptiles (e.g. snakes, turtles and crocodiles).

Waterways act as refuges for terrestrial fauna species during times of drought and as corridors for wildlife movement and plant dispersal. Waterways also support a wide variety of aquatic and terrestrial plant species and vegetation communities - see aquatic and riparian vegetationmacroalgae and seagrass.

These ecological values contribute to the south-west of Western Australia being one of the world's 35 biodiversity hotspots, which include some of the richest and most threatened reservoirs of plant and animal life on earth. They also contribute to the large number of waterways and water bodies that have been identified as high value waterways.

Cultural and social values

Aboriginal cultural heritage

Waterways have value for many people in Western Australia, especially Aboriginal people. They are important for the customs and spiritual beliefs of the Aboriginal community.

Waterways provided important food resources, such as waterfowl, tortoises, fish, rhizomes, bulbs and roots, and they were also significant trade routes and camping sites. For this reason, waterways and their foreshores often contain artefacts or objects, such as fish traps, and they are significant places for spiritual and ceremonial reasons. 

Aboriginal sites are of immense cultural, scientific, educational and historic interest and provide Aboriginal people with an important link to their present and past culture. Approvals may be required for activities that could impact Aboriginal cultural heritage in WA. 

For more information, refer to the Department of Planning, Lands and Heritage's Aboriginal heritage webpage.

European settlement

Historically waterways were a focal point for explorers and settlers, and many towns and cities were established near rivers and estuaries based on reliable sources of freshwater, safe anchorages and an abundance of food including fish.


Waterways provide opportunities for recreational activities such as swimming, boating and fishing and foreshore areas provide space for walking, cycling and gathering for social occasions. Waterways provide a sense of place and identity for many people, and are appreciated for their aesthetic beauty within the landscape.

Health and wellbeing

Waterways and foreshore areas play a vital role in human health, wellbeing and development. Recent research shows that accessibility to natural areas can reduce crime, foster psychological wellbeing, reduce stress, increase productivity and promote healing. Waterways within our towns and cities are a means for many people to connect with both water and the natural environment.

Waterways and their foreshores reduce the impact of increasing temperatures as a result of climate change. They are cooler areas of the landscape that provide shade for people and animals on hot days. In our cities, they help to reduce the urban heat island effect.

Economic benefits

The economic benefits provided by healthy waterway ecosystems include:

  • clean water for drinking and domestic use
  • water appropriate for maintaining public spaces including sports grounds
  • water appropriate for agriculture and industry (to produce food and goods)
  • maintaining soil fertility by inundating agricultural land
  • movement of water through the landscape for irrigation, drainage and flood management
  • commercial enterprise such as transport of goods and passengers, commercial fishing and aquaculture, recreation industries (e.g. sailing, water skiing) and tourism
  • control of pests (e.g. mosquito larvae eaten by native fish)
  • increased property values due to amenity and visual appeal.

More information

We consider the values of our waterways in the way we regulate and manage the environment and water resources. For example, we assess the values of waterways when we are developing water allocation plans; and we set and review allocation limits, so the resource and its environmental, cultural and social values are protected.

See also our role in waterway management.

For further information about waterways see: