ACT Basin Priority Project

Our lakes and waterways help to make Canberra one of the world’s most liveable cities. They are popular places for recreation and relaxation and they add to the scenic beauty of our landscape. Importantly, they also play a vital role in protecting the health of the Murrumbidgee and Molonglo rivers by reducing the impact of stormwater and trapping sediment and other pollutants.

Unfortunately urban development, past land and water management regimes, poor community awareness around water polluting behaviours and the threat of climate change are placing pressure on our lakes and rivers. In turn, these affect the quality of water flowing out of the ACT into the Murray–Darling Basin.

Announced in 2014, this joint Australian and ACT Government initiative recognises the importance of reducing these effects, improving water quality and protecting our waterways for future generations, with $93.5 million in funding allocated over five years. In May 2016, the ACT Government secured the balance of $85 million of Australian Government funding.

Media release

It will focus on six priority catchments – Yarralumla Creek, Fyshwick, Lake Tuggeranong, Upper Molonglo, Lower Molonglo, and West Belconnen.

Investigations over the last 18 months included significant community consultation to identify the most effective water quality treatments for each catchment, taking into account the different characteristics and environmental impacts, community preferences and cost-benefit analyses of the interventions.

Twenty-five priority projects have been subsequently identified and construction is expected to commence in 2017. The final priority list of water quality treatments includes a mix of new rain gardens, wetlands, ponds, creek restoration, swales, gross pollutant traps and the potential use of stormwater for irrigation. Download the map which shows the location of each priority project and the planned treatment.

These projects represent the best and most balanced outcomes for the ACT, improving our water quality, protecting the Murray–Darling Basin for future generations and providing more quality recreational areas for ACT residents.

Have Your Say

You are encouraged to contribute your knowledge, help generate ideas and have a say about future priorities for improving and building infrastructure to help improve and protect water quality in the ACT.

If you have any feedback or require further assistance, please contact

Project objectives

The ACT Basin Priority Project aims to improve long-term water quality in the ACT’s lakes and waterways, and the overall environmental health of the Murrumbidgee River system through the following:

  • Carry out comprehensive event based monitoring to identify the most critical factors affecting water quality in the ACT.
  • Work with technical experts, stakeholders and the community to explore innovative ideas and the best options to address these issues.
  • Establish best-practice examples of water quality management so they can be replicated across the ACT and in other Murray–Darling Basin communities.
  • Invest in infrastructure and technical solutions that will reduce the impact of stormwater, sediment and other pollutants.
  • Raise awareness about the issues, and encouraging residents, businesses and visitors to help look after our waterways by changing behaviour that directly effects water quality.

Project timelines

Phase 1 – February 2014 to February 2016

Phase 1 focuses on implementing a comprehensive water quality monitoring program and assessing a range of potential options to improve water quality:

  • Design an integrated approach to catchment monitoring across the ACT by creating a framework to guide future water quality monitoring in the six priority catchments.
  • Collect and analyse detailed data to determine the full extent of water quality issues in and around the ACT.
  • Audit existing water quality management infrastructure and analyse its performance.
  • Assess options to improve water quality, including improvements that can be made to existing infrastructure and potential investments in new works.
  • Consult with technical experts, stakeholders and the broader community to refine and confirm investment priorities.

At the end of phase one, a business case will be prepared and submitted to the Australian Government recommending priority investments for phase two of the project.

Phase 2 – May 2016 to March 2019

This phase focuses on infrastructure development and improving catchment management:

  • Improve existing infrastructure so it is more effective.
  • Build new infrastructure in the priority catchments.
  • Establish an ongoing system to assess how well the new infrastructure is working, with a view to guiding future investments and best practice.
  • Work closely with community groups and the broader ACT community to implement behaviour change campaigns to address pollutants at their source.


In June 2004, the Council of Australian Governments signed a blueprint to guide water reform across Australia. Known as the National Water Initiative (NWI), it sets out agreed actions to achieve a more cohesive approach to the way Australian governments manage our precious water resources.

In July 2008, the Australian Government and states involved in managing the Murray–Darling Basin (New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, Victoria and the ACT) finalised an Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA) that focussed on reform in the Basin.

The IGA aims to progress the objectives of the NWI. It also encourages governments to enter into water management partnership agreements to undertake water reforms that will help ensure the future of communities and industry, and enhance environmental outcomes.

These water management partnership agreements provide for the Basin states to undertake one or more priority projects that will substantially contribute to improved water use efficiency and enhance the sustainability of rural water use.

The Australian Government and ACT Government signed a project schedule in February 2014 to establish a priority project in the ACT. Under the agreement, the Australian Government will provide funding up to $85 million to improve long-term water quality in the ACT and Murrumbidgee River system. The ACT Government will contribute 10% ($8.5 million) towards the project.

See media release - $85 million to improve water quality in the ACT


Effective governance is fundamental to the success of the ACT Basin Priority Project. Representative bodies and systems have been established to guide the project. They involve community stakeholders, peak professional organisations, technical experts and every level of government.

  1. ACT and Region Catchment Management Coordination Group includes representatives from: ACT Environment and Planning Directorate, ACT Chief Minister, Treasury and Economic Development Directorate, ACT Territory and Municipal Services Directorate, ACT Health, ACT Emergency Services Agency, National Capital Authority, Icon Water, South East Local Land Services, Queanbeyan City Council, Palerang Council, Cooma-Monaro Council, Yass Council, and the Upper Murrumbidgee Catchment Coordinating Committee.
  2. Directors-General Water Group includes senior representatives from across the ACT Government with responsibilities relating to water.
  3. Project Advisory Group - Technical Experts includes representatives from the University of Canberra, Waterwatch and experts with water science, modelling and engineering backgrounds.
  4. Project Advisory Group - Community Stakeholders includes representatives from the Upper Murrumbidgee Catchment Coordinating Committee, community councils, catchment groups, Natural Resource Management Council, Queanbeyan Landcare, Consult Australia, Australian Water Association and Engineers Australia.
  5. Project Management Group staff from Environment and Planning directorate, Water Policy branch are responsible for overall management and implementation of the project.
  6. Joint Commonwealth/ACT Steering Committee includes the ACT Environment and Planning Directorate’s Director-General, Executive Director for Environment, and Executive Manager, Catchment Management and Water Policy; the Australian Government Department of the Environment’s Commonwealth Water Holder, the Assistant Secretary of the Wetlands, Policy and Projects Branch, and the Commonwealth Environmental Water Office Director, Major Projects: and the ACT Basin Priority Project's Program Manager.
  7. Minister for the Environment, ACT Government,Simon Corbell MLA, is a Labor Member for Molonglo. He has long been passionate about making Canberra a more sustainable city.
  8. Minister for the Environment, Australian Government, the Hon. Greg Hunt, MP, is a Liberal Member for Flinders.


Community survey - Social expectations of water

A region-wide survey into people’s views on our waterways was undertaken in 2015 by the University of Canberra on behalf of the ACT Government as part of the ACT Basin Priority Project.

Over 4500 people participated in the ACT and Region Social Expectations of Waterways survey, which explored community attitudes and values relating to water quality and recreational use of key lakes and waterways in Canberra and the local region. The findings show how our community values clean streams, rivers and lakes  given their importance for agriculture, health, sport, recreation and wellbeing.

The survey results will inform a community education campaign around improving water quality as part of the $93.5 million Basin Priority Project.

Social Expectations of Water - Summary

Community feedback reports

Following the consultation period that closed on September 8, 2015, we are pleased to provide catchment-based summaries of the feedback we received.

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