Water Strategies and Plans

Policy drivers for water strategies and plans

The legal and policy drivers for water reform are driven from a national, regional and ACT level.

The National Water Initiative

The ACT Government is a partner to the 2004 Council of Australian Governments (COAG) National Water Initiative (NWI). The NWI is responding to the over allocation of Australia’s water resources, and the need for increased efficiency of water use. The NWI is a shared commitment by governments across Australia towards achieving a more cohesive national approach to managing, measuring, planning for, pricing and trading water.

In the ACT, many of the actions under the NWI have already been met under the water planning processes of the ACT Water Resources Act 2007 as set out in the National Water Reform Assessment 2014. A major achievement was the incorporation of a statutory water plan within this Act, which provides guidance on how the ACT can balance environmental needs and human consumption.

These achievements are acknowledged and it is recognised that further work may be required on a number of the remaining NWI reforms, such as the recognition of Indigenous values in water planning and improving knowledge and building research capacity.

COAG urban water reform

In 2008 COAG renewed the water reform agenda by announcing a work program to address key challenges in urban water management and planning. In 2009, COAG released the National Urban Water Planning Principles.

The need for reform in urban water planning and management is further supported by the outcomes of both the 2014 National Water Reform Assessment (National Water Commission), and the Urban water in Australia: future directions and the 2011 Productivity Commission report into the Australia’s urban water sector.

Murray–Darling Basin Plan

Three main issues identified in the Murray-Darling Basin are over-allocation of water, prolonged drought, natural climate variability and climate change, leading to deteroriation of rivers, wetlands, forests and floodplains in the basin. Murray-Darling Basin Authority is responsible for preparing and overseeing a legally enforceable management plan – the Basin Plan.

The Basin Plan sets and enforces environmentally sustainable limits on the quantities of water that may be taken from Basin water resources. It has Basin-wide environmental, water quality and salinity objectives and aims to develop efficient water trading regimes across the Basin. The plan includes requirements for state water resource plans and aims to improve water security for all Basin users.

The Basin Plan aims to achieve a balance between environmental, economic and social considerations.

Regional context

The ACT and NSW enjoy a close relationship as a result of unique cross border circumstances. Canberra’s location in the centre of the South East NSW Region renders it the principal service centre for the surrounding local government areas in NSW.

The ACT – NSW Regional Collaboration Memorandum of Understanding (2011) strengthens collaboration to optimise regional outcomes and service delivery to the ACT and surrounding South East NSW region, which includes the ACT and surrounding local government areas of Bega Valley, Bombala, Boorowa, Cooma-Monaro, Eurobodalla, Goulburn Mulwaree, Harden, Palerang, Queanbeyan City, Snowy River, Upper Lachlan, Yass Valley and Young. Regional collaboration by the ACT and NSW facilitates joint planning for sustainable regional growth, optimising future regional economic prospects and meeting regional service needs.

The ACT has the largest water storages in the upper Murrumbidgee River Valley and Southern Highlands. Population growth and urban development in NSW communities adjacent to the ACT region are expected to result in growing NSW demand for reticulated water sourced from the ACT’s urban water infrastructure.

The ACT and NSW will continue to work collaboratively, under the auspice of the ACT – NSW Regional Collaboration Memorandum of Understanding (2011) to identify a way forward with respect to water supply to NSW communities.

Water Resources Act 2007

The Water Resources Act 2007 (WR Act) is the governing legislation for managing water resources in the ACT. The WR Act defines access rights to surface and groundwater resources, environmental flow provisions, water licensing requirements, resource management and monitoring responsibilities and sets penalties for improper actions.

Protection of environmental flows is the most important principle of the Act. Environmental flows are defined in the Environmental Flow Guidelines, which is a legislative instrument under the WR Act. These guidelines set out the volumes and timings of environmental flows and abstraction limits in streams, rivers, lakes, and aquifers. In the ACT, water can only be used for other purposes once environmental flow requirements are met. The need for a regular review of environmental flows is recognised, especially in light of the potential impacts of climate change.

Under the WR Act, the establishment of a system of water entitlements and licences for water users in the ACT is also allowed, enabling access specifically to water (separate from land ownership). This, in turn, leads to the potential development of a water market, a key initiative of the NWI and a major driver of the Basin Plan. The ACT currently has a small internal market confined mainly to trades where water rights (e.g. access to water through a bore on the property) are sold when the related property is sold.

Environment Protection Act 1997

The Environment Protection Act 1997 (EP Act) provides the regulatory framework to help reduce and eliminate the discharge of pollutants into air, land and water in the ACT.

Regulations under the EP Act determine which water pollutants cause environmental harm to waterways and set water quality standards for different water uses (e.g. domestic water supply and recreational water use). The EP Act specifies the indicators and the maximum concentrations of substances and materials in water which are acceptable for the maintenance of each environmental use or value. The EP Act is also supported by a number of environment protection policies, including water quality and waste water reuse for irrigation, which provide guidance on achieving compliance with the provisions of the Act and its regulations.

The EP Act carries penalties for non-compliance but the adequacy of these relating to water quality and catchment health requires further review. This may result in enforcements provisions within the EP Act being strengthened to enable consideration of both actual and potential environmental harm.

As a statutory position, the Environmental Protection Authority is responsible for administering the Environment Protection Act 1997.

Utilities Act 2000

The Utilities Act 2000 sets out a range of the licensing requirements and conditions for utilities. With respect the legislation deals with water services, sewerage services and water supply networks. The Act also provides for regulations to set water conservation measures and water restrictions according to criteria set under the regulations.

The Act also provides for the lodging and investigation of service complaints through the ACT Civil and Administrative Appeals Tribunal.

The Utilities (Technical Regulation) Act 2014 ensure the safe, reliable and efficient delivery of regulated utility services such as water services. It sets out technical requirements for water utilities. The specifics of any requirements are set out in technical codes made under the Act.

ACT has a technical regulator of utilities services. The role of the Technical Regulator is to ensure safe and reliable water services to the community.

In the ACT, the Minister of the Environment is responsible for technical regulation. The Director-General of the Environment and Planning Directorate is the Technical Regulator who administers technical regulation.