Environmental water provisions
Over the last ten to 15 years there has been increasing recognition of the
importance of providing adequate water allocation to our surface water and
groundwater dependent ecosystems. The 1994
Council of Australian Government (COAG) agreement on water reform outlined
that environmental water allocations needed to be determined using the best
available scientific methods and information. This agreement also emphasised
that the environment must be given priority in water allocation decisions.
All states and territories have developed white papers, strategic plans or
policies on water that recognise shortages and the need for management, especially
in relation to the environment and achieving sustainable use. These policy
documents set out how water reform will be achieved and how the objectives
of the relevant state and territory water Acts will be achieved. Most states
have these well developed. The exceptions are Western Australia, where it
is still being developed, and the Northern Territory, where it seems to be
rolled into a general environmental policy (see below).
Upland & lowland rivers in reference condition A. Upland river
with variety of riparian vegetation
Upland & lowland rivers in reference condition B. Lowland river
with stable banks good riparian vegetation
Upland & lowland rivers in reference condition C. Lowland river
in reference condition
Upland & lowland rivers in reference condition D. Upland river
in reference conditions with variable flow, variety of habitat
The June 2004 Intergovernmental
Agreement on a National Water Initiative (NWI) renewed
these efforts by reaffirming commitment to the 1994 COAG agreement on water
reform and setting a new schedule of actions. All states and territories are
now signatories to the NWI.
The specific NWI objectives that relate to environmental water provisions
- Objective (iii)statutory provision for environmental and
other public benefit outcomes, and improved environmental management practices
- Objective (iv)complete the return of all currently overallocated
or overused systems to environmentally sustainable levels of extraction
Furthermore, clause 79(f) of the NWI requires:
management and institutional arrangements to ensure the achievement of
environmental and public benefit outcomes including any special requirements
needed for the environmental values and water management arrangements necessary
to sustain high conservation value rivers, reaches and groundwater area.
Environmental water provisions provide water for the environment to restore
ecological processes and biodiversity of water dependent ecosystems. These
provisions may have environmental and other public benefit outcomes (such as
public health, cultural, recreational, fisheries, tourism and others).
Through the NWI and the
Framework Agreement, 1996 National Principles for the Provision of Water
national water policy principles and determination methods have been developed
for allocating water to the environment. There are several surface water management
areas in all states and territories without developed plans, and many surface
water management areas with plans in progress that are not yet implemented.
However, the jurisdictions have necessarily prioritised surface water management
areas for the development and implementation of plans for environmental water
provisions. South Australia has a series of reports assessing progress in the
implementation of their Strategic Water Plan 2000.
Each state and territory approaches the allocation of environmental water
differently. New South Wales has divided surface water management areas into
regulated and unregulated sections. Water sharing plans covering environmental
water provisions in New South Wales can apply only to sections of rivers downstream
of dams rather than to entire catchments; other jurisdictions cover entire
catchments. Differences between the water Acts in each state and territory
also lead to differences in the implementation of plans . The state and territory
maps also show the proportion of mean annual flow available for the environment
and the nature of rules that could be applied in the plan.
The following sections review the progress of each state and territory in
implementation of environmental water provisions. A summary of legislation
and policies related to environmental water are provided in the Environmental
water provisions at a glance section.
The variety of legislation and policies demonstrates the range of views and
water resource issues in each state and territory. It is unclear whether or
not these arrangements are able to achieve the overall goal of sustainable