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 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
 
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 are:

  • 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 1994 Framework Agreement, 1996 National Principles for the Provision of Water for Ecosystems, 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.

Related links

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 use.

 

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Last Updated 25/06/2007