Urban water

URBAN WATER SUPPLY IN AUSTRALIA  
A snapshot of institutional arrangements, security planning and objectives
J Allan
Publication Date (Web): 21 February 2018
DOI: https://doi.org/10.21139/wej.2018.012


Droughts and floods are an established feature of Australia’s climate, having broad effects on both rural and urban communities. So how does a country like Australia aim to maintain urban water security?

Australia’s blueprint for management of water is the National Water Initiative, a shared commitment by governments to increase the efficiency of Australia's water use, leading to greater certainty for investment and productivity, for rural and urban communities and for the environment. Planning for urban water security is guided by the National Urban Water Planning Principles that include a focus on agreed levels of service (LOS), and a partnership approach to enable stakeholders to make informed contributions.  

In all states and territories, responsibility for management of water resources is consistently delegated to state departments, operating within established frameworks. This is a critical first step in moving towards effective urban water security planning. However, the establishment of agreed LOS for water supply reliability has not consistently occurred.

The Water Services Association of Australia describes long term LOS objectives in terms of frequency, severity and duration of restrictions. There is clear evidence of LOS objectives being developed in Adelaide, South East Queensland (including Brisbane), Australian Capital Territory (including Canberra), Darwin, Perth and Sydney, with varying degrees of sophistication. All these jurisdictions have used the WSAA approach to LOS and quantitatively described expected restrictions frequency. However, in most cases there is scope to add more detail particularly in regards to the severity and duration of restrictions that might be expected. The LOS approach taken in Melbourne is quite different, with a focus on water storage levels and only qualitative indications of the frequency or severity of restrictions that might be experienced. Elsewhere in Victoria, the WSAA approach is adopted. In Tasmania, there is no evidence of any long term urban water planning or strategy development; nor any discussion on the establishment of LOS for urban water supplies.

Although there is significant progress in developing LOS in Australia, it is questionable whether many can be called “agreed” LOS, as per the urban water planning principles. There is evidence of broader stakeholder and community engagement in the development of long-term water plans and strategies, and also for the general use of restrictions. However, nowhere is there evidence that a community has been presented with LOS alternatives and the accompanying advantages and disadvantages of the options. Such an approach would seem a reasonable progression from the solid foundations now established.

This paper provides a summary of the institutional arrangements for water service delivery and security planning in place in late 2017 for each state and territory in Australia, as well as a review of the levels of service (LOS) objectives adopted in each jurisdiction. It also touches on arrangements for water resource management and regulatory oversight.
 

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