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How SA is managing opening reservoirs to the public

Forty water professionals attended an event at SA Water House on 11 February, where they learnt about the ‘Opening up our reservoirs’ program being delivered by the South Australian (SA) Government.

Justin Holmes from the Department for Environment and Water outlined the policy drivers and governance arrangements set up to deliver the program. 

The group heard that following the government’s election commitment, the Minister for Environment and Water established a cross-government taskforce in mid-2018 to identify and work through the complexities associated with opening reservoirs for recreational use. 

The task force includes representatives from a range of government agencies and is supported by four working groups, which advise on particular aspects of these complex issues. The working groups include: infrastructure and community engagement; water quality; fishing; and tourism and economic development.

Stage 1 of the program is complete and has seen the opening of South Para, Myponga, Warren, Bundaleer and Beetaloo reservoirs to a range of activities such as hiking, cycling, shore-based fishing and, in some cases, kayaking. It has been very successful with large numbers of people visiting the reservoirs. 

Stage 2 will see additional and extended access at Myponga, Warren and Barossa reservoirs and future openings of Little Parra, Hope Valley and Happy Valley reservoirs over the next two years.

A controversial aspect of the project is the potential effect on water quality, especially on reservoirs that directly supply to consumers. 

Brooke Swaffer, SA Water’s Lead Scientist in Environment and Catchments, presented results of sophisticated water quality modelling and risk assessment and showed how this informed decisions related to recreational access to reservoirs while ensuring compliance with water quality requirements.

Swaffer displayed outputs from quantitative microbial risk assessment modelling and also demonstrated an innovative water quality modelling display tool that presents outputs in a simple and easy to understand way. This modelling tool has proved very useful, and has helped non-scientists participating in the taskforce working groups understand potential impacts on water quality from more than 200 recreational access scenarios.

She also outlined surveillance and compliance monitoring technology, including the use of drones and surveillance cameras as aids in monitoring visitor numbers at the reservoirs and detecting non-compliant activities.

Catchment management consultant at Naturallogic, Karla Billington, also gave a brief overview of a Water Research Australia project that is kicking off: ‘Understanding the impacts of recreational access to drinking water catchments and storages in Australia’.

A panel discussion dug deeper into understanding and managing the complexities associated with recreational access to reservoirs, including discussions about the willingness of the community to pay for access, managing deliberate contamination, differences in risk between SA reservoirs and those interstate, as well as understanding the economic and social costs and benefits of reservoir access.

After the event participants continued the discussion while enjoying some finger food and great tasting beer provided by one of our event sponsors, Smiling Samoyed Brewery.