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Community consultation guides water management priorities for GWW

Greater Western Water (GWW) has wrapped up extensive community consultation in Victoria’s Macedon Ranges, identifying 10 priorities for the region’s water management.

These priorities form a basis for the utility’s future projects and include maintaining healthy waterways and habitats, reducing the carbon cost of managing water and making sure safe drinking water is available for all.

“Protecting the natural environment consistently emerged as the community’s highest priority in conversations about managing water,” said Kessia Thomson, GWW’s General Manager of Strategy and Partnerships.

“The natural environment is precious to people who live, work and visit the Macedon Ranges – it’s the reason why they choose to live in the region and it contributes strongly to their perceptions of their own quality of life.”

The area GWW serves is one of the fastest growing in Australia, with the population expected to double over the next 30 years, Thomson said, accentuating the importance of community consultation.

“Community values, priorities and understanding of the region are important in helping us identify the best long-term solutions to protect and manage water for customers and the environment,” she said.

“To help get the balance right, it’s important we hear from people who live and work in the Macedon Ranges. We want customers to see their preferences considered in service planning and delivery, and reflected in our decision making.”

Deeper understanding

According to Thomson, the 2021 merger of Western Water and City West Water provided Greater Western Water, the resulting utility, with the opportunity to build understanding of the local community’s values and aspirations.

To deepen its understanding of community priorities for future water management in the Macedon Ranges, the utility worked with professional services company RPS Group to design and deliver an engagement program.

“We are especially interested in the best ways to use recycled water, which is in strong supply due to steady growth in the region. We asked the community to consider options for recycled water management and reflect on what they value the most,” Thomson said.

“We used a combination of tactics to ensure a wide range of voices were heard. The engagement program ran between August 2022 and March 2023, and included an online consultation page and regular presence at local farmers markets where the community naturally gathers together.

“A key part of the program was a community panel, made up of statistically valid and randomly selected community members who were taken through the challenges and opportunities in more detail over two workshops. From all these activities, a set of 10 values were determined.”

Other common priorities identified through the consultation include:

  • Using water that’s available more efficiently, such as not using drinking quality water to water gardens, in commercial industry or to irrigate farms, public spaces and sporting fields.
  • Ensuring safe, good quality drinking water is always readily available and easily accessible to all community members.
  • Being prepared for the future and finding innovative ways to manage water are also seen as important priorities, especially considering recent flooding and bushfire events. Identifying new and emerging technologies could help solve water management issues.

Understanding local concers

Thomson said GWW’s outreach aimed to engage local communities and key stakeholders to understand what is important when thinking about the future of water management in the region.

“When considering how best to respond to climate change and population growth, GWW wants to explore the broadest range of options to ensure we can provide safe and affordable water for the communities of the Macedon Ranges over the next 50 years and beyond,” she said.

“We're conducting a range of engagement programs to chart this course with communities, including our new price submission and the Greater Melbourne Urban Water and System Strategy, which we have co-created with our fellow Melbourne water corporations.”

The community engagement program is one of several inputs that will help inform decision making on water management at GWW.

“The preferences we have identified with the community here will shape our work alongside continued consultation with a broad range of stakeholders, modelling, technical investigations and other analysis,” Thomson said.

Greater Western Water’s full engagement report is now available to read on its website.