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WA says goodbye to 100-year-old water laws to address climate change

Western Australia (WA) is modernising its century-old water laws to improve water security in the face of climate change.

The proposed Water Resources Management Bill will consolidate six pieces of water legislation into one modern statute, which the WA Department of Water and Environmental Regulation (DWER) said would be easier to understand and administer.

“Current laws to manage water quality, drainage and catchments are spread over several Acts, which can make them confusing … Consolidating the Acts into one will simplify administration and reduce the costs for legal support,” a DWER spokesperson said.

Water reform has been in the pipeline in WA for more than a decade, as the state grapples with the effects of reduced rainfall and changing climate patterns. Rainfall in the state’s south west has reduced by about 15% since the mid-1970s, while the inflows into Perth dams have fallen from 300GL a year to less than 50GL.

The mining boom, agricultural development and urban growth have also put pressure on the state’s water sources, which the government said makes it necessary to “provide more tools in the toolbox to enable better water management for the 21st century”.

This includes enacting legislation that protects important water sources such as Perth’s Gnangara groundwater system, which provides almost half of the city’s water and supports ecologically important lakes and wetlands.

WA Water Minister Dave Kelly said the reform is about ensuring the long-term sustainability of the state’s water resources and protecting the environment.

"Access to water underpins many WA industries, which in turn supports our economy and WA jobs,” Kelly said.

“This legislation will allow us to better manage WA’s water resources that are being impacted by climate change and provide secure water supplies for future generations.”

The new legislation will allow for adjustments to water entitlements and allocations over the life of a licence. It will also enable water management and allocation plans to describe the potential effects of climate change on water resources and identify how these effects may be managed.

Updating the legislation – which includes an Act written in 1909 – is important to provide for new ways of using water and encourage investment in innovation.

This includes managed aquifer recharge, where recycled water is injected into groundwater to be stored for later use. The WA Government is currently building Australia’s first full-scale groundwater replenishment scheme, following a successful groundwater replenishment trial by the WA Water Corporation in 2012.

“Innovation can help us improve water use efficiency, liveability, and waterway and wetland health in urban areas, and ensure our cities and regions are resilient to climate change and population growth,” the DWER spokesperson said.

“The new legislation will provide statutory recognition of managed aquifer recharge, geothermal energy production and other new innovations, thereby removing barriers to investment.”

The WA Government is currently drafting the new legislation.

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