Skip to content
Resources > Latest News > Opening sa reservoir reserves to public delivers ten to one return on investment

Opening SA reservoir reserves to public delivers ten-to-one return on investment

In a bid to support the health and wellbeing of communities, starting in 2019, SA Water progressively opened its reservoir reserves to the public for recreational access, with a total of 10 reservoir reserves in South Australia now offering a range of outdoor activities such as bushwalking, cycling, fishing and kayaking.

A recent return on investment analysis conducted by SA Water revealed that $30 million of net value is delivered each year by having the reservoir reserves open for community recreation, equating to a staggering $9.42 return for every dollar invested in recreational access.
With the program set to be presented at Ozwater’24, SA Water’s Manager of Land, Catchments and Recreation Dr Brooke Swaffer said the analysis confirmed the incredible amount of value delivered to communities via the relatively low investment in opening public spaces.

“We were careful to be conservative throughout this analysis. All of our inputs and variables were placed against highly conservative estimates, and resulted in an almost ten-to-one return on investment,” she said.
“The outcomes are remarkable and really highlight the amazing opportunities available to create value for the community, provided the recreational regime is carefully designed and managed.”

Swaffer said there is a lot of emphasis now on the liveability and wellbeing of communities with water underpinning much of what supports an active and thriving society.
“Quantifying the value of the work is useful from a business-case perspective. But it is also really important to understand what people are valuing and why. It influences the ongoing opportunities that we’d like to explore at our sites to create the visitor experiences that deliver the most value,” she said. 
“Water utilities have the opportunity to expand beyond our traditional role. We will always play a critical role in essential services, but there are so many avenues to move forward into supporting water-enabled liveability.
“Water is such an important feature of how we will prosper and be sustainable in future, and this program is an example of pursuing multiple outcomes with the asset base that we have available to us.”

Creating public amenity

Since 2019, more than 1.4 million visitors have walked through the gates of SA Water’s reservoir reserves, with the community having access to more than 2100 hectares of land, 900 hectares of open water and 95 kilometres of trail network for a range of recreational activities.

The reservoir reserves have been transformed into thriving community assets complete with new facilities and infrastructure, including nature play spaces and fitness equipment, barbeques, picnic shelters, toilets, change rooms, floating pontoons with disability-access kayak cradles, bridges, boardwalks and expansive trails.
“We know from community feedback that visitors really enjoy and value the offering that’s been created for them. The sites play an important role in supporting the liveability of local communities and the wellbeing of people living around and near the reservoir reserves,” Swaffer said.
“The progressive opening of reservoir reserves occurred alongside our partners and stakeholders, with meaningful engagement with the community. The program was really about providing additional opportunities for connection to the outdoors, supporting health and wellbeing, and people being active in nature.”
The work involved in opening the reservoir reserves was detailed and comprehensive, Swaffer said, with catchment and drinking water quality protection front of mind, as well as community safety.

“It was very carefully designed. We worked with a large number of stakeholders and partners, along with the community, and no less than 14 government agencies involved in providing input into the design and implementation of the program,” she said.
“The program was deliberately approached through a considered analytical process. It’s imperative that these recreational opportunities at reservoir reserves are enabled in a way that still ensures the ongoing safety of our drinking water supplies.

“Recreational access to each reservoir reserves has been designed in a slightly different way. We worked really closely with SA Health on a water quality risk management framework, which incorporated a lot of different information and helped design the offering at each of the reservoir reserves.”
The risk management framework included a large amount of hydrodynamic reservoir modelling to understand water quality risks around different hypothetical scenarios, and quantitative microbial risk assessment approaches where applied.

“Fundamentally, the output of the risk assessment process informed the conditions of access through which we enable people to come into these spaces and enjoy them. It influenced the types of activities we could offer at the reservoirs,” she said.
“From there, we designed the facilities and the infrastructure that we need to support people to have a safe and great visitor experience.”

Return on investment

In order to conduct the analysis, SA Water applied the New South Wales Government’s ‘Interim Framework for Valuing Green Infrastructure and Public Spaces’, which provides detailed guidance on suitable methodologies for cost-benefit analyses related to green infrastructure. 

“Our analysis quantifies the return on investment by using financial proxies assigned to the social benefits of enabling recreational access,” Swaffer said.
“The first proxy focused on the recreational elements, such as the value that people ascribe to being able to access these spaces. The second was around health and wellbeing; in particular, the savings to the public health system from increased physical activity outdoors.
“And the third focused on economic value, both direct and indirect, which includes employment and the tourism value the amenity offers to the local region.”
Swaffer said community consultation and engagement was crucial to supporting the analysis of the proxies, with over 800 visitor surveys completed.
“We carried out focus group sessions with members of the community who had visited the spaces, and we also did a suite of stakeholder interviews with people who were well informed about the program,” she said.
“We paired this information with all of our data sets. We collect a lot of data about how people use these spaces. We have visitor number information, an understanding of how many people may be participating in community events, as well as volunteer activities we are hosting.”
While the results of the cost-benefit analysis clearly indicate the huge value that can be created in transforming water assets into green amenities, Swaffer said conducting this research has also helped the utility achieve a deeper understanding of the community that it serves.
“We understand so much more now about why people value these sites to the extent that they do, and what motivates them to come and visit our sites,” she said.
“This information will help us design even better visitor experiences. We are not assuming we know what people like, we are actually going out and talking to them about why it has made a difference to their lives and their local communities.”
Interested in learning more about SA Water’s reservoir reserves program? Register for Ozwater’24 here.