Water information is gathered, analysed and reported in different ways in different jurisdictions.
Unfinished business Despite these achievements, there are areas where sufficient progress has not been made, or where progress has been slow. Over-allocation of resources remains a serious impediment to sustainable water use. The environmental health of too many Australian river systems is coming under threat as access to water is being contested increasingly. The development and commencement of transparent, adaptive and effective water plans must be accelerated to allow water users to realise the full benefits of NWI reforms. This is essential to deliver sustainable levels of extraction and provide certainty both for irrigators and the Australian landscape. Water plans are also critical to deal with the interception of water by users not captured within the entitlement regime, the interaction between surface and groundwater systems, and the provision of water to achieve specific environmental outcomes. As the Commission found in its recent review of pricing reform in the Australian water sector report, there is also scope for governments to improve how water is priced to promote efficiency and innovation in urban and rural areas. Efficient pricing or charging for water-related services underpins wise infrastructure spending, encourages innovation and promotes sustainable water use.
Building on the National Water Initiative Australia’s water challenges are ongoing, as is the effort to find solutions. The National Water Initiative is a 10-year program of reform, but it is not a static document. In November 2008, the Council of Australian Governments agreed to a number of initiatives that build on the NWI by improving water markets and trade, investing in water information and developing an enhanced urban water reform framework. In another important reform initiative,
12 | Securing Australia’s Water Future
the Murray-Darling Basin Authority was established in 2008 to plan the integrated management of water resources of the Murray-Darling basin. Other new water policy commitments have been supported by unprecedented levels of Australian government investment. One area in which the challenges for water management have changed markedly since the NWI was signed in 2004 is urban water. In its recent report, Urban Water in Australia: Future Directions, the National Water Commission set out a series of recommendations, urging COAG to develop a new set of urban water objectives that will provide national leadership for urban water management. In particular, the Commission suggested that Australia’s governments step back from direct intervention in urban water and give the industry more incentives and freedom to innovate. This is needed to encourage utilities to invest in cost-effective and fit-forpurpose services and to provide more flexible, efficient and customer-driven products and services.
Future priorities In Australia, water reform is an ongoing, often laborious and challenging process requiring continuous oversight and periodic renewal. Success in meeting these challenges is essential for Australia’s future wellbeing. Even if Australia doesn’t always measure up to its own exacting standards for water management, there is international admiration for what we have achieved so far. Our unique water reform journey is proving to be of interest to the global community, as nearly every country comes to grips with the great challenge of sustainably managing this critical resource in a rapidly changing world. James Cameron is acting CEO of the National Water Commission.
Published on Jul 27, 2011
Published on Jul 27, 2011
Securing water supplies has never been easy in Australia. Managing the nation’s rivers and water resources has been a learning experience, r...