Australian National Water Initiative

On June 25th, 2004, Australia began implementing a National Water Initiative. This initiative was agreed on as a way of nationalizing water policy. Governments at the state and territory level agree to work together in developing a national plan for:

  • Developing strategies that consider environmental impact
  • Easing stressed water systems
  • Creating a system of "accounting" for water distribution and rights
  • Expanding the water trade market
  • Improving water storage and delivery systems
  • Meeting all the water needs of urban communities

Individual state and territory governments must put together a plan to be submitted to the Australian National Water Commission [NWC].

A key point in the Australian water plan is deciding who to give water to so that natural water systems can be restored to sustainable levels. As of February 2008, almost all of the Australian states have created some sort of water entitlement plan. New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, and South Australia have all enacted legislation that creates a basic water allocation plan. One of the major flaws in this plan is that there is very little in the water plan to relate water supplies to the environment, meaning that the environment is still vulnerable to over-allocation of it's water resources (Australian Government - National Water Commission [NWC], 2008).

The Australian Water Initiative also aims to create an efficient system for the trading of water. This system has been very effective in moving water around from areas with plenty of water to areas suffering from droughts. The individual states have been changing rules that restrict water trade, and have created institutions that will facilitate it in most of the major Australian states. The trading plans last year allowed the Murray-Darling Basin, which is an area that is particularly stressed for water, to gain 20 gigalitres for use in it's water system. The main problem with this part of the plan is that there is very little infrastructure in place to allow the trading of water between different areas (NWC, 2008).

The Initiative is using a best practice water pricing system. This system promotes efficient usage and infrastructure. It also ensures revenue streams to allow efficient delivery of the required services. It facilitates efficient water markets in both cities and rural communities, and creates a transparent water pricing. All of Australia has currently implemented a consumption based pricing system, and all states have made progress in the pricing of effluent and reclaimed water. Unfortunately, several states are lagging behind in the creation of new legislation regarding effluent water, most notably, Queensland. Another area where this plan is lacking is in its lack of a solid plan for droughts. The government will give transparent help in the short-term, but if there is a long-term drought, the current Water Initiative has no actual plan for dealing with the drought efficiently (NWC, 2008).

A very important issue in the water plan is how the environmental impacts will be managed. The plan is to create a management system that integrates environmental damage control and public benefit from the usage of water. It will lower consumption in areas that are damaging the environment by consuming excessive amounts of water and will return them to sustainable levels of extraction. This system tries to take environmental externalities into consideration when designing consumption plans. The government is trying to give the management organizations authority and autonomy when it comes to protecting water sources and access to water. An organization, the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder, was established with this responsibility in 2007. It's primary focus has been on restoring the environment around the Murray-Darling Basin and other major reservoirs. As of 2008, all states have now created a bureaucratic infrastructure for the proper management and protection of the environmental resources, but one problem that many of these institutions still suffer from is that they lack the actual authority necessary to do anything drastic to protect the environment, but the states are aware of this problem and are working to protect it (NWC, 2008).

A system of water resource accounting has been developed to provide detailed information about quantities of water being traded, extracted, and recovered to support public and investor confidence. It utilizes measurement, monitoring, and reporting systems in all jurisdictions. It has so far been a success, and a benchmark was completed in all states in 2006 (Australia Government National Water Commission [NWC], 2008).

Reforms in urban water policy are being implemented to provide safe and reliable water supplies, increase water use efficiency, encourage water recycling, facilitate water trading within sectors, encourage innovation, and improve pricing for metropolitan water. The policies already implemented have been too modest. The Commission is looking to increase competition for water in urban sectors. Water-sensitive urban planning and design will be implemented. Progress has been made, and a government infrastructure has been created to find and remove losses due to poor maintenance of water infrastructure, although this is made difficult because of the out-of-date, aging water system that is already in place (NWC, 2008).

Knowledge and capacity building: "The NWI identifies areas where there is significant knowledge and capacity building needs for its ongoing implementation. Signatories to the Initiative have agreed to identify the key knowledge and capacity building priorities needed to support ongoing implementation of the Agreement, and identify and implement proposals to more effectively coordinate the national water knowledge effort"(Australian Government).

Community partnerships and adjustment: The goal is to improve access to information regarding the initiative to relevant sectors and the public, to make the process transparent, and to develop the systems necessary to collect relevant information. "The importance of community consultation and awareness in respect of NWI activities was a prominent theme in public submissions made to the biennial assessment"(Australian Government National Water Commission). As a result of this encouragement, there has been increased trading between districts of water resources, and there has also been increased collaboration on legislation (NWC, 2008).

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