Water Management

July 4, 2017

The Hon. J.A. DARLEY ( 14:55 :24 ): I seek leave to make a brief explanation before asking the Minister for Sustainability, Environment and Conservation a question regarding water planning.

Leave granted.

 

The Hon. J.A. DARLEY: I understand Victoria has recently established an integrated water management framework. According to the Melbourne Water website, and I quote: Integrated water management brings together all facets of the water cycle to maximise social, environmental and economic outcomes. By considering the whole water cycle when planning and delivering services, we can take advantage of links between different elements and develop solutions that have broader benefits over a long period of time. This wouldn't be possible if we managed each system in isolation.

 

Can the minister advise if there are any plans for South Australia to introduce a similar approach to water management?

 

The Hon. I.K. HUNTER (Minister for Sustainability, Environment and Conservation, Minister for Water and the River Murray, Minister for Climate Change) ( 14:56 :35 ): I thank the honourable member for his most important question. I guess the obvious answer for him is that we already have. In fact, it's not stretching the bow too far to say that we have been leading the country in water management planning for many, many years now. He may remember our policy document, Water for Good, which was brought into practice in, from memory, around about 2008 but has been refined since then, of course.

 

We have had to have a strong record in water management and policy development for many, many reasons, one being that we are at the end of the River Murray and for decades have suffered overextraction of water in the upper reaches of the Murray in New South Wales and Victoria, which had cascading effects on South Australia's water entitlements, Mr President. As you will also recall, we stopped issuing water licences, or permissions to extract, in I think it was 1959 or the 1960s, recognising even back then that the asset, the resource, that was the River Murray was being overextended and overextracted.

 

Coming forward several years, again, the millennium drought meant that the state had to focus on an integrated plan to make the best use of all the water assets that we had available, and we did that. It was, as I say, in response to the drought, and we looked at safeguarding Adelaide's water supply, and all those country towns that rely on our reticulated water supply, by diversification of our water resources and trying to put in place a plan that would actually utilise some of the water that was being wasted through stormwater or, indeed, through sewerage water being taken out to sea.

 

The honourable member would have heard me talk in this place many times about some of those programs but, just to briefly recap, we have diversified our water resources away from just having the River Murray and our catchments, our dams, in the Mount Lofty Ranges, and also our groundwater supplies in various parts of the state, particularly the South-East and Eyre Peninsula. We now have the capacity, through multiple programs, partly funded by the federal government and partly funded by local government, to harvest about 20 gigalitres of stormwater across metropolitan Adelaide.

 

The initial estimates would be that, over a number of decades, we should be able to maximise that at around about 60 gigalitres, but the ability to capture the water, clean it up and then pump it back underground into some of our holding aquifers was really dependent on the geological construction of those aquifers, not all of them being sturdy enough to take water under pressure. Some are quite crumbly, I understand, but are sufficient, at least, to plan for about 60 gigalitres. As I say, we have already managed to do that with 20 gigalitres.

 

We have, of course, our rainfall-independent source of drinking water, the Adelaide desalination plant that in a dry year, up to at least 2050, will be able to supply at least half of Adelaide's drinking water requirements. We have a modern legislative framework for driving efficiency and innovation in the water industry in the form of the Water Industry Act 2012 and, again, it is a reference to our good innovative thinking and policy development that we have been commended highly for the approach we have taken to water trading through these processes.

 

It has certainly been said to me by people from the Eastern States and the commonwealth that, without having put in place these policies and the legislative ability to trade water up and down the system, we would not have been able to put that water that was under such stress in times of drought to its highest, most efficient and effective use, but by utilising and making available water trading regulations, we have allowed that to happen. It has been put to me that that is the only reason that our farmers came through the drought in such a good state as they did.

 

We have, of course, one of the highest levels of rainwater tank ownership in the country and we have the highest level of wastewater recycling per capita across the nation. As a result of significant investment over decades, as I said, by state government, federal government and also local government, we now have access to six sources of urban water—water from our catchments in the Ranges, water from the River Murray, desalinated sea water, groundwater, stormwater, and wastewater.

 

Traditionally, these resources have been managed in isolation across a variety of state and local government organisations. This government considers that there has been a significant opportunity to build on the reforms of the past—particularly those from our water security plan, Water for Good as I mentioned before—by developing a new plan for urban water for Adelaide that will ensure that we maximise the social, economic and environmental opportunities that our diverse water mix provides.

 

This sets a long-term direction for urban water access across Greater Adelaide. We are building that into some of our planning documents in terms of waterwise use of stormwater run-off and how we can actually put in place more rain gardens around the city, Mr President. Again, we are working hand in hand with local government to put those into place and you may have seen some of them popping up in your suburban roads. Also, to ensure that we meet the further challenges of the future, we need to make sure that we concentrate on this area of urban planning and water use in cities and towns.

 

Given the significant interest that the community and industry have in how our urban water resources are managed, it is critical that we continue to have a strong process of engagement with communities. I think it was in 2014 or thereabouts that I announced in this place that we had the engagement process kick off for the urban water plan for Greater Adelaide. We released an issues paper to facilitate discussion with stakeholders in the community on the possible scope and priorities of the plan, and a constructive consultation process has continued.

 

At this stage, I am advised, a draft plan will be released for another formal process of engagement later in the year. It is a complicated area, as the honourable member intimated in his question, trying to sew together these previously disparate aspects of water management and planning across so many jurisdictional levels, but it is one we have to do if we are going to exercise efficiency in terms of water.

 

We know that we will come in, with dangerous global warming advancing on us, with periods of time when we will be challenged again with dryness and, indeed, drought. It is only by putting all our water resources to their highest possible use that we can drive these efficiencies and keep ourselves in a state where we will have water for critical human needs, water for agriculture and water for industry to safeguard our economy into the future. The short response is that we are doing it and we will continue to do it. I am very happy to hear that Victoria is following our lead in this matter.

 

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