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Calls for Victoria to develop plan for water sensitive towns

Environment Victoria is calling on the state government to develop a plan for creating water sensitive town and cities as part of a six-point plan to preserve Victoria’s water supplies, restore its rivers and deliver jobs and economic productivity.

Six steps to water leadership: The path to healthy rivers and sustainable water use in Victoria has been developed in response to Victoria’s 2013 State of the Environment report, which found that just 23 per cent of the state’s rivers were classified as being in good or excellent condition, and that three quarters of wetlands on private land had disappeared since European settlement.

Following Water Minister Lisa Neville’s suggestion in April 2015 that “preserving the future of [Victoria’s] water supplies requires a new vision and that calls for a fresh and balanced approach, starting at the top”, Environment Victoria has identified six points that could help achieve this approach. These are:

  • a Murray-Darling Basin Plan that restores rivers, wetlands and national parks
  • a state-wide plan for water sensitive towns and cities
  • a Victorian Environmental Assessment Council investigation into the status and management of freshwater ecosystems
  • reforming the Victorian Water Act to give rivers a “fair share of water”
  • reconnecting river corridors and restoring the river banks
  • managing surface and groundwater together.

The EV report suggests that a state-wide plan for “water sensitive town and cities” is needed as water is currently inefficiently used in the “once through” system in place (where water is captured and stored in remote areas, pumped through pipe networks to properties, piped to waste treatment plants and then discharged into rivers or the ocean).

It argues that the current system is the antithesis to “a ‘water sensitive’ city that uses its water resources efficiently and sustainably” and must move to a situation whereby towns and cities have access to a range of different water sources, for example, stormwater capture and rainwater harvesting.

The report recommends the development of a water sensitive plan to:

  • capture stormwater runoff to increase water availability and reduce damage to urban creeks and rivers
  • improve rates of water recycling in urban areas – as currently only 16 per cent of treated wastewater is reused in Victoria (the same proportion as 10 years ago), mostly for irrigated agriculture
  • embed water efficiency in new and existing homes and businesses (as discussed in Environment Victoria’s report Six Steps to Efficiency Leadership)
  • establish a domestic drinking water consumption target of 100 litres/person/day, while allowing households to consume as much recycled water or stormwater as required
  • comprehensively integrating Integrated water cycle management and water sensitive urban design in the planning framework at a variety of scales.

Other suggestions for water leadership include: overcoming constraints on the delivery of environmental water to areas of the floodplain, “where it is most needed”; commissioning a Victorian Environmental Assessment Council inquiry to provide recommendations for “ecologically sustainable management of freshwater dependent ecosystems and any additions to land or water reserves necessary for their protection”; amending the Water Act to prioritise “critical human and environmental needs over other consumptive uses”; and licensing all water use, including that for domestic, agriculture and stock, and bringing it under a catchment cap.

The report reads: “If Victoria is to have a viable water future, with secure supplies of good-quality water, the government and [its] water plan will need to focus on sustaining and improving our natural capital. That means maintaining and improving the environmental condition of our freshwater-dependent ecosystems, especially our rivers and wetlands, and protecting them from the worst impacts of climate change.

“The Andrews Government aspires to be a leader in environmental policy, and water management presents it with both a great challenge and a huge opportunity. To realise this opportunity we need the right tools – an environmentally focused Water Act, a robust Murray-Darling Basin Plan and integrated water cycle management across all our catchments – and strong leadership. We need an engaged community that contributes to setting the benchmark for catchment and river condition required to sustain our natural capital. And we need innovation to make our cities and our agriculture truly water smart.

“[W]e are part of the water cycle and we cannot live without it. Freshwater is truly our lifeblood. We need to manage it well so that it remains fresh. This means treasuring our rivers and wetlands as if they were the most precious and essential parts of our landscape and society, for in many ways they are.”

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