The inaugural National Water Agreement between the States and the Federal government was signed in 2004.

In many ways it was a progressive and forward thinking document which clearly articulated the many problems then facing Australia’s water sector.

Under the NWI, all states and territories committed to:

  • prepare water plans with provisions for the environment
  • achieve sustainable water use in over-allocated or stressed water systems
  • introduce registers of water rights and standards for water accounting
  • expand trade in water rights
  • improve pricing for water storage and delivery
  • better manage urban water demands.

https://www.dcceew.gov.au/water/policy/policy/nwi

Although progress has been made on a number of fronts, many of the issues are still with us and are now joined by heightened awareness of the impact of climate change, dramatically increasing populations, and the need to ensure better pathways for greater involvement by Indigenous Australians in managing water resources.

The CWA recognises the importance of this process and welcomed the opportunity to provide a submission on the principles and objectives of the proposed new agreement.

It can be found here: https://concernedwaterwaysalliance.org/cwa-submission-to-the-national-water-initiative-may-2024/

Within the submission the CWA makes the following 10 recommendations:

  • The CWA recommends that for the promise of these agreed outcomes to be fully realized, extraction limits must be updated to include climate change scenarios and ensure that connectivity and ecological function of waterways are maintained under each of them.
  • The CWA recommends that environmental externalities explicitly include the environmental costs of discharging treated wastewater to waterways. We further recommend that a framework around pollution credits be finalized between the states.
  • CWA recommends a clear definition for ‘water security’, to help establish appropriate pricing that reflects the cost of managing and treating water to a standard that protects environmental and human health. All-of-government cross departmental policy is required to protect water resources.
  • The CWA recommends that this language about ‘fundamental but finite’ should be taken up within the NWA.
  • The CWA recommend that the Commonwealth update and nationalise pollution standards as a matter of urgency to ensure our human rights will be protected by ‘responsible authorities’ and to ensure that our receiving environment and the food we eat and the water we drink is safe. State and territory regulators should provide governance and accountable public reporting.
  • The CWA recommends that investment in demand management and ‘climate independent ‘or ‘manufactured’ water sources for urban supply should be prioritised.
  • The CWA recommend a national body such as the former National Water Commission is vital to the success of a new National Water Agreement.
  • The CWA recommends all movements in water policy are informed by and include community input. Water resources licencing and water law compliance bodies are independent and separate. Compliance, monitoring and enforcement activities in the water sector are appropriately funded to restore public confidence that water resources and the environment are being protected.
  • The CWA strongly supports the Productivity Commission advice48 that special provisions for mineral and petroleum industries be removed from the NWI.
  • CWA recommends state-based regional plans and state regulatory mechanisms will need to be updated, fit for purpose and standardised to better reflect climate change and cumulative impacts.