Millions have lived without love. None has lived without water.
Old Turkish proverb


Our future prosperity depends on the wise management of our most precious natural resource—water. Rarely do we think about where this water comes from, how much we use or what happens after the plug is pulled or the toilet flushed. Our concerns are generally whether it is clean and safe and whether we will have a continuing right to access water.

Water is one of the most far-reaching policy issues Australia has ever grappled with; an issue raising intense emotions, a maze of intellectual brain-twisters, cutting-edge environmental forecasting, hazy legal rights, and local, interstate and Commonwealthstate jealousies.

The ACT’s water is controlled, protected and managed under five main pieces of legislation:
  • the Water Resources Act 2007 (ACT), which covers management of territory water resources
  • the Environment Protection Act 1997 (ACT), which sets standards for water quality and control of water pollution
  • the Utilities Act 2000 (ACT), which regulates the provision of water and sewerage services (including by the main supplier of domestic water, ActewAGL)
  • the Utilities (Technical Regulation) Act 2014 (ACT), which, amongst other things, imposes dam safety requirements
  • the Water and Sewerage Act 2000 (ACT), which sets out procedures and requirements for water supply and the supply of plumbing and sewerage arrangements.
This chapter deals mainly with the Water Resources Act 2007 (ACT) (‘Water Resources Act’) and only briefly touches on the other Acts.

The ACT’s water resources fall entirely within the Murray-Darling Basin. At the Commonwealth level, the Water Act 2007 (Cth) (‘Water Act’) is of particular relevance to the ACT. The Water Act establishes the Murray-Darling Basin Authority, which is responsible for preparing a Basin Plan – a legislative instrument setting out a strategic plan for the integrated and sustainable management of water resources in the Murray-Darling Basin.

The Basin Plan was made in November 2012. Perhaps most significantly the Basin Plan provides for limits on the quantity of water that may be taken from the Basin water resources. These limits are called sustainable diversion limits (SDLs) and are intended to set the amount of water that can be taken for town water supplies, industry, agriculture and other human or ‘consumptive’ uses while ensuring there is enough water to achieve healthy river and ground water systems. From 2019, the ACT, along with the other Basin States (NSW, Victoria, South Australia and Queensland) will be required to comply with the SDLs in managing their water resources.

The implementation of the Water Act and the Basin Plan are underpinned by two intergovernmental agreements (IGAs): the IGA on implementing water reform in the Murray-Darling Basin, signed 5 June 2013 and the 2008 IGA on Murray-Darling Basin reform.

Both IGAs build on cooperative arrangements for the use and management of

Australia’s water resources developed through the Council of Australian Governments (COAG), including the 2004 National Water Initiative, an important IGA which included objectives, outcomes and agreed actions to be undertaken by governments across eight inter-related elements of water management.

COAG is the peak intergovernmental forum in Australia, made up of the Commonwealth, state and territory heads of government and the Australian Local Government Association. COAG’s role is to initiate, develop and monitor the implementation of policy reforms of national significance which require cooperative action between all states and territories, such as water reform.

More information on the Water Act and the Basin Plan can be found on the Murray-Darling Basin Authority’s and Commonwealth Department of the

Environment’s websites (see Contacts list at the back of this book).

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