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Tuesday, 07 December, 2010

6 December 2010
The National Water Commission has today released the Australian environmental water
management report 2010, which presents a comprehensive picture of Australia’s current
environmental water management arrangements.
According to Commissioner Chloe Munro, ‘At a time when environmental water
management is in the spotlight, this report will help build better understanding of the often
complex concepts and management mechanisms involved.
‘The good news is that governments are getting better at setting objectives for their
environmental water needs. However, reporting arrangements on whether those
objectives are actually being achieved are less developed, and are neither consistent nor
comparable around Australia.
Ms Munro said, ‘Monitoring and reporting against specific planned environmental water
commitments must improve to build community confidence in how well we are using our
environmental water.’
‘This reports also shows that notwithstanding current interest in government purchases of
entitlements in the Murray-Darling Basin to return water to rivers and wetlands, water for
environmental assets is for the most part being delivered through allocation planning and
licensing frameworks that leave sufficient water in the system for this important purpose.’
‘What we have found in effect, is that having determined their environmental water
objectives, states and territories are increasingly committing this water through rulesbased
measures in their water plans, restrictions on licence extraction and the delivery of
entitlements to environmental assets.
By providing a baseline of our current jurisdictional arrangements, this report is intended
to support more transparent and accountable environmental outcomes.
‘Getting these governance arrangements right can help Australia to become world
leaders in environmental water management’, said Ms Munro.
The National Water Commission will continue to work with the states and territories to
improve environmental water reporting and management over the next two years.
The report is available at www.nwc.gov.au
Media contact: Amanda Forman 02 6102 6013 / 0434 079590 www.nwc.gov.au
Australian environmental water management report 2010 - major findings
In the report, the Commission has developed a consistent environmental water
management framework and applied it to each jurisdiction to allow a comparison of
disparate approaches. The framework has four elements: determination, commitment,
compliance, and review.
The Commission has found that jurisdictions’ determinations of their environmental water
requirements have improved in more recent water plans, and environmental objectives and
ecological values are now more clearly articulated.
The commitment of environmental water is increasingly clear in legislation. This has been
achieved through rules-based measures in water plans, restrictions on licence extraction
and the delivery of entitlements to environmental assets.
In particular, the establishment of annual allocation limits and access rules have improved
environmental water commitment. They constrain the consumptive use of the resource so
as to ‘leave behind’ enough water to meet planned environmental water provisions.
Importantly, the jurisdictional legislation, and the water plans that arise from that legislation,
typically identify the roles and responsibilities of environmental water managers. This is
critical to management accountability.
However, there are problems. While most jurisdictions report publicly on compliance, their
reporting is not consistent in detail, timing, or geographic coverage.
Further, reporting rarely explicitly states compliance against specific planned environmental
water commitments or objectives. This makes the assessment of the effectiveness of
environmental water management very difficult.
Reviewing the effectiveness of Australia’s environmental water commitments remains
difficult for a number of reasons:
ï‚· while the specification of environmental objectives and commitments is improving,
many (older) plans are not sufficiently detailed to allow compliance to be measured
ï‚· outcome monitoring (assessing if the system is responding as expected ecologically)
is not widespread or consistent due to its cost and resource requirements
ï‚· the timeframes involved in detecting ecological responses are often longer than
annual water year reporting.
In those jurisdictions with held environmental water (i.e. water purchased to be returned to
the environment), which include the southern Murray-Darling Basin states and the
Commonwealth, the monitoring and compliance of held environmental water is better than
for planned environmental water because the jurisdictions are more easily able to measure
the actual delivery of water to specified sites.
Equally, setting environmental objectives for the delivery of held environmental water is
often easier than for planned environmental water as they often relate to discrete and
localised watering events. Those environmental objectives are therefore more easily
reported against than the longer term objectives for planned water.
However, there are still complexities with ecological monitoring of held water (i.e. linking
environmental water to ecological outcomes) as there are for planned water.

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