This year marks ten years since the release of Water for Good, the South Australian Government’s plan to secure water for the state until 2050. Developed in 2009, Water for Good came at a major turning point in South Australia’s water management and was the first water security plan of its type in Australia.
Water for Good was initiated during the deepest point of the devastating Millennium Drought, under intense political and media scrutiny, while there were severe water restrictions in urban Adelaide, extreme cuts to allocations for irrigators, and crisis in the Lower Lakes at the mouth of the River Murray. All eyes were on the government to respond to the present and impending disaster.
Ten years later with a suite of policy and government changes, changing community expectations, new understandings, and as we move into another dry – or possibly drought – period, it’s a good time to reflect on the achievements of Water for Good and ask: what’s next?
Why was Water for Good different?
Water for Good included 94 actions all aimed at diversifying South Australia’s water sources, improving the way water was allocated and used, and modernising the water industry. It was recognised nationally and internationally as an innovative approach to water security and provided a foundation for South Australia to be recognised as a ‘water sensitive state’.
The Plan has in many respects been a success. A review in 2015 identified that all but four actions were complete, on track or slightly delayed. Notable achievements driven by Water for Good include the construction of the 100 GL desalination plant; the passing of the South Australian Water Industry Act 2012 and associated pricing and regulation reform; the construction of significant recycled wastewater projects such as the Glenelg to Adelaide Park Lands; construction of stormwater harvesting and re-use projects across Adelaide with a planned capacity to harvest nearly 23 GL a year (over the plan’s 20 GL target); and measures to accelerate rainwater use and efficient watering systems and products. Collectively these actions have significantly contributed to reducing demand for potable water and increasing Adelaide’s available supply.
As reported in the 2017 paper Vision and Transition Strategy for a Water Sensitive Adelaide:
‘Water for Good was really successful for the first few years… it set a foundation for things that couldn’t be changed back…. it took the opportunity to do things that were fundamental, that needed to happen. In a very short period, it did a lot to change our landscape to become a Water Sensitive City.’
A lot has changed since 2009
Water for Good was developed in the context of a time, place and need, and that context has changed. It was prepared:
- before the full effects of the 2007-09 global financial crisis were felt in Australia
- before the Murray-Darling Basin Plan was signed in 2012
- on the back of the 2004 National Water Initiative, while funding was still available
- just two years after the first iPhone launched, signalling the transformation our use of data, technology and communication, and
- with far less understanding of the impacts of climate change than we have now.
While Water for Good has had a notable impact on South Australia’s water management, other significant policies and programs have also been put in place that have contributed to changing the landscape, including:
- Northern Adelaide Irrigation Scheme, which will initially provide up to 12 GL per year (and ultimately up to 20GL) of recycled water suitable for irrigation to the area north of the Gawler River, which will enable construction of a major new irrigation area
- SA Water’s (one of South Australia’s biggest energy users) ambitious program to achieve zero net electricity costs in 2020
- Water Sensitive Urban Design Policy, which has become a major cornerstone of South Australia’s development planning
- Western Mount Lofty Ranges (and other areas) water allocation plans being finalised, and
- water markets and trading continuing to mature and evolve in the Murray-Darling Basin and other prescribed water resource areas.
The way the South Australian community views and values water has also changed. In the past, water was seen as a resource best managed through minimising use and wastage, which led to policies such as water restrictions. The experience of the Millennium Drought had an enormous influence on this view. Today, we better understand the value of water, and the links between water security and use and economic performance, health and liveability, and community and environmental wellbeing.
If Water for Good was developed today, you would expect it to look very different.
Do we need another round of reform?
Indications are that South Australia is moving into another extended period of dry or drought conditions with the Bureau of Meteorology predicting drier and hotter conditions in the coming season. The longer-term climate change outlook also suggests rainfalls will likely decline. Water for Good put in place some fundamental reforms that should ensure South Australia is better off than it was in 2006-2010. But we cannot rest easy; under these likely conditions, there will be real pain and costs to water users, not least South Australian irrigators. Combined with the changing landscape outlined above, this means it is timely and appropriate to consider the case for further reforms, including to leverage what has already been achieved. Questions such as how to create a fair playing field for new entrants into the water market; how to better understand and value the true benefits and costs of sustainable water management; and how to better incorporate our knowledge of the impacts of climate change into our policy are all worth considering. So is the challenge of using new technologies to transform the way we monitor, report and manage water.
Appropriately, urban water reform is on the agenda for both the State and Commonwealth Governments. The South Australian Government has recognised water management as an opportunity and is driving new policy initiatives – such as establishing Green Adelaide as a new entity to facilitate Water Sensitive Urban Design – and other activities to improve riparian and coastal health, which are expected to deliver social, economic and environmental benefits.
Aither is pleased to work with our government partners on the reform pathway. We will continue to advocate that we need to be clear about the outcomes we are trying to achieve and the problems that need to be solved. Do our current policies and programs collectively deliver these outcomes or are new reforms required? In upcoming Insights, we will look at some of the way’s governments are responding to these challenges and discuss what can be done to drive the next wave of reform.
Rachel Barratt, Associate Director.
Rachel was part of the team established by the South Australian Government to prepare Water for Good within the former Office for Water Security, established by the Honourable Karlene Maywald, the then Minister for Water Security, and led by the Commissioner for Water Security, Robyn McLeod.
 In Fusion Consulting 2015.
 Gunn, AW, Werbeloff, L, Chesterfield, C, Hammer, K, & Rogers, BC 2017, Vision and Transition Strategy for a Water Sensitive Adelaide, Cooperative Research Centre for Water Sensitive Cities, Melbourne.
 Bureau of Meteorology 2019, Climate outlook overview, 11 April, http://www.bom.gov.au/climate/outlooks/#/overview/summary/