National water strategy

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Strategic planning for water capture, use and management
High Priority Initiative
Problem/Opportunity timeframe
Near term (0-5 years)
Date added to the IPL
26 February 2020


Australia’s water systems are used for a variety of purposes, including drinking water, wastewater, farming, industrial, environmental, recreational and cultural activities. Balancing these uses, and ensuring the health of streams, groundwater and ecosystems, is crucial for maintaining reliable access to water.

The demand for water across many water systems is increasing as a result of population growth and relocation, increasing agricultural demand and requirements for environmental and cultural uses. The water cycle is also being altered by changing climate, changes to run-off and evaporation due to land and forest management.

The 2019 Australian Infrastructure Audit identifies that a number of events, such as the Menindee fish kill, have undermined confidence in the governance and management of Australia’s water resources. Balancing competing demands for water is challenging and can limit effective decision-making.

Without appropriate planning for these challenges, there could be severe water shortages or restrictions in many parts of the country. For example, New South Wales is currently experiencing the most severe drought on record. The Barwon-Darling River, Macquarie River and Lower Darling all have critical water shortages.

The Infrastructure Priority List separately includes a High Priority Initiative for Town and city water security.

Proposed initiative

The initiative is for a national water strategy that would guide governments, the private sector and Australia’s population on how to effciently and sustainably capture, use and manage water.

The strategy should consider at least:

  • the current availability, quality, regulation and use of water within various catchments and aquifers
  • changes in run-off levels linked to changing land-uses and climate volatility/ change
  • modelling of demand, based on population, environment and industry requirements
  • the condition and performance of existing water infrastructure, including storage, sourcing, stormwater, distribution and treatment
  • the role of various water sources and potential opportunities, including dams, catchment transfer, stormwater harvesting, water recycling, groundwater and desalination
  • potential regulatory and planning changes to the water sector, and have regards to the National Water Initiative
  •  potential investments, ranging from smaller augmentations of existing systems to more major infrastructure for capturing, diverting and distributing water
  • opportunities to improve the collection, consistency, reporting and use of information and data in the sector.

While the plan should be developed in the near term, it should consider the current and future demand for water over a period of at least 30 years.
The strategy will need to be considered in the context of the work of the Australian Government’s National Water Grid Authority. The Authority is working with the states and territories to deliver strategic planning for water infrastructure across the nation to increase the capacity, connectivity and resilience of water storage and supply networks to provide water security for regional economic growth.

Next steps

Proponent(s) to be identified.