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Department of the Environment and Heritage Annual Report 2003-04

Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2004
ISSN 1441 9335

Review of performance: Outcome 1 - Environment (continued)

Managing inland waters

The Department develops Australian Government initiatives to ensure that the management of inland rivers, groundwater and inland wetlands is ecologically sustainable.

In 2003-04, the Department worked to enhance the management of inland waters by:

This section reports on activities funded using the Department's appropriation for its 'inland waters' output. For more information about the Department's inland waters management activities see also:

The Land, Water and Coasts Division and Supervising Scientist Division contributed to this output.

Sustainable water use

Objective

To ensure that the environment and communities continue to benefit from fresh water being available.

Activities
National water reforms

On 25 June 2004, the Council of Australian Governments agreed to a National Water Initiative to progress and build on the achievements of the 1994 Water Reform Framework. The Department worked closely with the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet and the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry to develop:

River basins

On 14 November 2003, the Murray-Darling Basin Ministerial Council agreed to a 'first step' proposal for implementing the Living Murray Initiative, which the Department helped to develop. The first step is a staged approach to increasing environmental flows (water that is actively managed for environmental purposes) in the River Murray and restoring its health. The first step will target six significant ecological assets along the River Murray. For more information, visit www.thelivingmurray.mdbc.gov.au.

The Department participated in a range of Murray-Darling Basin Commission activities including developing:

The Department worked with the Queensland, South Australian and Northern Territory governments to agree on terms for the Northern Territory's participation in the Lake Eyre Basin Agreement. This agreement provides for the sustainable cross-border management of water and other natural resources in the basin. The Northern Territory signed the Lake Eyre Basin Intergovernmental Agreement on 10 June 2004. For more information, visit www.deh.gov.au/water/basins/lake-eyre.

The Department completed the first phase of the Lake Eyre Basin Rivers Assessment project, establishing the Lake Eyre Basin Community Advisory Committee, providing funding support, including the appointment of a facilitator, and supporting and publishing information prepared by the Lake Eyre Basin Scientific Advisory Panel.

The Department also administered two Natural Heritage Trust national investment projects that:

Water quality

The Natural Resource Management Ministerial Council oversees the environmental aspects of the National Water Quality Management Strategy. This strategy aims to protect the quality of water resources while supporting economic and social development. During 2003-04 the Department worked with other government agencies to develop guidelines for sewerage system overflows, biosolids management and drinking water under Phase 1 of the strategy (see www.deh.gov.au/water/quality and www.daff.gov.au/nwqms). The Department began work on National Guidelines for Water Recycling - Managing Health and Environmental Risks under Phase 2 of the strategy.

The Department administers both the Natural Heritage Trust (including Rivercare) and the National Action Plan for Salinity and Water Quality jointly with the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry. Under these initiatives, integrated natural resource management plans are being developed for 56 regions across Australia. A major objective of the plans is to improve the health of inland waters. In November 2001 the Prime Minister promised spending under the Natural Heritage Trust of at least $350 million directly on projects to improve water quality. For information about outcomes, see the Natural Heritage Trust's annual reports at www.nht.gov.au/publications, and the National Action Plan's annual report at www.napswq.gov.au/publications.

International activities

The Department provided policy advice, delegation support, and briefing assistance on a range of bilateral and multilateral activities in pursuit of Australia's international water policy objectives. See also the section on international activities in the 'Management and accountability' part of this annual report.

Result

Through the National Water Initiative, the Council of Australian Governments agreed to improve the security of water access entitlements, increase the productivity and efficiency of water use, and ensure the continued health of river and groundwater systems. To put this in context: The Australia State of the Environment 2001 report found that about 26 per cent of Australia's surface water management areas were close to, or had exceeded, sustainable extraction limits. Many river systems in the Murray-Darling Basin and along the east coast of Australia were either 'over-developed' or approaching 'fully-developed' status. The report also noted that only 13 per cent of river systems in Australia had formal environmental flow allocations - that is, water actively managed for environmental purposes. Under the National Water Initiative, water allocated for environmental and other public benefit outcomes will, for the first time, have at least the same degree of security as water for human consumption. The environmental values of rivers, estuaries and aquifers of high conservation value will be protected through a range of measures.

In addition, the Council of Australian Governments agreed to provide $500 million to address water over-allocation and environmental objectives in the Murray-Darling Basin. Of this, the Australian Government is contributing $200 million to address water over-allocation in the basin and to support the Living Murray Initiative.

For more information on the measures contained in the National Water Initiative and the Murray-Darling basin agreement, visit www.coag.gov.au.

The Department continued work on the National Water Quality Management Strategy. New guidelines that commenced under Phase 2 of the strategy will cover water recycling and water-sensitive urban design, helping to implement the urban component of the National Water Initiative.

The Department administered Australian Government expenditure totalling $41.702 million on environmental work under the Natural Heritage Trust's Rivercare programme.

Wetlands conservation

Objective

To enhance the protection of inland wetlands.

Activities
Ramsar wetlands

The Convention on Wetlands of International Importance especially as Waterfowl Habitiat, commonly known as the Ramsar Convention, seeks to halt worldwide losses of wetlands and to conserve those that remain. The Department is Australia's 'Administrative Authority' for the convention and worked to improve the management of wetlands listed under the convention - Ramsar wetlands. The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 sets out requirements for identifying and managing Ramsar wetlands, including the Australian Ramsar Management Principles.

During 2003-04, the Department helped to investigate possible nominations for under-represented wetland types around Australia. The Department assessed a draft Ramsar wetland management plan for consistency with the Australian Ramsar Management Principles. The Department also administered Natural Heritage Trust national investment projects to enhance management of Ramsar sites, and to produce a wetlands conservation training module for regional facilitators and regional bodies.

Tropical wetlands research

The Department (including through the Environmental Research Institute of the Supervising Scientist, a partner in the National Centre for Tropical Wetland Research) undertook research, risk assessments and other technical work to protect the ecology of wetlands. Work during 2003-04 provided information about managing feral pig damage, the herbicide Tebuthiuron, endocrine-disrupting compounds, and the weed Mimosa pigra.

In addition, the Department began a collaborative assessment of the risks posed by ginger ants, Solenposis germinata, to seabird colonies at Ashmore Reef, and continued to provide technical guidance, notably for the Ramsar Convention's Scientific and Technical Review Panel, the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment and Wetlands International projects, and the coastal wetland component of the Reef Water Quality Protection Plan.

Result

The Department improved management of nationally and internationally significant Australian wetlands, promoted wetlands conservation internationally, and supported the sustainable management of tropical river systems.

Report on performance information

Tables 27 and 28 report performance results against the indicators in the 2003-04 portfolio budget statements.

Table 27: Conservation and sustainable use of inland waters including rivers, groundwater and wetlands (departmental appropriation)
Performance information Result
'Accuracy, timeliness and comprehensiveness of advice provided to the Minister on the conservation and sustainable use of inland waters.' Timeframes were met and policy advice met the Minister's requirements.
'Extent to which significant freshwater ecosystems are protected and restored.' Activities in 2003-04 set in place decision tools, risk assessments and research to support action to protect freshwater ecosystems. Information will be provided in the next State of the Environment Report due in 2006 and the Sustainable Rivers Audits of the Murray-Darling Basin and the Lake Eyre Basin.
'Extent to which the condition of freshwater resources is improved.' Information will be provided in the next State of Environment Report due in 2006 and the Sustainable Rivers Audits of the Murray-Darling Basin and the Lake Eyre Basin.
'Extent to which the protection of inland wetlands is enhanced in Australia.' To date, all eight Ramsar wetlands in Commonwealth areas have management plans and 50 of Australia's other 56 Ramsar wetlands have either operational or draft management plans, including 15 sites where the relevant management agencies released final or draft plans in 2003-04, and three additional sites (Bool and Hacks Lagoons in South Australia, 'Riverland' in South Australia, and Elizabeth and Middleton Reefs Marine National Nature Reserve) where existing plans are being developed with input from the Department.
'Extent to which [the Department] supports international efforts for the conservation and sustainable development of inland waters.' The Department supported international efforts by providing policy advice, delegation support, and briefing assistance, which were delivered on a range of bilateral and multi-lateral activities.
'Number of projects to protect and restore significant freshwater ecosystems are implemented or being developed.' Two Natural Heritage Trust projects that promote the improved management of significant freshwater ecosystems were administered: 'Protection of rivers and river reaches of high conservation value' and 'Tropical rivers and river protection'.
'Number of [Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999] referral, assessment and permit actions completed.' More than 130 referral and assessment advices for Ramsar wetlands were completed.
Table 28: Wetland ecology and conservation (departmental appropriation)
Performance information Result
'Accuracy, timeliness and comprehensiveness of advice provided to the Minister on wetland ecology and conservation.' Timeframes were met and policy advice met the Minister's requirements.
'Extent to which threats to tropical wetlands are identified and assessed.' The Environmental Research Institute of the Supervising Scientist continued to provide research services on tropical wetlands to other agencies:
  • In collaboration with Charles Darwin University (Key Centre for Tropical Wildlife Management) and traditional landowners, a decision support tool for managing feral pig damage in wetlands was developed.
  • Two papers on the aquatic toxicity and ecological risks of the herbicide Tebuthiuron were accepted for publication in peer-reviewed journals.
  • The presence and significance of endocrine disrupting compounds (originating from human activities) in recreational waterholes and wetlands receiving treated sewage effluent and stormwater from Jabiru township in Kakadu was determined in collaboration with the University of Sussex.
  • A risk assessment of the wetland weed Mimosa pigra in northern Australia was published.
  • In collaboration with the Parks and Wildlife Commission of the Northern Territory and the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service, a risk assessment of the ginger ant Solenopsis germinata to seabird colonies at Ashmore Reef was commenced.
'Extent to which the Environmental Research Institute of the Supervising Scientist (ERISS) contributes to requirements of international agreements and national policies on the wise use of wetlands and methods of assessment.' Technical guidance, particularly in relation to wetland inventory, assessment and monitoring, was provided for international agreements and assessments, such as the Ramsar Convention's Scientific and Technical Review Panel, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the Millenium Ecosystem Assessment and Wetlands International projects. The Supervising Scientist Division also provided the Department with internal technical guidance and advice on wetland inventory and assessment, for example for the coastal wetland component of the Reef Water Quality Protection Plan.
'Extent to which managers and users of tropical wetlands are provided with information and expertise to enable the wise use of wetlands through sustainable practices.' For a list of technical reports published during 2003-04, see the Supervising Scientist's annual report at www.deh.gov.au/about/annual-report.
'Number of reports, including peer reviewed articles and presentations, on techniques developed for mapping wetlands distribution and monitoring change (including that caused by climate change and sea level rise).' A total of 84 reports were prepared in 2003-04. These reports included information relevant to mapping and monitoring wetlands. A full list of publications from 2003-04 is included in the Supervising Scientist's annual report at www.deh.gov.au/about/annual-report.
Table 29: Pricing information for Tables 27 to 28(a)
Appropriation Estimated price Revised price Actual expenses
Inland waters - Output 1.7 (departmental) $6.409 million $8.138 million $6.231 million

(a) See also the summary resource tables at the end of this 'Review of performance'.

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