Case study 4 - The Northern Region Sustainable Water Strategy

Download

Background and geographic area

The Northern Region Sustainable Water Strategy covers much of northern Victoria. It specifically includes the Murray River and all major Victorian tributaries of the Murray.

The Northern Region Sustainable Water Strategy is the Victorian Government's long-term water plan to secure water while safeguarding the future of its rivers, aquifers and wetlands across northern Victoria.

Sustainable water strategies are developed regionally across Victoria in accordance with the Water Act 1989 (Vic) which was amended in 2005 to introduce the requirement to prepare regional sustainable water strategies and specify the process for developing them.These strategies take a long-term view of water resource planning, and consider all sources of water, and the needs of towns, industry, agriculture and the environment.

Objective

The Northern Region Sustainable Water Strategy aims to:

  • identify and understand threats to water availability and quality, including the implications of climate change and variability;
  • help regional communities to adjust to reduced water availability;
  • ensure secure water entitlements for towns, industry and the environment encourage economically viable and sustainable agriculture;
  • improve choice and flexibility for entitlement-holders to manage the risks of climate change and variability;
  • protect and where possible, improve the health of rivers, wetlands and aquifers from the impacts of drought, climate change, variability and other risks; and
  • recognise and respond to Indigenous and other cultural and heritage values associated with the region's rivers and catchment areas.

Application of a risk–based approach to management

Development of the Northern Region Sustainable Water Strategy took a risk-based management approach through:

Stakeholder communication and consultation:

  • providing clear and frequent opportunities for community feedback through public submissions on the information base supporting the strategy (a discussion paper) and the options being contemplated (a draft strategy).

Establishing context and goals:

  • undertaking a two year collaborative process to involve government departments, independent experts, key water industry stakeholders, including urban, rural and environmental water users and the broader regional community; and
  • developing with stakeholders a set of guiding principles, to provide a framework for assessing options.

Identifying the risks:

  • considering major threats to water availability, including climate variability and change, water regulation and extraction and key interception activities; and
  • ensuring the climate change scenarios contemplated include a continuation of recently experienced low inflows.

Analysing the risks:

  • identifying any changes to the sharing of water available for all users under all scenarios to consider impacts on all users (for example, the environment has a disproportionate cut in water availability due to the majority of water for environmental purposes coming from unregulated flows).

Treating the risks:

  • developing a set of actions and policies to assist the region to remain healthy and resilient with efficient and sustainable agriculture, manufacturing and service industries and robust river, aquifer, wetland and floodplain ecosystems.

Monitoring and review:

  • developing a comprehensive evaluation plan in the initial planning phase of the strategy with an active participatory element to support practice change, and a case study element to inform future engagement efforts.

Information requirements to achieve objectives

In developing the Northern Region Sustainable Water Strategy, deliberating committees were formed, to share and to identify further information needed to outline key challenges, develop options for public debate and advise on final actions. These groups provided critical support during the drafting phases (see Figure 1).

The diagram shows process to develop the Northern Region Sustainable Water Strategy – from draft to final strategy

Figure 1: Process to develop the Northern Region Sustainable Water Strategy – from draft to final strategy

Approach taken in consulting with stakeholders

The development of the Northern Region Sustainable Water Strategy was the result of an extensive, committed and detailed engagement process. This has included a dynamic consultative committee, a knowledgeable Independent Panel, four working groups, over 75 regional briefings and meetings and two public comment periods that received over 310 submissions.

The Northern Region Sustainable Water Strategy involved government departments, independent experts, key water industry stakeholders, including urban, rural and environmental water users and the broader regional community.

The Minister for Water appointed a consultative committee of regional stakeholders to provide strategic guidance and oversight of the strategy's development. The committee met 15 times between January 2008 and August 2009. Its deliberations helped shape the required technical work and provided local perspective on the strategy's consultation, option development and assessment processes.

Four working groups were established to support the consultative committee. They dealt with issues related to water allocation, the environment, licensing issues and matters of urban supply. Membership included regional water corporations and catchment management authorities, irrigators, peak industry representatives and local environment group members. Members came from across northern Victoria, including the Sunraysia, North Central, Goulburn Broken and north-eastern areas. Collectively these groups met between January 2008 and September 2008 to identify and assess options to be included in the draft strategy. The allocation and environment groups reconvened between December 2008 and March 2009 to provide input to a review of carryover arrangements. These groups and the licensing group continued to meet to provide advice on actions and policies in the draft strategy. To provide an additional source of advice, the Minister for Water appointed an independent panel with expertise in water, environmental and regional issues to consider comments made on the strategy and report its findings.

The Panel's reports, including the Panel's report on public submissions to the Draft Strategy, are available at: Developing the Northern Region SWS .

Consultation occurred with traditional owner groups across the Northern Region of Victoria. Although each group in the Northern Region has its own unique way of operating and its own issues and aspirations, several key points were consistently made in relation to future water management in the Northern Region, including:

  • the importance of health of Country; and
  • ensuring that traditional owners are active participants in managing water.

Regional stakeholders hosted more than 75 briefings and meetings with local communities and two public comment periods drew 135 and 177 submissions respectively. These submissions provided a range of perspectives from the irrigation, environment, tourism, cultural and industry sectors and were used in developing and assessing options for inclusion in this strategy.

Other opportunities for the community to provide input included briefings for boards and customer committees of water corporations and catchment management authorities, briefings with local government (including the Municipal Association of Victoria), irrigation and environment peak industry groups (for example, grower groups, Victorian Farmers Federation, Environment Victoria) and special interest groups (for example, Upper Murray Agribusiness, Murray Campaign Committee, Waterwatch and Landcare groups).

The quality of the strategy (and all associated material) and the acceptance of it within the regional community would not have been possible without the engagement that occurred through the two-year development process.

Influencing decisions

Stakeholders and the community played a critical role in shaping the final Northern Region Sustainable Water Strategy, specifically the actions and policies presented in the document.

Examples of key actions that were influenced by consultative committee deliberations include the final system reserve polices (where group discussions and submissions indicated that having water available every year was more important than having the highest amount every year) and carryover actions (where the lack of low-reliability water shares in Sunraysia drove the Department of Sustainability and Environment to find a model that better suited all entitlement-holders).

There were also instances where a responsive approach was required in reaction to unforseen circumstances. Examples include the additional consultation undertaken after draft strategy submissions were received and a major commodity group was keen to inform its members about the proposed action.

This was also the case for the potential introduction of new system reserve policies for the Campaspe and Loddon river systems. After consultation with regional stakeholders (facilitated through Goulburn-Murray Water's Water Services Committees), changes to the reserve policies were not introduced as they were not supported regionally.

More information

More infomation, please visit: National Water Initiative