Regional water strategies and their relationship to other plans

The following frequently asked questions explain the relationship between regional water strategies and other water plans.

How do regional water strategies relate to other strategies (including the State Water Strategy), and plans and other programs, including water sharing plans and water resource plans?

State Water Strategy

The department is also developing a State Water Strategy, addressing water management objectives and principles to apply across NSW. Regional water strategies will underpin the State Water Strategy by providing a roadmap to implement our vision and objectives for water in each region. Where regional water strategies identify options that are applicable across NSW, these options may be incorporated in the State Water Strategy.

Water sharing plans

The NSW Water Management Act 2000 (the Act) establishes the framework for sharing water between the environment and water users who have a basic right to water and licensed water users and sets out priorities for water access.

NSW water sharing plans [1] then set the rules for how water is shared between the environment and water users, and set the limits on water extraction, defining when, where and how much water can be taken. Water sharing plans exist for a 10-year period, at the end of which time they are replaced, with or without changes.

[1]www.industry.nsw.gov.au/water/plans-programs/water-sharing-plans

Water resource plans

In the Murray–Darling Basin[1], the Commonwealth Basin Plan 2012 [2] provides a further level of regulation. It sets the limits on how much water can be extracted from water sources in the Basin over the long term. It includes requirements for no net reduction in the protection of planned environmental water and sets water sharing arrangements between the states.

The twenty draft water resource plans [3] developed for NSW play an integral role in implementing the Basin Plan and set out arrangements for sharing water, meeting environmental and water quality objectives, and taking into account potential and emerging risks to water resources. They incorporate the water sharing arrangements implemented through water sharing plans.

[1]www.mdba.gov.au/discover-basin

[2]www.legislation.gov.au/Details/F2018C00451

[3]www.industry.nsw.gov.au/water/plans-programs/water-resource-plans

Relationship between regional water strategies, water sharing plans and water resource plans

The relationship between regional water strategies, water sharing plans and water resource plans.

Figure 1. Relationship between regional water strategies, water sharing plans and water resource plans.

Regional water strategies also consider other existing plans and policies that are relevant to our management of water resources. Some of these plans and policies apply specifically to the Murray–Darling Basin or coastal areas.

In the Murray–Darling Basin, the regional water strategies will need to consider several additional regulatory requirements:

  • The Murray–Darling Basin Plan sets the limits on how much water can be extracted from water sources in the Basin over the long term, requirements for no net reduction in planned environmental water and no growth in water use, and water sharing arrangements between states.
  • Water resource plans play an integral role in implementing the Basin Plan and set out arrangements for sharing water, meeting environmental and water quality objectives and considering potential and emerging risks to water resources. In the Murray–Darling Basin, water sharing plans are a component of water resource plans.
  • NSW long-term water plans show how we will meet our environmental water objectives for aquatic-dependent assets and species.
  • Water quality management plans provide a framework for how we will meet our water quality and salinity objectives.
  • The NSW Extreme Events Policy and incident response guides establish the principles by which all water resources within the NSW Murray–Darling Basin are managed during an extreme event (such as drought).

In coastal areas, there are additional considerations for regional water strategies:

  • The NSW Sea Level Rise Policy Statement and the NSW Coastal Policy provide guidance on how to address the effects of rising sea levels.
  • The Marine Estate Management Strategy considers the influence of river flows and water quality on estuaries and coastal environments.

Find out more about the relationship between regional water strategies and water sharing plans.

Will water sharing plans change because of regional water strategies?

Regional water strategies will inform future changes to water sharing plans, and this may include:

  • revising water sharing rules based on advances in our understanding of climate variability and climate change risks
  • establishing rules to implement an approved policy or infrastructure solution in a strategy. For example, if we invest in a new dam, we also need to make water sharing rules for who benefits from the water in the dam and how the dam should be operated.

Will you open up water sharing plans even if they are not due to expire?

The timing of any potential changes to a water sharing plan would consider:

  • detailed engagement with the community
    New water sharing plan changes that have the potential to affect the community, licence holders or the environment need to be developed through a transparent process with detailed public consultation.
  • the timing for reviewing and remaking a water sharing plan
    During the 10-year period when a water sharing plan is in place, the scope for making changes to the plan is limited by the Water Management Act 2000 and the plan rules.
  • whether the change is in the public interest and warrants being made under the Act before the 10-year remake of the water sharing plan
  • whether the water sharing plan is part of a water resource plan within the Murray–Darling Basin, as any changes will need to be accredited by the Murray–Darling Basin Authority.
  • requirements under any planning approvals that may be required.

The Water Management Act 2000 and water sharing plans limit the types of changes which can be made to a water sharing plan for the 10-year period while the plan is in force. This provides certainty to water users in the plan area, which is important to enable them to plan their business activities.

Why weren’t regional water strategies developed before water sharing plans expired? Are water sharing plans now locked in for 10 years?

Regional water strategies are incorporating new, cutting-edge science. This new information and science is being developed as we speak, and will continue to be refined and added to. We are publishing this information as we get it.

The information being used to develop the regional water strategies was not available when the water sharing plans were being amended as part of the Basin Plan requirements. Other water sharing plans are coming up for review now and in coming years, and will be informed by their relevant regional water strategy.

The 10-year water sharing plan period provides certainty to water users about water sharing rules over the period of the plan. This certainty is critically important for business planning.

However, some regional water strategy options may need to trigger an early change to the water sharing plan. We need to balance the need for certainty with the public interest and incorporating new evidence as that evidence becomes available and is tested.

How are regional water strategies different to integrated water cycle management plans (IWCMs)?

Regional water strategies are the region- or catchment-wide strategic plans. They look at ways to achieve water security across multiple councils and the entire catchment.

Integrated water cycle management strategies are local planning instruments, designed to meet the needs of individual councils and local water utilities.

Integrated water cycle management strategies are developed by local water utilities, and are the 30-year strategic planning instrument that:

  • addresses all water security, water quality and sewerage service risks in the utility’s town water systems
  • sets service levels, and associated investment priorities and price paths in consultation with the community
  • includes an asset and financial management plan
  • includes drought contingency and emergency response plans.

The IWCM provides an opportunity to identify the local risks to water services and options to address those risks.

Through the Safe and Secure Water Program, the NSW Government is co-funding:

  • development of integrated water cycle management strategies, recognising the importance of strategic planning to finding solutions to address risks and provide services at adequate standards
  • investment in infrastructure to address high-priority water security risks for local water utilities
  • joint organisation-led regional water supply strategies to help councils identify, analyse and plan for regional town water supply solutions.

How do regional water strategies and integrated water cycle management plans inform each other?

Where available, integrated water cycle management strategies inform the regional water strategies on:

  • water security service levels of individual towns and communities based on existing operations in average, wet and dry climate conditions
  • options to improve water security, or the quality of the water supplied.

The regional water strategies will inform integrated water cycle management strategies on:

  • likely reliability of available water across more climate scenarios, and effects at a broad regional scale (but not specifically for each local water utility’s water supply system or existing operations)
  • options to address the utility’s broader water security issues.

Can local water utilities use the new climate data in the development of their IWCMs? 

The NSW Government sets guidelines for local water utilities to assess the security of their water supplies.

Regional water strategy data and modelling can be used to stress-test and undertake additional water security sensitivity analysis by local water utilities when developing the IWCMs.

However, the regional water strategy climate data is focused at a regional scale. It does not consider local water utilities’ water security service levels, operating rules, and all the water supply infrastructure available in each system.

Local water utilities will still need to undertake their secure yield analysis in accordance with the Assuring Future Water Security Guidelines.

When will local water utilities get access to the regional water strategies climate data?

The department’s intention is to make the climate data available to local water utilities in a format that can be useful. However, going through and developing this format will take time.

Local water utilities staff can contact their Utilities Regional Operations Manager at the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment—Water to seek guidance on the provision of this information.