Page 3776 - Week 10 - Wednesday, 27 August 2008

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I will begin with our most precious resource—water. The government has always been committed to integrated and sustainable water resource management. This has been reflected, for example, in the “Think water, act water” strategy released in 2004, in the review of the environment flow guidelines in 2006, and through future water supply considerations. But importantly, this government recognises the need for a sound and appropriate legislative base to properly and effectively manage our water resources.

To this end, this government prepared the Water Resources Act 2007, which came into effect on 1 August 2007. This act enables the territory to take a holistic and integrated approach and to manage our water resources equitably and sustainably. The Water Resources Act 2007 improves the efficiency and equity of water resources management by allowing for consideration of community values of the water resources by treating all groundwater in the same manner as surface water, by enabling water-sensitive urban design and efficient water use to be more actively encouraged and by addressing a number of legal issues with the previous act.

In the preparation of the act, consultation was undertaken to determine the public-good value of water, such as how the community valued the watering of public open space or water used in productive enterprises as compared with private use of the same water. Although there were diverse views presented by different parts of the community, particularly on the priorities that should be accorded to specific uses, it was generally agreed that water for projects of broader community benefit should have the highest priority and that water for private residential irrigation should be accorded a lower priority.

Taking into account the public consultation, this act implements a water allocation arrangement based on three priorities for water use. The highest priority is given to water used for domestic use on properties where there is no access to the urban water supply network. Not only does this formalise a longstanding presumption; it is also consistent with the water security strategy for the Murray-Darling Basin. The second-level priority is accorded to public and community use consistent with the territory plan and applies to both businesses and public spaces such as school grounds or parklands. The third priority is for urban residential use. This means there will be no new or expanded licensing of water for urban residential use.

The 2007 act provides an explicit ability to reserve water to meet future demands in each water management area. This assists in meeting government commitments or environmental considerations that may arise in the future without the need to reduce existing volumes of water and hence raise the potential for compensation claims. Consistent with national initiatives, water access entitlements have replaced water allocations.

A key feature of the water access entitlements is that they are for a share of the sustainable yield and not a set total volume. A share approach provides flexibility in managing a resource where sustainable yields may be reduced, for instance by climate change. Also, in line with national initiatives, the act has specific provisions to allow the trade of water access entitlements to higher value uses, consistent with the constraints of catchment, current water markets and the priorities of the national water initiative.

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