The federal government has launched a new national water infrastructure body that it says will help ensure water security for inland Australia.
The National Water Grid Authority (NWGA) is to provide a science-based approach to water infrastructure and will assess the myriad water diversion and storage proposals put forward to deliver water to communities.
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure Michael McCormack said the NWGA would play a key role in shaping national water infrastructure policy and identifying opportunities to build critical networks that secure long-term water supplies across the country.
He said investing $100 million in the organisation would build on the $993.1 million already committed from the National Water Infrastructure Development Fund to finance the construction of 21 water infrastructure projects.
“It has been too long since we built a major dam in this country, way back in 1987,” McCormack said.
“As we highlighted during the election, this government is establishing the NWGA to take out the state-based politics and insert science with a national-based approach to water security for Australia’s future.”
Referencing the 80-year-old Bradfield Scheme, which proposed to divert water from the coastal rivers of north Queensland inland across the Great Dividing Range, he said more “visionary thinking” was needed around water in Australia.
“Water is the lifeblood of our nation, and we owe it to our primary producers and regional communities to deliver long-term, sustainable water infrastructure to boost agriculture that will support the growth of regional Australia and meet the demands of a growing population,” McCormack said.
“Working with state and territory governments, the NWGA will develop a national framework to identify priority water infrastructure initiatives, including strategies to harness and harvest water storage and supply systems across Australia, to support the growth of primary industries and regional communities.”
The Australian Water Association (AWA) has long called for national water reform to help deliver a coordinated response to challenges in the water sector.
In its submission to the Productivity Commission’s inquiry into national water reform in 2017, the AWA said there were “clear benefits to be delivered from greater levels of national leadership, collaboration and facilitation” that could be seen under the guidance of a national water authority.
While the NWGA is only tasked with overseeing infrastructure, AWA CEO Jonathan McKeown said the country-wide approach was a step in the right direction.
“It’s a good thing to start planning nationally, and we need to encourage all governments to get behind a national strategy for water resources in Australia,” McKeown said.
However, he said the most important thing was to keep all water supply options open and that water recycling has a big role to play in meeting the needs of a growing population.
“We need to go beyond looking at water infrastructure in terms of dams in regional areas and think about better utilisation of aquifer recharges, better groundwater use and, most importantly, the opportunity to embrace a whole range of water recycling options.”
This includes recycled water for industrial, household and community use, which will be an important resource in the future.
“The most important thing for the country is to recognise that our needs going forward will be much greater than the available surface water, and that we need to embrace water recycling to get the maximum usage out of this water.”
The announcement of the NWGA comes after Infrastructure Australia released its 2019 Australian Infrastructure Audit last month, which found unprecedented challenges including population growth, climate change and changing customer expectations were putting pressure on Australia’s water infrastructure.
The NWGA will be established on 1 October this year.