Water management has traditionally been about supplying clean drinking water however there is a growing expectation in the community that water management is more than that, it is about having healthy waterways without pollution and thriving with life. So how do we adapt to this new expectation?
Water is managed by the Minister for Lands and Water, the Hon Kevin Anderson MP with environmental issues managed by the Minister for the Environment, the Hon James Griffin MP. However the Environment Protection Agency can only respond to emergency situations. When you want the whole of the system to work together to deliver healthy waterways you can not just leave it to the EPA. It’s like a couple of people holding a trampoline trying to save a jumper at the bottom of a cliff. We know that quality needs to be baked into the system from the word go.
In NSW storm water management is shared by Sydney Water and local councils. However council response to this expensive task varies wildly. One of the best water testing programs is performed by Hornsby Shire Council funded by their water levy. However water crosses council boundaries. The water testing results performed by Hornsby Shire Council is stored in a local database that is not shared. There is no oversight from a higher authority to manage the data and implement a catchment management approach. The Catchment Management Authority was disbanded and merged into the portfolio of the Minster for Agriculture who is responsible for Local Land Services. However Local Land Services do not perform anything like catchment management across Greater Sydney.
The testing of creeks and waterways is a hugely time consuming and expensive job. There are citizen science volunteers keen to lend a hand but this resource has been systemically ignored and underfunded. Streamwatch is an example of an iconic citizen science program that was left to fall through the cracks until it ended up with a volunteer run organisation scrambling for money.
Sydney Water is the obvious organisation that should embrace this responsibility and harness volunteer groups. It used to run Streamwatch but the systematic underfunding of Sydney Water saw it abandon the program.
Polluted beaches and sewerage overflows are a symptom of this underfunding. Last financial year Sydney Water paid into the NSW Government’s coffers a dividend of $687 million. Sydney Water carries $10.8 billion in debt, attracting $361 million in interest repayments. If Sydney water did not have to pay this huge dividend and interest it would be able to afford to upgrade its aging infrastructure at a faster rate. It could create a system that includes the whole community in taking care of our precious water resources as part of its core business.
Why Don’t 100% of Our Water Rates Go Towards Protecting Our Water Supply and Waterways?
No part of our water rates should not go towards general government revenue via the dividend. They should go towards protecting our water supply and waterway health. The NSW Treasurer needs ensure that Sydney Water is not required to pay a dividend and can reduce their crippling debt. All profits should go towards upgrading infrastructure and allowing water testing to be performed in Greater Sydney effectively.