Submission

To: Office of Living Victoria
re: Exposure draft of Water Bill (Victoria)

Date : 9 February 2014

General Comments
EFN supports the need for a review of the Water Act and the associated legislation. The impact of climate change and the significant work on sustainable water strategies has resulted in the 1989 legislation being no longer fit for purpose. EFN expects that climate change will have a major impact on water security in the next planning period (15 years). There has also been significant restructuring of all aspects of the water industry and heightened involvement by the Federal Government through the Murray Darling Basin Authority.
Environmental values need more emphasis in the Objects of the Act. The assessment and enshrining of environmental water should be the cornerstone of legislation, not just a supplement to it.  We feel that Clause 4 of the draft (Objects of the Act) could be much more visionary.
Many of our members are broad acre farmers reliant on domestic and stock supplies. The Draft Bill does not appear to provide for adequate protection of these water supplies from other activities in the catchment. The Draft Bill also seems to give precedence to existing entitlement holders which means that in an over-allocated system, the environment will always miss out.
We also recognise that the proposed draft Bill is “enabling” legislation; not prescriptive. However this means that the outcomes of some sections of the draft Bill are not clear to EFN. We also note that there appears to be much more Ministerial discretion than in the previous legislation.

Specific Comments
Environmental water: although the draft exposure bill attempts to simplify the concept of environmental water there appears to be no mechanism to maintain and enhance the environmental values of unregulated streams such as the Hopkins River. The trend to intensified land use and peri urban development will increase pressure on already stressed waterways. The draft Bill needs to demonstrate a whole of catchment approach to water management. The draft Bill also appears to enable capture and storage of “over the bank” flows in flood events. These flood events are essential to the maintenance of a healthy river and associated wetlands (recharge of surface and ground water on riparian floodplain) and should not be seen as an opportunity to trap water in tank dams.
“Balancing” environmental, social, economic and cultural outcomes may sound good but a balanced approach leads to continuing deterioration of environmental values of waterways. Historical development has skewed the balance away from environmental considerations. Surely environmental values are a priority as the other values are dependent on healthy waterways.
 Reviewing strategies: The process proposed to replace the Sustainable Water Strategies is not adequate.  Given the projected impact of climate change on Victoria’s water resources the 15 year resource assessment must be followed by a strategic review. The Minister should be obliged to follow recommendations of an independent expert panel which is properly representative of all stakeholders, including the environment.
Catchments as sources of water: The current Water Act, and much of this exposure draft, misses the opportunity to build links with the management of land for optimising both water quantity and water quality in our drainage lines and waterways. The Objects of the Act talk of promoting the whole of water cycle management, so it is good to see the tentative start with the new inclusion of Clauses 448 – 456.
Advisory panels: The Draft Bill enables the Minister to appoint advisory panels for a number of review activities. EFN recognises that the actual make up of these panels cannot be specified in an act but there should be some indication that environmental expertise has adequate representation. For example, the current panel advising the Minister on developing the Draft Bill does not include anyone with expertise in the area of environmental water management.

 

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