Water Law Reform in Western Australia

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Water Law Reform in Western Australia

Western Australia (WA) is in the process of reforming its outdated Rights in Water and Irrigation Act 1914 (RiWI Act). This reform has been in the pipelines for close to a decade but was revitalised by the release of the Securing Western Australia’s Water Future Position Paper – Reforming Water Resource Management in September 2013. The new Water Resources Management Bill was approved for drafting in March 2015.

The reforms will consolidate five water-related Acts further to the RiWI Act. The remaining Acts cover subject matter including the protection of urban and regional public drinking water sources, water agency power, and environmental land and water conservation. The Water Services Act 2012 (WA), which replaced outdated water legislation in 2012, complements the new Act.

The Department of Water has established two separate taskforces to provide significant input into the creation of the new Act. Members of the taskforce include representatives in fields of law, irrigation and agriculture, energy, and conservation. The Minister for Water, Mia Davies MLA, has so far indicated that a Green Paper or draft bill will not be released, so the input from these taskforces is particularly important given the likelihood that the broader community will not have any further input into the reforms.

The main reform areas include:

  1. the implementation of statutory water allocation plans and consumptive pool management (which enable water managers to cap water entitlements in particular systems to a sustainable yield and allocate water on a seasonal basis pursuant to water availability);
  2. reducing barriers to water entitlement trades and transfers;
  3. metering requirements for certain users (although this is likely to remain at the current level, which sets metering thresholds at ≥500ML/year); and
  4. measures to enable the clawback of entitlements in over-allocated areas.

The reforms do not appear to address:

  1. third party appeal rights to challenge water allocation decisions;
  2. indigenous rights to water beyond what Native Title may provide;
  3. provisions to protect environmental and other non-consumptive beneficial uses in establishing allocation limits;
  4. adequate water quality provisions; and
  5. pricing water to facilitate water trading markets.

The timeframe for the new Act is unclear and a significant focus in WA is now the Water for Food and Water for Growth, both of which are funded through the Royalties for Regions program.

 

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