We never know the worth of water till the well is dry.
– Thomas Fuller
Given water’s central role in society and the environment, and the pressures and challenges facing water supply in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT), it is imperative that we monitor and assess the condition of our water resources so that we can manage them effectively.
Overall surface water quality is in a good state and improving relative to the previous reporting period (2007–2011), with appropriate levels of dissolved oxygen, pH, conductivity and phosphorus, faecal coliforms and suspended solids. Turbidity, chlorophyll-a and nitrogen levels are in a poorer state in urban and rural areas, compared with conservation land use areas. However, overall surface water quality has improved in the ACT compared with 2007–2011, probably due to higher rainfall in the current assessment period and effective management practices.
It is likely that groundwater availability and quality are good in the ACT, with negative trends unlikely. However, if rainfall decreases or extraction increases, then groundwater availability and possibly quality may also change.
Drinking water in the ACT is of very high quality and is consistently within standards described in the Australian Drinking Water Guidelines.
The ACT has met its targets regarding environmental flows for its rivers.
The indicators of ecological condition of waterways in the ACT are at poor levels. This is partly because sampling mainly occurs in areas heavily affected by urban or rural land use and river regulation. However, it is encouraging that, compared with 2007–2011, the number of sites rated as severely or significantly impaired has declined, and the percentage of sites rated as similar to minimally disturbed reference areas has increased from 24% to 34%.
The main pressures on water resources in the ACT are land-use change, climate variability and change, and water resource development. These affect both water availability and water quality. Climate change in particular is expected to have a major impact on water resources in the ACT, exacerbating the existing effects of climate variability.
Water managers are well aware of the pressures and, in 2011–2015, major progress was made in increasing the ACT’s water storage capacity and establishing integrated catchment management as a fundamental part of water cycle management in the ACT.
In 2011, a review of the 2004 water resource strategy, Think water, act water, found that significant achievements had been made towards the strategy’s objectives, which were focused on:
- increasing the efficiency of water use
- providing long-term reliable sources of water for the ACT and region
- promoting the development and implementation of an integrated approach to ACT – New South Wales cross-border supply and management.
The review found that the strategy had successfully guided the ACT to improved water security, and that it was timely to explore potential new strategies for the ACT’s future water needs.
In August 2014, the new strategy, ACT Water Strategy 2014–44: Striking the Balance, was released. This strategy focuses on achieving healthy catchments and water bodies; a sustainable water supply that is used efficiently; and a community that values and enjoys clean, healthy catchments. For each of these outcomes, the ACT Water Strategy identifies strategies and actions to guide water management in the ACT for the next 30 years. The strategy will be implemented through five-year implementation plans, and effectiveness of implementation will be monitored through identified targets and indicators.