Building water resilience in New South Wales

 This year, a short period of extreme flooding resulted in the tragic loss of lives, thousands of people evacuated, homes and animals lost and roads and bridges impassable. These floods saw the resurgence of the water debate into the public arena and now, more than ever—for the health of our land and water and our social cohesion—governments, business and communities need to come together to ensure policies and governance that will move our vital water resources and infrastructure from a state of crisis and competition to one of shared resilience and responsible use.

Unfortunately, major water issues are nothing new for NSW. In 2020, a long period of socially and economically disruptive drought in NSW prompted the UNSW Water Research Centre (WRC) to hold a Drought Resilience Forum, bringing together over 100 prominent water experts from academia, industry, all levels of government, and not-for-profit community groups across the state.

Participants discussed the challenges and explored potential solutions, and three main themes emerged from the Forum. The consensus was that in order to build water resilience in NSW, integrated catchment management is needed across the region, water sensitive urban design and integrated urban water management are essential, and evidence-based solutions are needed, working with improved data and process transparency.

As a follow-on from the Forum, the WRC recently released a wide-ranging White Paper on how to build water resilience in NSW.

The Paper outlines at least five main action areas and 34 key recommendations. The actions prioritise:

  • Deep listening to First Nations knowledge holders, with Aboriginal representation integrated at every level of decision making.
  • The establishment of integrated catchment authorities as a matter of great urgency.
  • Commitment from Government to full transparency and accessibility of information about water usage.
  • Greater support for regenerative farming practices.
  • Improved and integrated urban water management, including provision of purified recycled water for drinking.

UNSW's Denis O'Carroll, who led the development of the White Paper, said, "It's absolutely crucial that NSW develops a long term plan for water resiliency. This has been made very clear in the last year and half with both unprecedented droughts and flooding."

The White Paper can be read in full on the WRC website.

Image by Phillip Flores on Unsplash
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