National Urban Water Planning Principles

​​The Council of Australian Governments (COAG) adopted the National Urban Water Planning Principles in 2008.

The principles provide Australian governments and water utilities with the tools to better plan the development of urban water and wastewater service delivery in a sustainable and economically efficient manner. Proper planning will facilitate a balance in supply and demand and build community confidence in diverse sources of water supply.

Review of the National Urban Water Planning Principles

A review of the 2008 National Urban Water Planning Principles was undertaken in 2013–14 by the Department of the Environment, in consultation with the jurisdictions, in response to recommendations by the Productivity Commission, the National Water Commission and Infrastructure Australia.

See the Review of the National Urban Water Planning Principles (2013-2014)

Key principles to achieve optimal urban water planning outcomes

1. Deliver urban water supplies in accordance with agreed levels of service

The service level for each water supply system should specify the minimum service in terms of water quantity, water quality and service provision (such as reliability and safety).

Levels of service should not apply uniformly, but rather should be set for each supply system and potentially for different parts of an individual supply system. Agreement on levels of service will allow the community to understand how seasonal variability and climate change will impact on supply into the future and how different levels of service relate to costs. Measures undertaken to minimise risk and maximise efficiency in supplying water should be in accordance with agreed levels of service.

2. Base urban water planning on the best information available at the time and invest in acquiring information on an ongoing basis to continually improve the knowledge base

Up-to-date information on current and future water resources, water supplies and water demand is critical for effective urban water planning. Information on possible future changes, such as population growth and climate change, is also important in understanding the ongoing water supply/demand balance and to determine an acceptable level of risk due to uncertainty.

Knowledge of existing customers (including who is using water, how much and for what end uses and an understanding of the differences between customers and geographic locations) is important when forecasting future water demands by end users in a particular category of use and the impact of possible demand management measures under consideration.

Urban water planning should be based on scenario planning, incorporating uncertainty in supply and demand, as well as integrated with future economic development and land use planning to ensure full knowledge of the availability of water supplies and water savings opportunities.

Where possible, information should be gathered in such a way that it enables improved information-sharing and research coordination between jurisdictions.

3. Adopt a partnership approach so that stakeholders are able to make an informed contribution to urban water planning, including consideration of the appropriate supply/demand balance

Stakeholder input is essential to ensure that the proposed levels of service and the supply and demand management options required to deliver that level of service are considered in terms of consumers' attitudes, including willingness and ability to pay.

Community information and education programs should be an integrated part of urban water planning and should be designed appropriately, based on community input, to increase knowledge, understanding and informed participation in urban water planning, as well as increase water efficient behaviours.

Urban water planning should be based on a process that is transparent and inclusive, recognising different consultation approaches are appropriate in different circumstances.

4. Manage water in the urban context on a whole-of-water-cycle basis

The management of potable water supplies should be integrated with other aspects of the urban water cycle, including stormwater management, wastewater treatment and re-use, groundwater management and the protection of public and waterway health.

The risks associated with different parts of the urban water cycle (such as trade waste, stormwater, etc) should be considered and managed. Water quality of potable supplies should be protected through appropriate catchment management practices and management of wastewater. This will involve a range of activities, from land use planning and management that protects the quality of natural water resources, through to addressing the disposal, treatment and reuse phases of the water cycle.

Such an approach should result in delivery of diverse water supplies which are fit-for-purpose and optimise the use of water at different stages of the urban water cycle.

5. Consider the full portfolio of water supply and demand options

Selection of options for the portfolio should be made through a robust and transparent comparison of all demand and supply options, examining the social, environmental and economic costs and benefits and taking into account the specific water system characteristics. The aim is to optimise the economic, social and environmental outcomes and reduce system reliability risks, recognising that in most cases there is no one option that will provide a total solution. Readiness options should also be identified as part of contingency planning.

Options considered could include the following:

  • optimising the use of existing infrastructure through efficiency measures
  • residential, commercial and industrial demand management initiatives
  • purchasing or trading water entitlements from other sectors, and
  • development of additional centralised and/or decentralised water supply options, including manufactured water sources (such as recycling and /or desalination), where appropriate.

By considering the full range of options, access to a range of sources should be able to be optimised dynamically (even on a short term basis) through the availability of diverse infrastructures that may include both centralised and decentralised water supply schemes. These sources would be drawn upon in differing combinations depending on the local and regional climatic conditions and the mix of sources selected would be those resulting in the lowest environmental, social and economic costs over the long term.

6. Develop and manage urban water supplies within sustainable limits

Ensuring the ongoing protection of the environment and waterway health is an integral part of urban water planning. Natural water sources for all water supplies, such as surface and groundwater supplies, should only be developed within the limits of sustainable levels of extraction for watercourses and aquifers.

Sustainable levels of extraction should be established through publicly available water plans prepared at a catchment and / or basin scale for all water use, including environmental requirements. In determining the sustainable extraction levels, regard should be had to the inter-relationships of different water sources.

To ensure sustainability, extraction levels should also be monitored over time and periodically re-assessed to reflect changes in scientific knowledge and climate variability.

7. Use pricing and markets, where efficient and feasible, to help achieve planned urban water supply/demand balance

Tariff structures for water supplies should be designed to signal the full value of finite water resources to end users to encourage efficient water use. The price charged for urban water services should be transparent and linked to the level of service provided.

Rights to urban water supply should be clearly defined to the extent that it is economically efficient, cost-effective and feasible to do so, at the various levels of the supply chain. This in turn will facilitate the use of markets and trading where appropriate. This could include developing bulk water and wastewater markets, removing barriers to competition and institutional, structural and governance reforms.

8. Periodically review urban water plans

Recognise that there is a need for periodic review of urban water plans and their underpinning assumptions. All parties involved in the development of an urban water plan should be committed to ensuring that the plan can adapt as necessary to reflect additional information/knowledge and changing circumstances.

Planning should recognise that some demand/supply responses are short-term and are required to be adaptive, while other responses such as water infrastructure planning and investment have a longer planning horizon because the assets have a considerable lifespan.

Last reviewed: 4 November 2019
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