Message from the Chair of the National Water Commission, the Hon Karlene Maywald

Ms Karlene Maywald (National Water Commission Chair)

I extend my best wishes for the festive season to all readers and friends of the National Water Commission. 

As Chair since July 2012, I have overseen a busy six months as the Commission has developed a new work program to deliver on its core functions under the amended National Water Commission Act—monitoring, audit and assessment.

Current work underway includes the preparation of our annual  urban and rural performance reports, as well as new water markets reports.

With the historic Murray–Darling Basin Plan now in place, our most pressing task has been to advance the Commission’s Basin Plan audit role as is required under the Water Act 2007.

The Commission’s audit role will be an important element of the new Murray–Darling Basin governance arrangements, providing oversight on the effectiveness of the Basin Plan’s implementation and associated water resource plans.

Our first audit report is due by 3 March 2013. Coming so soon after the plan commenced, it will focus on the preparedness of the Commonwealth and state governments to meet their obligations under the plan and will outline the Commission’s expectations and timing for future audit work. The Commission looks forward to working with the Basin states and the Australian Government to continue to improve outcomes in the Murray–Darling Basin.

It has always been important for Commissioners and staff to engage with stakeholders and the wider community, and this year is no exception. Meeting in Adelaide last month, Commissioners discussed current water reform issues with senior South Australian government officials. 

On 28 November, I chaired a meeting of the Commission’s Stakeholder Reference Group. Bringing together peak body and industry representatives, we discussed our approach to the upcoming Murray–Darling Basin Plan audit, along with linkages to each other’s ongoing work and interests.

Commissioners and senior staff also presented keynote addresses to major industry and sectoral conferences. Some of these events are mentioned below in Distilled’s ‘Out and about’ summary.

I would like to acknowledge the enormous contributions made by my fellow Commissioners whose terms were either renewed or extended in 2012—Robert Freeman, Stuart Bunn and Chris Davis.

As you may be aware, we have had a vacant Commonwealth nominated Commissioner appointment.  I am pleased to report that Senator Farrell has recently appointed Leith Boully to this position on an acting basis for three months.

Leith has been involved in water resource management at local, state and national levels for more than 20 years, with experience in community engagement, governance and research and development.  She is a director of the new South East Queensland Bulk Water Supply Authority, a board member of Murrumbidgee Irrigation, a member of Infrastructure Queensland and Chair of the Australian Water Recycling Centre of Excellence, amongst other positions.

The states and territories have also been working together to determine appointments for the two positions they can nominate. Although that process has not been finalised, I expect these Commissioner appointments to be resolved early in the New Year.

CEO report - James Cameron

Mr James Cameron

This has been a very special year for the National Water Commission, with the completion of a COAG review and the Australian Government’s decision to renew our role in providing oversight of the COAG national water reform agenda and agreed National Water Initiative objectives.

As well as preparing a new work program, Commission staff have delivered final outputs from the Raising National Water Standards (RNWS) Program, which has supported 178 projects worth $245.12 million. 

In 2012, an independent final evaluation of the RNWS Program was commissioned to examine the program's effectiveness and to identify the lessons learned in program governance, project administration and knowledge adoption. The evaluation found that the Commission has succeeded in meeting the RNWS Program’s strategic investment objectives. It concluded:

The most significant legacy of the RNWS Program is its development of knowledge and capacity across areas that required urgent reform. The vast pool of technical knowledge and information created from projects will serve future research and development, water planning and management well.

As part of the wrap up of the RNWS Program, numerous Commission-funded projects produced final reports and products that will support the continuing implementation of water reform actions by the states and territories. Some of these are outlined in the recent publications section below.

A highlight was the launch of the National Atlas of Groundwater Dependent Ecosystems, which was launched by Senator Don Farrell in September. Developed by SKM, CSIRO, Cohga and the Bureau of Meteorology with input from state and territory water agencies, the atlas is a web-based tool enabling consideration of ecosystem groundwater requirements in natural resource management, including water planning and environmental impact assessment. The atlas has already been recognised for its excellence at the 8th Annual Victorian Spatial Excellence Awards.

I also want to acknowledge that former members of the Commission’s First Peoples’ Water Engagement Council (FPWEC) now constitute the Indigenous Water Advisory Council, whose purpose is to provide advice on indigenous water issues to the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities and its portfolio agencies. Phil Duncan (former Chair FPWEC) is the Chair. The new council’s first meeting was held on 11 October.   

Our 2011–12 annual report outlined the Commission’s contributions to water reform in 2011–12 through its assessments, advocacy and projects funded under the RNWS Program.

We also launched a new website to showcase the Commission’s renewed role and work program. All previous publications and project information remain accessible on a library and projects archive website.

I too would like to thank all our Commissioners who have ably led our work throughout the year. Congratulations to both Karlene Maywald and our former Chair Chloe Munro who were recently honored as fellows of the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering (ATSE). We also welcome the recent appointment of Professor Bunn to the MDBA’s Advisory Committee for Social, Economic and Environmental Sciences.

With 2012 coming to an end, I would like to thank you for your support throughout the year. See you in 2013!

Recent publications

Water for Australia’s Arid Zone – Summarises the main findings from investigations at five regional demonstration sites and outlines the process involved in developing the new thematic palaeovalley map of arid and semi-arid Western Australia, South Australia and the Northern Territory.

National-scale vulnerability assessment of seawater intrusion - Identifies several opportunities to progress and develop effective resource management and protection of Australia’s coastal aquifers through additional monitoring, research, stakeholder education and communication.

Recognising the broader benefits of aquatic systems in water planning: an ecosystem services approach - Encourages a more comprehensive, systematic and transparent consideration of the multiple benefits of aquatic systems in water planning.

Three groundwater reports—the final publications in the Waterlines series—illustrated that given their value and criticality, our groundwater resources warrant greater investment in monitoring and management to support sustainable management:

Out and about

The Commission has hosted and participated in a range of conferences and events in recent months:

National Workshop on Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) of Environmental Flows

On 10-11 December, around 120 managers and academics from all states and territories participated in a two-day workshop at ANU, which was sponsored by the Commission. Four key actions emerged: development of agreed principles around data storage and management, development of best practice guidelines for the design and implementation of environmental flow M&E, communication of MERI benefits via value propositions, and development of a community of practice. 

Urban Water R&D Forum
On 26 September, the Commission together with its partners in the Australian Water Research and Development Coalition hosted a national forum to discuss urban water research priorities and potential mechanisms to achieve improved collaboration and return on investment.  The forum agreed to the development of a working group to progress initiatives aimed at delivering improved research outcomes.

As a follow up, on 6 December, the Commission hosted the first meeting of the Urban Water Research and Development Partnership Working Group to progress actions agreed at the September Forum.  Independently chaired by Ken Matthews, the group includes the CEOs of the Commission, WSAA, AWA, the Water Recycling Centre of Excellence, the CRC for Water Sensitive Cities and Water Australia, along with representatives of SEWPAC, DIISTRE, CSIRO, the South Australian Government, universities, and the Queensland Water Directorate.  A suite of six projects were agreed to, with outcomes to be presented for endorsement at another Forum in mid-2013.  Discussions focused on links with the COAG water knowledge platform, opportunities to make use of general public sector research funds and identifying barriers to collaborative research activities. 

CSIRO Vegetation and Water Availability Workshop 
In late November, approximately 100 delegates from CSIRO, universities, industry bodies and government agencies attended this CSIRO/Commission sponsored workshop.  The Commission presented on the National Water Initiative and interception management.

National Centre for Groundwater Research and Training Summer School
On 29 November, Karlene Maywald and James Cameron presented to the 100 plus students and researchers attending this summer school in Canberra.  Their presentations were part of a panel session discussing the policy/science interface and future of NWI water reform.

National Water Industry Skills Forum
This forum bought together industry representatives in November to discuss current skills issues and emerging workforce needs, and identify priorities for the Water Industry Skills Taskforce. Interest was expressed in progression of the National Certification Framework for Operators within Drinking Water Treatment Systems. 

Stormwater 2012 Conference
Commissioner Chris Davis delivered a keynote address on the role of stormwater in an evolving urban water sector.

51st Congress of the Australian Society for Limnology
The Commission hosted a special session to highlight to highlight the impact of the NWI and future policy and science challenges for aquatic ecosystems, including recent research and tools developed under the RNWS Program.  Commissioner Stuart Bunn presented along with Ben Gawne and Darren Baldwin from the Murray-Darling Freshwater Research Centre.

15th International RiverSymposium
On behalf of the Commission, Professor Bunn chaired a well-attended session on monitoring and evaluation to support adaptive management. The program included presentations on ecosystem services, tools and techniques for managing water, water sensitive urban design, river ecology and collaboration. 

AWA Operations Conference
CEO James Cameron spoke at AWA National Operations Conference in Darwin on 13 September about water and mining issues.

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