19 April 2021
Land Management Policy Division
Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning
PO Box 500
East Melbourne VIC 8002
Via email: [email protected]
Re: Land (Regulated Watercourse Land) Regulations
Thank you for the opportunity to respond to the draft Land (Regulated Watercourse Land) Regulations. VicWater is the peak body of the Victorian water industry with its membership comprising Victoria’s 19 statutory water corporations. Victorian water corporations are responsible for the provision of urban water and wastewater services, rural water supply including irrigation and related drainage services. Our submission is made on behalf of those of our members affected by the proposed regulations.
VicWater recognises that recreational activities along river frontages contribute to liveability and community wellbeing. We also acknowledge there is increasing demand for these activities throughout Victoria and for facilities and services that support them.
With this recognition of the importance of recreation, we offer the following suggestions to consider as the Department refines the watercourse land regulations. Our comments are provided in the spirit of strengthening or clarifying the proposed regulations.
While it appears that most risks have been addressed in the drafting of the proposed Regulations, our primary interest is in the protection of drinking water quality, and the appropriate implementation and resourcing of compliance such that the objects of the Act and proposed Regulations are fulfilled.
According to our industry’s knowledge and experience, resources that would be necessary to effectively manage the proposed activities within these areas is significant and needs to be appropriately considered as an impact of the proposed Regulations. We know that most land managers are finding it difficult to manage Crown land and water frontages under the existing licencing arrangements. These managers will depend on adequate resourcing to maintain the quality of the environment that is valued by the community.
To further reduce the impact on the broader community, we encourage an active Government campaign reinforcing each person’s obligations in sharing these significant public spaces with others and leaving the land in a good state, collecting rubbish and respecting private property. Furthermore, a central process for disclosing the number of complaints from campers, land managers and licence holders, adjoining landowners and fines issued for breaches will enable effective evaluation of compliance and adjustment of resources according to geographic areas and agency capabilities.
As a matter of context, many of the waterways across Victoria provide sources of drinking water for communities across the state. Some waterways are directly accessed, and others supply major reservoirs. All water taken from these waterways is treated to standards that fulfil the Safe Drinking Water Act 2003. Our members are obligated under the Act to provide safe, high-quality drinking water using a risk management framework ‘from catchment to tap’.
Our members are committed to managing drinking water quality risks in catchments. Two key principles of the Australian Drinking Water Guidelines (ADWG) that our members fastidiously adhere to include “protection of source waters to the maximum degree practicable” and “taking a preventative management approach.”
To meet the regulatory obligations of the Safe Drinking Water Act and Regulations and adhere to the ADWG, we are committed to preserving and protecting water quality in special water supply catchment areas, declared under the Catchment and Land Protection Act 1994. Therefore, we ask that the regulated land manager is authorised to make the determination in setting aside an area of regulated land to permit, restrict or prohibit an activity or conduct in that area. Camping within proximity to water extraction points and catchment offtakes is not a coexisting activity without rigorous risk assessment and control. Without such assessment and implementation of facilities and services to safely support recreation, there is a risk to the broader community.
We ask that Government works with our industry and our regulator, the Department of Health, to set clear standards that will protect drinking water quality where recreational access is facilitated under the proposed Regulations. The standards and thresholds that would be set are consistent with risk management frameworks used by our industry to meet obligations under the Safe Drinking Water Act.
We also ask for your consideration to access, noting the sensitivity of remnant vegetation areas and sensitive watercourse embankments. It may be best to exclude public access to or through these areas. Effective maps and signage will assist in the protection of these areas.
In terms of implementation, we suggest a staged approach to enable the development of appropriate signage and maps, and the engagement with land managers, licence holders and community groups to occur. We also suggest that facilities are upgraded to attract recreational uses in accordance with the Regulations. Taken together, we expect the community will embrace the areas in the form of stewardship of the land rather than simply as consumers. Our members, with their extensive experience, can assist in advising and supporting such initiatives.
Proposed Regulation 4 definition of ‘regulated land’ should exclude (1) land declared by Order of the Minister under section 54 of the Water Act 1989, prior to the repeal of section 54 of the Water (Governance) Act 2006, to be a Recreational Area under the management and control of the Authority; or (2) land determined by the Minister, under 122ZA of the Water Act 1989, to be a Recreational Area under the management and control of the Authority. Excluding these areas from the definition of regulated land will reduce confusion for recreation users as to where regulated watercourse land applies to the land adjoining water storages.
Proposed Regulation 7 should include the preservation or protection of water quality in a special water supply catchment area, declared under the Catchment and Land Protection Act 1994, as a reason why the ‘regulated land manager is authorised to make a determination to set aside an area of regulated land as an area upon which an activity or conduct is permitted, restricted or prohibited, or access is restricted or prohibited’ (respectively).
Proposed Regulation 14 should be expanded to closing of land during other extenuating circumstances such as when the land is waterlogged, there is the risk of landslip, or when there is a water quality incident as declared under the Safe Drinking Water Act. To facilitate effective management in the event of natural disasters and emergencies, it is recommended that temporary closures of less than 28 days be permitted without publication in the Government Gazette. To maximise public awareness, closures requiring longer periods be determined, as appropriate, by the regulated land manager and advertised through media outlets to reach a broader audience, instead of the Government Gazette.
Proposed Regulation 16 includes the preservation or protection of water quality in a special water supply catchment area (under the Catchment and Land Protection Act 1994) as a reason for access being restricted or prohibited.
Proposed Regulation 23 should exclude the collection of firewood in preference for campers to use other forms of heating or bring their own firewood. The 0.5 m3 limit is significant and poses risks to the integrity of waterways and land vegetation, which provide critical ecological and hydrological functions.
Proposed Regulation 29 should be extended to recognise the importance of official signage in facilitating appropriate access to camping sites and exclusion from sensitive and other regulated areas.
Proposed Regulation 32 should incorporate a sub-regulation requiring the disposal of human waste 100m or more away from any watercourse, bog, bore, dam or spring.1
Proposed Regulation 33 should incorporate a sub-regulation to limit the disposal of soap and detergent to 50m or more from any watercourse, bog, bore, dam or spring.2
Proposed Regulation 35 should apply a 14-day limit to the period campers can occupy an area. Camping for a period of 28 days risks impacts associated with the disposal of human wastes, soaps and detergents and other disturbances. A 14-day limit aligns to most holiday periods, limits the risk of ongoing occupation, and provides opportunities for other recreational users to enjoy an area.
VicWater welcomes its further involvement in this review. Please contact James Cleaver ([email protected]) should you have any questions, or if you would like to discuss any of the issues we have raised in greater detail.
Chief Executive Officer
1 These distances align with the setback distances specified EPA 891.4 Code of Practice for Onsite Wastewater Management (up to 5000L/day), which protects public health and the environment.
2 This distance is consistent with Recreational Area Model Bylaws prepared and distributed by DELWP