Water and Environmental Regulation Annual report 2018-19

Annual report
The Department of Water and Environmental Regulation annual report details our achievements each financial year.

The 2018–19 report reflects our second full year of operation. It provides a snapshot of our performance and achievements, containing information on the report of operations, our executive team, financial reports, and more.

It highlights our activities that aim to ensure the state’s water resources and environment are healthy and able to support our growing state.

This year, we continued to work to fulfil the government’s ‘one-stop-shop’ vision for the department, streamlining water and environmental approvals, improving services to the community and planning for some of the biggest challenges facing our state, such as climate change.

We also focused on building our relationships with industry and the community to discuss priorities and discover where we can work better and more efficiently.


  • Implemented a ban on lightweight plastic bags from 1 July 2018
  • Launched the Waste Avoidance and Resource Recovery Strategy 2030
  • Planned for the sustainable management of the Gnangara groundwater system and the Fitzroy River catchment
  • Improved the health of our south-west estuaries
  • Launched our first Reconciliation action plan
  • Relocated our headquarters and some 700 staff to Joondalup

We also supported the Waste Authority, Environmental Protection Authority, Keep Australia Beautiful Council and Cockburn Sound Management Council in their key roles.

Director General’s message

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Report summary

Thank you for reading the Department of Water and Environmental Regulation’s 2018–19 annual report. It reflects our second full year of operation which has seen change, consolidation and continued delivery of the government’s priorities and our services.

One of the biggest changes for our department in 2018–19 was the relocation of our headquarters and some 700 staff from the Perth central business district to Prime House in Davidson Terrace, Joondalup. Despite this significant change for our staff and stakeholders, I am very pleased that we continued to deliver on our services and priorities consistent with our vision of a healthy environment and secure water resources, valued by all, to support a liveable and prosperous Western Australia. I would like to take this opportunity to again acknowledge the Department of Finance for its role in leading and managing the commissioning of our excellent new headquarters and our move.

Over this past year, we have continued to work to fulfil the government’s ‘one-stop-shop’ vision for the department, streamlining water and environmental approvals, improving services to the community and planning for some of the biggest challenges facing our state, such as climate change.

We do not do this work in isolation, however. We work closely with other stakeholders to seek and share information that strengthens our regulatory, policy and guidance roles. I thank our partners and stakeholders across state and local government, industry, academia and the community who have continued to work with us to find innovative solutions to the state’s environmental and water challenges.

I am proud to lead an organisation that is committed to meaningful engagement with traditional owners across Western Australia. This year saw the launch of our first Reconciliation action plan, the continuation of our Aboriginal Water and Environment Advisory Group and our efforts to protect the extraordinary Murujuga rock art in the Pilbara, which has immense cultural and spiritual significance to Aboriginal people.

While this report provides a thorough account of our achievements and the breadth of our work, some items of note include:

  • As part of the government’s commitment to sustainable economic development in the Fitzroy River catchment, we will develop a Fitzroy water allocation plan in 2020. This will provide for the long-term and sustainable use of the region’s water resources, while making sure the unique National Heritage-listed environmental and cultural values of the Fitzroy River are protected.
  • During the past 12 months, we have reduced waste through a ban on lightweight plastic bags from 1 July 2018 and prepared for the launch of a new container deposit scheme. Containers for Change, which takes effect from 2 June 2020, will encourage people to collect drink containers covered by the scheme for a 10 cent refund, reducing litter and protecting the environment.
  • We dealt with some 3000 applications for water licences, provided water and environmental advice as part of the land planning process, and made good progress on preparing the next Gnangara water allocation plan.
  • The introduction of fees during the year for some water licences and increases to clearing permit fees has made more resources available to the department to improve service delivery and reduce assessment and approval times.
  • The department continues to deliver on commitments designed to improve the health of six south-west estuaries as part of the Regional Estuaries Initiative.
  • We have also continued our successful compliance and enforcement and industry regulation programs that protect our environment and communities.

Of course, none of these and our many other achievements would be possible without the support and commitment of our staff. One of our corporate values is ‘Better Together’ and I am very much reminded of this as I reflect on our collective effort during the year. I would like to take the opportunity to again thank our dedicated staff across the state who work tirelessly to achieve outcomes for our water resources and environment and for the people and businesses of Western Australia who rely on them.

It is an exciting time to be working together as we continue to play a vital role in shaping the Western Australia of the future.

Mike Rowe
Director General
26 September 2019

Plastic bag ban

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Reduced environmental impact - Behaviour change campaign


What's your bag plan logo

The government is pursuing a range of initiatives to reduce the environmental impact of single-use plastics. These initiatives include a ban on the supply of lightweight single-use plastic bags from 1 July 2018, the introduction of a container deposit scheme from 2 June 2020 and the Premier’s instruction to government agencies to avoid buying single-use plastic items including plastic cups, straws, plates and cutlery.

It is estimated that before the plastic bag ban, Western Australians used about 670 million single-use plastic bags. Of these, about seven million were littered annually, with most of the remainder ending up in landfill. In the marine environment, plastic bags can be mistaken for food by animals and ingested, or animals can become entangled in them, restricting their movement. Plastics persist in the environment for many decades. Eventually they break up into smaller pieces and their ingestion has devastating impacts on marine wildlife and birds.

To successfully implement the ban, the government partnered with the Boomerang Alliance to help deliver specific components of the program, which provided valuable information for community and retail behaviour change campaigns. The messaging tested by the Boomerang Alliance was incorporated into our ‘What’s Your Bag Plan?’ campaign materials that included television, radio and print media as well as web-based and social media resources.

We also partnered with the National Retail Association to help retailers to understand all aspects of the ban and find suitable alternatives to meet their business and customer needs. A comprehensive engagement program was undertaken that included one-on-one visits to more than 4000 individual retailers across Western Australia, a retailer-specific website and a telephone hotline.

The work with the National Retail Association also resulted in the development of novel and engaging approaches to community and retailer engagement – including making Famous Sharron the face of the campaign. A series of short films featuring Famous Sharron and willing community members delivering messages about the bag ban were distributed via social media to coincide with the offence provisions that came into effect on 1 January 2019. During this time, other materials about the bag ban were being delivered via web-based and social media, shopping centre signage and street performance activities.

Under the Regulations, it is an offence (with fines of up to $5000) for a retailer to supply a lightweight plastic bag to their customers. Community members may also report a retailer suspected of supplying a banned bag via the National Retail Association website.

Research undertaken in 2017 shows the Western Australian community is concerned about the impacts plastics pollution is having on our environment. To build on the success of the ban, the Minister for Environment launched the Let’s not draw the short straw, reduce single use plastics issues paper, (PDF) and survey in April 2019. The aim was to gather ideas from the community and businesses on how to reduce single-use plastics and their impacts on the environment, waste facilities and human health. The results of the consultation will be available in 2019–20.

Revitalise Geographe waterways

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Working with others
Revitalising Geographe Waterways Banner

The Revitalising Geographe Waterways program is a successful example of stewardship. During the year, we worked closely with partners and the local community to increase community input and knowledge, and worked with farmers to improve dairy effluent management, manage fertiliser run-off, protect waterways and improve water quality in the catchment.

This collaborative approach has accelerated water quality improvements in the Geographe catchment and restored community confidence in the government’s management of the waterways.

The award-winning waterways program monitors the Vasse-Wonnerup wetlands and priority waterways to identify key ecosystem features and threats. This helps us target our actions and resources to protect and improve waterway health and water quality. The $15 million program was recognised in October 2018 with a state Australian Water Association Award for program innovation.

The wetlands regularly support peak numbers of 25 000–35 000 waterbirds in most years and provide the most significant regular breeding habitat for black swans in the state.

In April 2019, the government announced the program would be extended for a fifth year to ensure water quality improvements and nutrient reductions in the Geographe catchment could continue under the oversight of the Interagency Vasse Taskforce, chaired by Dr Sally Talbot MLC. More than 20 organisations, including government agencies, universities, and catchment and industry groups have been involved with the delivery of the program, ensuring whole-of-community commitment to tackling the challenges and complexity of water quality in the catchment.

We are making it easier for stakeholders to understand the waterways and improve their decision-making through:

  • hydrological models developed for specific waterways, including Toby Inlet and Vasse Estuary, resulting in improved water quality and waterway health
  • a major ecological study on the Vasse-Wonnerup wetlands, greatly increasing our understanding of this important link between water quality and the ecology of the Ramsar-listed wetlands
  • river health assessments, highlighting the importance of protecting waterways for their ecological and social benefits.

These findings have been shared with project partners and the local community at science updates that continue to be well received and attended.

  • On-ground works in the catchment have continued strengthening partnerships with farmers and industry groups.
  • Modelling predicts that improved fertiliser management in this catchment since 2015 has resulted in a reduction of nearly 2000 kg per year of phosphorous entering the Vasse-Wonnerup wetlands and Geographe Bay.
  • Over 70 farmers have been involved in the program since 2016 contributing to improved farming practices (fencing, revegetation, soil testing, and better management of fertiliser and dairy effluent).
  • Over 40 km of fencing and 20 hectares of revegetation (tuarts, peppermint, rushes and sedges) have been completed over the past three years, protecting and improving riparian vegetation and reducing nutrient run-off from agricultural land.
  • More than 300 community members attended gardening workshops to learn how to create beautiful gardens while protecting the waterways.

Our partnership with the urban community through the GeoCatch Bay OK project has also been strengthened through a major project with the City of Busselton and the Water Corporation to upgrade the Vasse diversion drain and install rain gardens in priority sites.

Visit Revitalising Geographe Waterways for more information.

10 cent refund Container Deposit Scheme

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Planned container deposit scheme - Containers for Change
Container Deposit Scheme 10 cent refund banner, cans in crusher

The container deposit scheme, called Containers for Change, will allow consumers to take eligible empty drink containers to refund points to obtain a 10 cent refund. Drink containers account for 44 per cent of litter by volume in Western Australia and this initiative will reduce litter, increase recycling and provide opportunities for social enterprise participation.

Modelling shows that over 20 years the scheme will recycle an additional 6.6 billion containers, of which 5.9 billion containers would have been land filled and 706 million containers would have been littered. It will also create around 500 new jobs and provide significant opportunities for social enterprises and community groups to generate additional revenue, while complementing existing recycling efforts.

Substantial progress was made during the year on preparations for the scheme, with the department consulting with the community and other jurisdictions to help design the scheme. An advisory group of experts from across Australia also meets on a monthly basis to assist. This advisory group is supported by three technical working groups that provide guidance on operational considerations as the scheme develops.

Legislation to establish the scheme was passed in March and the first regulations were made on 18 April 2019. The regulations deal with matters such as the appointment process, performance targets, reporting and the civil penalty regime. Further regulations are being prepared. Minimum network standards have been set to ensure that refund points are easy to access for 98 per cent of the population.

On 14 May 2019, the Minister for Environment announced the selection of a coordinator for the container deposit scheme – a not-for-profit company named WA Return Recycle Renew Ltd. This company will be responsible for running the scheme and ensuring it meets all objectives set by the government.

Visit Container Deposit Scheme for more information.

15 per cent - Managing groundwater

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Reduced average annual rainfall

By planning future water allocation we will be able to provide certainty about any changes needed, allow plenty of time to adjust and keep the changes small.

We take seriously the evidence of climate change and its effects on groundwater resources. As a result of climate change, since 1975 the south-west of Western Australia has experienced a 15 per cent decline in average annual rainfall. This has reduced recharge to groundwater aquifers from Geraldton to Esperance.

Across much of the south-west corner of the state, groundwater is an important part of the water supply mix and is used for town drinking water supplies, to irrigate public open space and for irrigated horticulture. Perth’s groundwater resources provide more than 40 per cent of scheme supplies to households and businesses, almost all of the water supply used for parks, sports grounds and agriculture, and one in four domestic gardens. Groundwater also plays an important role in our natural environment by supporting wetlands, lakes and deep-rooted vegetation.

Managing groundwater sustainably to provide for our current needs and for future generations means making sure the amount of groundwater pumped from aquifers stays in balance with the amount of recharge to groundwater aquifers from rainfall. The amount of groundwater available for use in each location is identified through the department’s water allocation plans. To get this right, water allocation planning involves considerable science, including future climate projections.

Water allocation planning responds to climate change by using the projected climate trend to identify water availability over the 10 year life of the plans. Because rainfall in the south-west is decreasing, in many cases this means that no more groundwater can be made available for use. Water users respond to climate change by using the water that is available more effectively including through improving irrigation technology, better design of green space, reducing leaks and wastage, and through water trading. Looking ahead, in some locations we will need to begin to reduce groundwater use as rainfall decreases. By planning future water allocation we will be able to provide certainty about any changes needed, allow plenty of time to adjust and keep the changes small.

In the next few years we aim to complete or progress groundwater allocation plans for Cockburn, Gnangara, Gingin, Myalup, Perth South and Jandakot, Serpentine and Albany.

Murujuga rock art strategy

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Protecting Aboriginal heritage - 1 million images
DWER Murujuga rock art strategy rock landscape

Murujuga, which means ‘hip bone sticking out’ in the Ngarluma-Yaburara language, is the traditional Aboriginal name for the Dampier Archipelago and surrounds, including the Burrup Peninsula. It is home to the Ngarda Ngarli, a collective Aboriginal term for the five traditional owner groups – Ngarluma, Yindjibarndi, Yaburara, Mardudhunera and Wong-Goo-Tt-Oo – who have been part of this cultural landscape for tens of thousands of years and have a deep and spiritual connection to it.

With more than one million images, Murujuga is home to one of the largest, densest and most diverse collections of rock art in the world*. The archaeological record also includes campsites, quarries, shell middens and standing stone arrangements, including lines of up to three or four hundred stones.

Murujuga also hosts multi-billion-dollar industries that contribute significantly to the local, state and national economy and provides employment in the area. Further expansion and future developments are proposed, some of which are being assessed under the Environmental Protection Act 1986. Tourism is also emerging as an important economic and employment diversification opportunity for the Murujuga Aboriginal Corporation and the local community.

The government is committed to protecting the rock art of Murujuga and considers that the unique Aboriginal cultural and heritage values of Murujuga can coexist with a well-regulated industry and new economic opportunities that deliver benefits to the local community.

In February 2019, the Minister for Environment released the Murujuga Rock Art Strategy. The strategy establishes the framework for the long-term management and monitoring of environmental quality to protect the rock art on Murujuga from the impacts of industry and shipping emissions. The framework provides a transparent, risk-based and adaptive approach that is consistent with the government’s responsibilities under the Environmental Protection Act.

The strategy is being implemented by the department in partnership with the Murujuga Aboriginal Corporation. We are working together to oversee the development and implementation of a new world best-practice scientific monitoring and analysis program that will determine whether the rock art on Murujuga is being subjected to accelerated change. This will be undertaken in close consultation with a team of national and international experts in relevant disciplines.

The Murujuga Rock Art Stakeholder Reference Group was established in September 2018 by the Minister for Environment to facilitate engagement between the Murujuga Aboriginal Corporation and key government, industry and community representatives on the development and implementation of the strategy.

* Australian Heritage Council (2012). The potential outstanding universal value of the Dampier Archipelago site and threats to that site. A report by the Australian Heritage Council to the Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities.

Visit the Murujuga Rock Art monitoring program for more info

Lake Argyle traditional owners recognised

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Shared cultural responsibility - Water allocation plan
Lake Argyle dry bed in foreground, lake in the distance

It is 40 years since the Durack Homestead, relocated piece by piece to the southern shores of Lake Argyle near Kununurra in the Kimberley region, was opened as a museum.

The anniversary was celebrated in June 2019 when the government announced it would hand back part of the historic Durack pastoral lease in far north Western Australia to the traditional owners of the region, the Miriuwung and Gajerrong (MG) people.

Members of the community, MG Corporation and visitors met at the historic Durack Homestead on the edge of Lake Argyle, which holds painful significance for local Aboriginal people as their lands were drowned without consultation and with it their cultural heritage irreversibly changed.

Lake Argyle was formed after the construction of the Ord River Dam 55 kilometres upstream, which was completed in 1973. In 1996, the spillway from Lake Argyle was raised by six metres to improve reliability of water for hydroelectric power generation.

During the past 12 years, the region has set up a joint management committee comprised of department staff and the four MG language groups (‘Dawang’) that share cultural responsibility over the expanse of Lake Argyle.

Our Kimberley team prepared a water management plan that involved many of the elders visiting their drowned country by boat for the first time and mourning its loss, providing us with a different perspective on the lake that is now the lifeblood of the agricultural region of the Ord. Acknowledging the loss that enabled development of the Ord has been critical for reconciliation and looking to the future.

The Ord Final Agreement identified an aspiration for sole management by MG Corporation of the land handed back (Reserve 31165) and efforts have been directed to this objective through capacity building initiatives, joint decision-making and development of a ranger program to help manage the country.

We now support the Department of Planning, Lands and Heritage to progress sole vesting. This is part of the work of our Kimberley team of 15 staff based in the Kununurra office, who deliver a wide range of business including water licensing, planning, industry regulation, strategic policy, and water measurement and monitoring.

The Kimberley has most of the state’s wild rivers, many Ramsar-listed and significant wetlands and some of the largest naturally flowing river systems in the country. The pastoral industry, mining and tourism dominate the economy. More recently, the expanding agricultural sector has increased demands on our water and environmental regulation services.

Aboriginal cultural values are internationally recognised in the Kimberley and require special consideration in water and environmental management.

Water demand

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Projected 40 years in the future - Model attracts worldwide interest
Land any man standing in market garden plot

Our Water Supply–Demand Model continues to garner interstate and international interest, including being shortlisted in the final 12 best conference papers at OzWater ’19, Australia’s international water conference and exhibition.

The model is unique in that it provides projections of future water demand and availability for all water resources across an entire state jurisdiction. It indicates where in Western Australia the sustainable use of groundwater or surface water will not be enough to support our future population and economic growth, so we can plan ahead for alternative water supplies.

Water use in Western Australia has more than doubled in the past 30 years. During this time, groundwater has replaced surface water as the main water source and mining has surpassed irrigated agriculture as the state’s major water user.

We use the model to project the future water demand for more than 1400 water resources across the state. It works by applying forecast economic and population growth rates to the current volume of water used from each resource by 75 different types of water user.

These growth rates are derived from equilibrium modelling of the state’s economy and population forecasts from the Western Australian Planning Commission. To calibrate the model results and identify where ‘trend-breaking’ water demand might occur, we consulted with 32 stakeholder groups representing the agriculture, mining, regional development, urban development and water services sectors, as well as local and state government agencies.

Principal Water Planner Daniel Ferguson and Water Resource Planner Amy Cowdell developed our innovative model, which projects demand 40 years into the future.

This program demonstrates how we provide relevant, transparent and credible information to create a shared understanding about our future water outlook, set strategic directions for our water resources and supplies, and collaborate with the stakeholders responsible for the state’s sustainable development.

Drone power

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Flow data recalculated - Mt Pierre Creek
Drone lifting off near creek
Aerial view of Galeru Gorge

Almost 50 years ago, scientists set up a gauge immediately upstream of the gorge to measure flows from the small catchment. There are very few catchments in the Kimberley of this size where runoff is measured for important infrastructure and water resource development studies.

Recording streamflow depends on a defined and reliable flow rating. As the previous flow rating at Mount Pierre Creek was poorly defined and the flow record very uncertain, we used a hydraulic model to produce a more accurate flow rating.

This hydraulic model required a high resolution digital elevation model (HRDEM) to define the geometry of the gorge. In developing the model, we used a drone and image recognition technology to capture a point cloud (a set of data points in space) of more than 83 million ground points. We used GIS software to post-process the point cloud to produce an HRDEM suitable for our purposes.

The project team included members with skills and knowledge in hydrography, spatial and hydraulic modelling.

New head office Joondalup

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Welcome to Joondalup - Prime House officially opened
Aboriginal smoke ceremony

Our new head office, Prime House in Joondalup, was officially opened on 16 April 2019 by Premier Mark McGowan, in an event that celebrated the department’s amalgamation and relocation.

Director General Mike Rowe met with guests including the Minister for Environment Stephen Dawson and Minister for Water Dave Kelly, other members of parliament, Noongar representative Walter McGuire and a large number of stakeholders from other departments, as well as media representatives.

Following speeches and the plaque unveiling, guests toured the building and inspected key project areas.

Speaking at the opening, Premier McGowan said the government recognised the vital role the department played in the development of Western Australia and the creation of jobs while protecting the environment and water resources.

He congratulated all those involved in the design, delivery and commissioning of the new building and thanked our staff for their work in looking after the state’s environment and water resources and supporting development for all Western Australians.

More than 700 head office staff have moved to the bright, modern, leased building in the City of Joondalup. The relocation will save an estimated $28 million over 15 years and reduce the government’s office accommodation footprint by 3800 square metres.

The relocation is also expected to play a significant role in the future growth and development of Joondalup as a vibrant and vital city centre, especially for the small businesses that stand to benefit from the increased foot traffic and commerce.

Tina takes the lead

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Online enquiries fast tracked - Water licensing support
Tina Taraborrelli at desk in office

Tina Taraborrelli has managed our Water Licensing Business Support Unit since it was established in 2015. The unit started as a call centre to help water licence applicants and project developers to use our e-business system, Water Online.

Today, the unit continues to manage applications to Water Online, but also handles queries from clients about water licence processes and advises on multiple applications handled together through our ‘one-stop-shop’ web page, resolving applications more quickly. In addition to managing water licensing fees for the mining and public water supply sectors, the unit plays a role in validating new applications and doing quick assessments of low-risk, low-volume licences, sending the more complex applications on for fuller assessment. This fast-track approach is an excellent example of supporting our clients — reducing time, money and effort.

Tina is a communicator who can speak to the diverse range of water licence holders who require assistance – from small veggie growers through to major consulting companies working for BHP or Rio Tinto. She has 16 years’ experience in licence assessment coupled with an extensive understanding of our legislative responsibilities and our water licensing support systems.

Tina’s drive to collaborate and to try new ways of working have been integral to the success of the unit. She and her team of six aim to find the answers to client problems or get back to them with information and advice that will make their understanding and application easier.

Outside of work, Tina is member of the Army Reserves and volunteers to assist homeless people and kids in need. Tina is a great example of where personal values and our department’s values align.

Visit our one-stop-shop for more details.


DWER Annual report 2018-19 operational performance
DWER Annual report 2018-19 significant issues impacting the agency
DWER Annual report 2018-19 disclosures and legal compliance
Page reviewed 7 October 2020