Water and Environmental Regulation Annual Report 2019–20

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

Our 2019–20 annual report provides a snapshot of our performance and achievements, containing information on our operations, financial reports and more.
It highlights our efforts to ensure Western Australia’s water resources and environment are healthy and able to support our growing state.
This year, we continued work to fulfil the State 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.
We also focused on building our relationships with industry and the community to determine priorities and discover where and how we can work better and more efficiently.

Highlights

  • The Environmental Protection Amendment Bill passed through the Legislative Assembly on 28 May 2020
  • The Waterwise Perth Action Plan was launched
  • Applications opened for first-round funding under the Clean Energy Future Fund 
  • The health of our south-west estuaries improved
  • The Index of Marine Surveys for Assessment portal launched – the first of its kind in WA
  • We worked to negotiate a comprehensive water package included in the Yamatji Nation Indigenous Land Use Agreement 
  • Our work to protect the rock art of Murujuga continued

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

Director General foreword

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Report summary

Thank you for reading the Department of Water and Environmental Regulation’s 2019–20 annual report. This document reflects our important work during the past financial year, the latter months of which saw the world face an unprecedented health crisis in the COVID19 pandemic.

 

I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the efforts of our staff and stakeholders during this time. Our combined efforts to ensure we maintained our service delivery during the response reflects our department’s ‘Better Together’ value and enables us to play our part in Western Australia’s (WA) COVID19 recovery.

While this pandemic has undeniably impacted us all, we have worked together as a department to remain committed to our responsibilities. We continue to be responsible for environment and water regulation, serving as a one stop shop for industry and developers – with the aim of streamlining and simplifying regulation. We continued our flexible work practices, with working from home options one of a suite of measures rolled out during the pandemic.

The year saw us achieve a number of key milestones across our business areas. This is further testament to the commitment of our team, partners, stakeholders and the community, and demonstrates our efforts to help WA move towards economic recovery.

Across our statewide programs and initiatives, key milestones included:

  • Consultation to amend the Environmental Protection Act 1986 (EP Act) began in October 2019, with the release of the Modernising the Environmental Protection Act discussion paper. The discussion paper presented background information on proposed reforms and was accompanied by the release of an Exposure Draft Bill. After considering the submissions and issues raised, the Environmental Protection Amendment Bill 2020 was introduced to State Parliament and passed through the Legislative Assembly on 28 May 2020. The amendments support a modern EP Act that will streamline and improve regulatory processes for the protection of the environment in WA.
  • Two consultation papers – Closing the loop: Waste reforms for a circular economy and Review of the waste levy – were released and invited Western Australians to have their say on potential reforms to guide the future of waste management in the state. The proposed reforms support implementation of the Waste Avoidance and Resource Recovery Strategy 2030 and will help the State Government meet its commitment to have at least 75 per cent of waste generated in WA being reused or recycled by 2030.
  • The State Government’s Waterwise Perth Action Plan was launched in October 2019 – setting the direction for Perth to become a leading waterwise city by 2030. This action plan sets targets to respond to the major impacts of climate change on water resources and liveability, to support the 3.5 million people anticipated to reside in Perth by 2050.
  • Our regulatory team worked hard throughout the year to address backlogs, reduce our approvals timeframes and develop guidance. I am pleased we improved performance across our Industry Regulation directorate this financial year – determining more works approvals and licence applications in a shorter average timeframe than in 2018–19. At 30 June 2020, 1,075 licences and 316 works approvals were active across the state – something that could not have been achieved without the hard work and commitment of our team.
  • Our water regulation services introduced a number of business improvement initiatives this year, particularly in water licensing.

Implementation of our Water Licensing Backlog Action Plan has driven a significant reduction in the number of water licence applications open for a period of more than 65 days – recording a new low of 173 applications in 2019–20. This is well within our performance target of 350 applications or less.

The average time taken to process a water licence application has also been substantially reduced – now taking 46 days to process a lowrisk application (target 65 days); 85 days for a mediumrisk application (target 75 days); and 87 days for a highrisk application (target 95 days).

  • At the end of April 2020, the State Government opened applications for the first round of funding under the Clean Energy Future Fund. Administered by the department with support from Energy Policy WA, this $9 million[1] fund is expected to support the development of innovative clean energy projects.
  • Throughout the year, rural water planning remained a key focus for our department – with continued dry conditions across our state because of climate change significantly impacting our agricultural sector. The Cascade area in the Shire of Esperance became the 12th water deficiency declaration since May 2019, with the State Government commencing water carting to the area on 17 June 2020. With support from the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development and the Water Corporation, we worked to manage water carting arrangements to all water deficiency declared areas – significantly reducing the distance farmers need to travel to source emergency livestock water.
  • A trial of an algal bloompreventing clay in the Serpentine River was undertaken through our Regional Estuaries Initiative (REI) – the largest trial of its type in WA. With REI now finalising its fouryear program to ensure the health of key regional estuaries across WA, work began during the financial year to implement the State Governmentfunded Healthy Estuaries WA, which was announced in June 2020.
  • WA is set to launch its container deposit scheme, Containers for Change, on 1 October 2020 – paving the way for reduced litter, improved recycling rates, and the creation of new business and employment opportunities across the state.
  • We continue to build our regulatory capability with work progressing on development of our Environment Online initiative – a customerfocused, digital one stop shop for environmental assessment, approvals and compliance for industry and developers in WA.

In May 2020, the State Government committed an additional $12.4 million to complete this initiative, adding to the Australian Government’s $7.5 million in funding and the department’s $8.1 million – resulting in total funding of $28 million.

We also pressed ahead with Streamline WA – a wholeofgovernment initiative making it easier to do business in WA by improving regulation and regulatory practice.

  • In March 2020, we launched the Index of Marine Surveys for Assessment – an online portal to information about marinebased environmental surveys in WA. Developed by our department in collaboration with the Western Australian Marine Science Institution, it is the first platform of its kind to deliver systematic capture and sharing of marine data taken as part of an environmental impact assessment.

As always, I am proud to lead an organisation that is committed to meaningful engagement with Aboriginal people and Traditional Owners across WA.

This year, we furthered these commitments by working with the Department of the Premier and Cabinet to negotiate a comprehensive water package that was included in the Yamatji Nation Indigenous Land Use Agreement – reaching a native title settlement in February 2020.

Worth $442 million, this landmark settlement was based on a Land Use Agreement including land, housing, tourism opportunities, revenue streams and access to water. Of particular note (and unique to the agreement) is the recognition of the importance of water to Aboriginal people, not only in practising culture but also as an economic opportunity.

We also continued to work with the State Government and the Murujuga Aboriginal Corporation to protect the rock art of Murujuga – supporting coexistence between the Indigenous culture and heritage values and industry on Murujuga. Building on the release of the Murujuga Rock Art Strategy in early 2019, registered Aboriginal business Puliyapang was appointed to develop and implement a scientific and monitoring analysis program for the area – another milestone in protecting this valuable area while building the state’s economy.

While 2019–20 was not the year many of us expected, it has still been a time of momentum and achievement. Our department remains focused on delivery of the State Government’s priorities and our services.

We will continue to work together – both internally and externally – to meet the water and environmental needs of our unique state as we head into financial year 2020–21.

In closing, I express again my sincere thanks, appreciation and admiration for the exceptional people who work for the Department of Water and Environmental Regulation, with a strong commitment to professionalism and public service.

Mike Rowe

Director General

 

[1] The State Government announced an additional $10 million to the fund on 28 July 2020.

Waterwise Perth Action Plan

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Targets set for 2030

The State Government’s Waterwise Perth Action Plan was launched in October 2019 and sets the direction for Perth to become a leading waterwise city by 2030.

The action plan sets targets to respond to the major impacts of climate change on water resources and liveability to support the 3.5 million population forecast to reside in the Perth‑Peel region by 2050. It focuses on ensuring healthy waterways and wetlands, sustainable and attractive urban spaces, water use efficiency and water security now and into the future.

Developed following engagement and collaboration with more than 50 organisations and 200 individuals, the action plan calls on everyone in the community to work together to help secure our water future – including government, businesses, industry, councils and households.

It sets a work program for the next two years and establishes a solid foundation for successive plans to achieve the 2030 targets.
The actions in the plan include:

  • assistance for households to be more waterwise and reduce annual per person use to 110 kilolitres
  • enhanced water management of sporting ovals and green spaces
  • all government‑led urban development projects in the Perth‑Peel region to be 100 per cent waterwise
  • METRONET precincts designed to consider all elements of the water cycle
  • greater use of recycled water
  • increased urban tree canopy to reduce the urban heat island effect.

Regional Estuaries Initiative

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Review of its successes

The Regional Estuaries Initiative (REI) is the State Government’s whole‑of‑government investment in the health of key WA estuaries comprising the Peel‑Harvey Estuary, Leschenault Estuary, Vasse‑Geographe waterways, Hardy Inlet, Wilson Inlet and Oyster Harbour.

Entering its final year of a four‑year program this financial year, the initiative developed innovative on‑ground actions for catchment‑scale outcomes. By partnering widely, we use a system‑stewardship approach, combined with good science, to improve water quality. This helps us understand the current health of our estuaries, and direct catchment investment where it will have the biggest impact.

In March 2020, we undertook a trial of an algal bloom‑preventing clay in the Serpentine River – the largest trial of its type in WA.

Funded through the REI program, 18 tonnes of phosphorus‑binding clay was applied to the stretch of river over the four‑day trial – aiming to reduce algal growth by binding phosphorus in the water and forming a protective layer on sediments (reducing phosphorus release).

The largest of four clay trials, it represents the next stage of our scientists working to identify ideal clay application rates for different environments, improve clay manufacturing processes and undertake a detailed risk assessment for large‑scale clay applications.

The project has the potential to pave the way for future measures to reduce the risk of algal blooms across WA waterways.

Throughout the past four years, REI has:

  • established 11 formal partnerships and engaged more than 200 stakeholders directly involved in steering or delivering the initiative
  • directly employed more than 100 people
  • engaged more than 600 farmers through the sustainable agriculture strategy
  • fenced off more than 120 km of foreshore on agricultural land
  • taken over 1,500 seagrass observations across four estuaries
  • set up four soil amendment sites across nine hectares to trial methods of holding nutrients in agricultural soils
  • been a finalist at the state Australian Water Association Awards (October 2019) – recognised for its innovative whole‑of‑system approach to estuary health.

The strong partnerships forged over the past four years have increased awareness of the issues facing our estuaries and connected people who can help. Now our partners are using the initiative to find partners of their own, creating further momentum for change.

The work started by REI is set to continue in coming years under Healthy Estuaries WA.

Healthy Estuaries WA will maintain the momentum built by REI and will expand to include the Torbay catchment on the south coast.

Environment Online

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Digital one stop shop nears delivery

In 2019–20, we continued to work towards the delivery of Environment Online – a major program under our digital strategy, which builds on investment in our Water Online platform to replace legacy environment regulation business systems.

Environment Online is a customer‑focused, digital one stop shop for environmental assessment, approvals and compliance for industry and developers in WA. It will improve the transparency and consistency of environmental approvals, and reduce the time taken for major projects to navigate joint State and Australian Government approvals processes by 6–12 months.

In May 2020, the State Government committed an additional $12.4 million to complete this initiative, adding to the Australian Government’s $7.5 million in funding and the department’s $8.1 million – resulting in total funding of $28 million.

Environment Online will help accelerate the delivery of more than $100 billion worth of major projects in the development pipeline and the jobs that come with them.

It will also ensure projects are delivered in a responsible way and safeguard the protection of WA’s natural environment.

The initiative will be complemented by the establishment of a Biodiversity Information Office, led by the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions, which will provide a cost‑effective system to capture, store, curate, publish and analyse biodiversity data throughout WA. It extends the work of our Index of Biodiversity Surveys for Assessments.

As part of a suite of other measures to reduce assessment timeframes, we are continuing to work with the State and Australian Governments to progress bilateral approval agreements.

Clean Energy Future Fund

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Support for innovative projects

At the end of April 2020, the State Government opened applications for the first round of funding as part of its Clean Energy Future Fund.

Administered by the department (with support from Energy Policy WA), the $9 million[1] fund is expected to support the development of innovative clean energy projects.

Eligible projects can apply for funding of between $250,000 and $2 million per scheme, with the State Government funding up to 25 per cent of costs.

Projects will be evaluated on their capacity to reduce emissions, potential for wider adoption, project innovation and financial viability.

First-round funding priority will be given to projects at facilities required to report under the National Greenhouse and Energy Reporting Scheme, as well as those in regional and remote areas.

All applications will be assessed by an executive group, with recommendations made to WA’s Minister for Environment, Hon. Stephen Dawson, MLC and Minister for Energy, Hon. Bill Johnston, MLA who will make a final, joint decision.

In addition to initial State Government seed funding, royalties from future unconventional onshore oil and gas projects in WA will be directed to the fund.

 

[1] The State Government announced an additional $10 million to the fund on 28 July 2020.

EP Act amendments consultation

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Public consultation guides reform

In October 2019, the State Government released the Modernising the Environmental Protection Act discussion paper – seeking community and industry feedback on proposed amendments to the Environmental Protection Act 1986.

The discussion paper presented background information on the proposed reforms and was accompanied by the release of an Exposure Draft Bill.

The proposed amendments aim to improve regulatory efficiency and effectiveness and facilitate the implementation of the bilateral agreements under the Australian Government’s Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 to deliver better environmental protection and sustainable development outcomes.

These proposed amendments have been informed by a number of reviews since 2006 and feedback from industry, conservation, government and community stakeholders.

During the consultation process for the amendments, the department delivered briefings to a number of State Government agencies and stakeholder groups across WA, as well as holding a public information session. In total, 101 submissions were received during the consultation period, which are summarised in the published consultation summary report.

After considering the submissions and issues raised, the Environmental Protection Amendment Bill 2020 was introduced to State Parliament and passed through the Legislative Assembly on 28 May 2020.

The amendments support a modern EP Act that will streamline and improve regulatory processes for the protection of the environment in WA. The changes will:

  • deliver more efficient, risk‑based and flexible assessment and approval processes
  • improve enforcement powers
  • support a greater focus on strategic assessments and cumulative impacts
  • increase penalties for select environmental offences.

The proposed amendments were introduced into the Legislative Council on 6 June 2020.

Containers for Change

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Container deposit scheme on track

Originally intended to commence on 2 June 2020, WA’s container deposit scheme (Containers for Change) was delayed as a result of the impact of COVID‑19 to protect public health and the financial viability of scheme participants.

Containers for Change is set to launch on 1 October 2020 – paving the way for reduced litter, improved recycling rates, and the creation of new business and employment opportunities across the state. The scheme will support WA’s economic recovery from COVID‑19 by providing revenue, employment, and fundraising opportunities for charities, schools, local sports clubs and other community organisations in every region of the state.

Containers for Change will enable Western Australians to claim a 10‑cent refund when they return eligible beverage containers at designated refund points across WA.

The scheme is expected to create more than 500 jobs and has been designed to provide employment opportunities for people with disability, the long‑term unemployed, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, as well as opportunities for apprentices and trainees.

Modelling shows that over the next 20 years the scheme will recycle 6.6 billion containers, of which 5.9 billion would have been landfilled and 706 million would have been littered.

Substantial progress was made during the year on preparations for the scheme, including a financial assistance package of up to $3.5 million to support network participants impacted financially by deferral of the scheme because of COVID‑19 – ensuring they remain viable until scheme commencement. Further grants of more than $200,000 were also awarded to 138 refund and donation point operators to build infrastructure to support community groups, schools, sporting clubs and not‑for‑profit organisations to participate in the scheme.

Containers for Change will be run by WA Return Recycle Renew Ltd (WARRRL) – a not‑for‑profit company responsible for establishing the collection network and managing its day‑to‑day operation.

Index of Marine Surveys for Assessment

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Online portal shares environmental data

In March 2020, we launched the Index of Marine Surveys for Assessment (IMSA) – an online portal to information about marine‑based environmental surveys in WA.

Developed by the department in collaboration with the Western Australian Marine Science Institution, it is the first platform of its kind to deliver systematic capture and sharing of marine data taken as part of an EIA.

With an estimated $50 million spent annually undertaking marine surveys for EIAs in WA, IMSA has been developed to centralise this data and make it publicly available. The free and easy‑to‑use platform provides access to marine survey reports, metadata and map layers through the department’s BioCollect online portal (provided by Atlas of Living Australia), as well as processed data products and raw data packages (hosted at the Pawsey Supercomputing Centre).

By collating and providing access to existing data, IMSA will lead to lasting environmental benefits for WA, including more efficient EIAs and an expanded knowledge base of the state’s vast marine environment.

It will also deliver cost savings by reducing the need for repeated and potentially overlapping surveys, as well as improving the availability and transparency of environmental information to the community. This will give proponents and government better baseline information, while building trust in the EIA and environmental regulation process.

As part of the platform’s implementation, everybody who conducts or uses marine‑based surveys to support EIAs under parts IV and V of the EP Act is required to submit data to IMSA as part of these processes.

IMSA captures all marine survey data generated through an EIA process including oceanographic, hydrodynamic, benthic habitat, marine environmental quality and marine fauna data. The platform answers longstanding calls to change the way environmental information is managed in WA and further supports the State Government’s commitment to strengthen data sharing.

IMSA complements the Index of Biodiversity Surveys for Assessments (IBSA) – the department’s online portal to information about land-based biodiversity surveys in WA.

This web platform enables consultants and proponents to directly submit data packages to IBSA, replacing the previous system that relied on email submissions.

IBSA delivers greater consistency for proponents engaging with the submissions process, improves the quality of data submitted, reduces the time required to complete IBSA‑related tasks, and aligns with future digital initiatives – such as Environment Online – which will further streamline the assessment process.

Documents

DWER Annual report 2019-20 operational performance
DWER Annual report 2019-20 disclosures and legal compliance
Page reviewed 29 September 2020