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How can we get better results from drainage assets and corridors to benefit communities and the environment?

7 months ago
CLOSED: This discussion has concluded.

Management of drainage assets and corridors for multiple objectives provides many health and recreational benefits to the community. Benefits include improved amenity, aesthetics and safety; cooling of the urban environment; increased access to biodiversity and provision of habitat; and improved water quality outcomes.

We would like to get your thoughts on how to get better results from drainage assets and corridors to benefit communities and the environment.

suzannebrown 7 months ago
It may come as a surprise that as the Water Corporation’s drainage manager I agree with Mark Batty’s post! Drainage, like many societal issues with multiple stakeholders that have been kicking around for decades, is going to need collaboration and cooperation across multiple levels of government and community groups, regardless of the governance arrangements. Water Corporation infrastructure is in place to manage runoff from specific rainfall events and this function will be maintained but there are already mechanisms in place to achieve better outcomes. For this to occur, a vision is needed, placing a high value on the contribution to liveability that engineered or semi-engineered features such as drains and basins and their associated buffers can potentially add. If we can all focus on achieving the vision and finding ways to make improvements, rather than reasons we can’t do things, we could achieve something spectacular. For example, the opportunity to improve water resource management in the Busselton area, as proposed in Busselton Water’s Buayanyup Pilot Project is something that the Water Corporation, as the owner of that drain, is very interested in.

Since coming into this role 8 months ago I have seen a shift in the Water Corporation’s position of traditional licence compliance (hydraulic management) to one of being open to seeking shared value for these important assets. So I am excited to share with you all that the Water Corporation and the Department of Water have been developing a new approach that will see our drains and basins adding value to the community. What this means is that before a local authority, developer or community group assumes that the Water Corporation will say no to an enhancement proposal that may impact on our assets, please contact me ( to discuss it and find a way for it to happen.

From the Water Corporation’s perspective:
• We are actively looking for projects that demonstrate multiple outcomes from our drainage assets including providing walking/cycling access to previously “sterilised” drainage corridors and improved public access to urban compensation basins to increase areas of public open space.

• Water Corporation supports management of drainage based on the concept of a Water Sensitive City and work towards drainage being managed in a way that supports Water Sensitive City principles.

• As a member of the community Water Corporation is uniquely placed to develop enhanced shared values for water with a significant number of stakeholders, and we have started exciting work to identify opportunities to align capital improvement with community benefits. This is a new direction for the Water Corporation and we look forward to working actively in a space beyond regulatory compliance through collaboration with our stakeholders.

I hope to hear from those of you that are prepared to do the work with us to deliver the outcomes that the water industry and community has been seeking for the last 20 years. This discussion has focussed on the negatives for decades, I’d love to see what we can achieve by talking about what’s possible to achieve a new vision.
Colin Leek 7 months ago
The current situation of dual control with Local Government controlling the largest part of the network and Water Corporation the "Main Drains" is dysfunctional. As a Local Govt engineer I have worked with community based organisations to clean up our act, reverse some of the past malpractices, and instigate a more holistic approach to storm water management, where environmental issues are given as much precedence as flood control. Working with dedicated community representative on wetlands and living streams to create a better environment for non-humans has been inspirational, but working with Water Corporation where drainage is purely a business is discouraging. I believe Water Corporation should release storm water management to Local Government as Helen says previously, and there should be quality and quantity requirements imposed by DoW with appropriate monitoring of performance, obviously phased in as we cannot undo 180 years of well intentioned but environmentally damaging practices in 12 months.
B Till 7 months ago
I totally agree with Helen. The task of protecting the community from flooding is about land management and planning. Drainage 'assets' are only a small component of how this is achieved and these 'assets' are usually created to manage 'community inconvenience' rather than management of major flood threats to the community which must be managed by having sufficient land set aside in urban areas for flood waters to occupy as they pass through the landscape. Thus community flood protection and drainage management is best undertaken by local government with support from a State Government agency/department. Community flood protection is thus not a 'utility service' where there is a possibility of 'competition' requiring the legislation for the management of a 'commercial entity'. Savings can be made by the removal of this unnecessary regulatory mechanism required to manage 'commercial (for profit) entities', whether private or government owned. Return drainage to 'community management'.
Mark Batty 7 months ago
Ahh, the old governance question. However that is really only a 'form following function' discussion that has been around for eons. To me this particular conversation is actually around 'what is the vision' for our waterways/drains, and what is the process to maximise/unlock additional value, beyond conveyance, not just assigning 'management' responsibilties. Its about cooperative planning. There are a couple of examples of successful waterway planning, such as the Melbourne Water Waterway Activity Plan (WAP) process between MW, Local Governments, and the community, which sets out the vision for a waterway or drainage asset, identifies all the works and opportunties required to maximise the drainage function (conveyance, water quality, instream habitat, riparian vegetation etc) and melds that with the potential pubic amenity aspects (e.g. linear bike paths, enhanced public access, improved biodiversity outcomes etc). The outputs from the WAP planning process are an agreed set of capex and opex activties over an agreed timeframe for both the drainge service provider and the local government, that collectively delivers on the agreed vision for that waterway. While there needs to be a genuine discussion on urban drainage governance reform (urban drainage partnership agreement anyone!?) that also addresses where the drainage planning functions should reside, there are existing instruments and processes in place to help facilitate a multiple benefit approach, starting with (for example) ensuring future drainage corridors and overland flow paths are designed to allow for multple community benefit. We need to work with our communities and articulate a vision for our waterways and drainage assets if we are to ever move beyond just conveyance and being a 'drainage' city. We could do worse than consider the Melbourne Water Waterway Activity Planning process as a starting point for integrated waterway/drainage planning.
Ross George 7 months ago
Land drainage in the SW has been reviewed innumerable times. In essence the challenges boil down to governance. This would be no news to anyone with a passing and objective interest in the issue. This was highlighted as recently as 2008 in a DOW discussion paper here: (This also provides a bibliography including the studies referred to by Damien). Another DOW review said in 1995 the Land Drainage Act 1925 (as amended) was obsolete and, by definition, still is. A ground breaking innovation would be modern legislation and governance arrangements that enable achievement of the outcomes/ benefits required (a good thing to engage the community on).
As a minimum, drainage criteria or management objectives, if you like, need to go beyond the 3-day rule and permissible discharge rates and include water quality targets as well as the beneficiary pays principle introduced.
Damien Postma 7 months ago
Much of the thinking and work towards this has already been done (but of course could be updated/improved). Examples include the Peel-Harvey Catchment Council and Ironbark Environmental in 2008 (full detailed reports available from PHCC), building on work done by Dr Rob Summers (DAFWA) and also many others about 10 years previously. More recently these matters have been considered and a report developed for Busselton Water by Katie Biggs available here:

Significant improvements in our catchments and estuaries can occur though the management of drainage for water quality. Then there are then questions of who, and using what money - but even these are very achievable with some open, transparent stakeholder engagement and meaningful debate - but only if there is the willingness and courage to progress through to actually making the change to license conditions and/or governance/management arrangements. Otherwise it is simply revisiting a debate which cycles every 8 - 10 years without change or progress.
Morgan Gillham 7 months ago
Agree wholeheartedly with HBrookes response. This is a great topic with the opportunity for excellent outcomes.

Further thoughts; Metropolitan infill developments are placing increased pressure on existing park lands whilst reducing urban biodiversity generally through removal of trees from larger lots during subdivision. Drainage assets can play an important role in supplementing green space in these areas of increased density. Development of drainage assets into quality usable public space can be a costly exercise and would require discussion on further lump sum funding to develop these sites. Our observations and research indicate opportunity for local government to place levies on subdivisions to fund the development of drainage assets in close proximity to those subdivisions. Once gifted to Local Government, there is also opportunity for the sale of some attached lands to offset the cost of conversion to public open space.
It's important for this conversation to continue in conjunction with increased infill density.
HBrookes 7 months ago
There is a direct conflict between this aspiration and the management of drainage as a commercial business.
If we really want drainage assets to be managed for the benefit of the environment and community we need to have a drainage asset manage who has a direct responsibility to and for the environment and community. Conveniently, we already have this structure in place, functioning to manage around 90% of drainage assets, but without any access to or control over the important arterial components or proper funding.
The answer is simple:
Withdraw the Water Corporation from main drainage.
Gift the assets to Local Government and enable them to collect a drainage rate (to replace the ones Water Corp currently collect).
Department of Water to provide technical and policy support.