Parramatta River Waterway Governance Review

Project: Consultancy

Project Details

Description

The mission of the Parramatta River Catchment Group (PRCG) is to make the Parramatta River swimmable by 2025. The PRCG partners and the community have defined six elements to make the river not only swimmable, but a world class and living river: clean, clear water; quality facilities; ease of access; an engaged community; business opportunities; and healthy ecosystems. To achieve this mission there is a need to understand and align the responsibilities and priorities of the many state agencies and 11 local councils in the Parramatta River catchment. The PRCG commissioned Macquarie University to conduct a review of the existing governance structures across the Parramatta River catchment (this Report). This governance review examines the role of key state agencies and local government with respect to their responsibility, regulatory, legislative, planning and operational roles to make the river swimmable again. The review focuses on three key areas: how the waterways are managed across the catchment; the relationship between the swimmable goal and ecological health; and how swim sites may be activated. The review was conducted in three stages. Stage 1 comprised a desktop study of state agency and local government legislative and operating requirements. Stage 2 comprised a series of individual and group interviews with key persons in state agencies that were identified as having responsibility for and/or key involvement in governance functions related to waterway management, ecosystem health or environmental and human health monitoring. Stage 3 used the findings from stage 2 as a basis to identify gaps and key focus areas for a future governance system and processes to inform the direction of the future Parramatta River Masterplan. This Governance report should, therefore, be read as a point in time review for the PRCG, with recommendations providing direction for the development of the first Management Plan. The key actions will of course evolve as the Group and its members continue to change and refine their commitment and capacity to the mission. This Parramatta River Waterway Governance Review Report (the Report) is structured around the key issues identified by the PRCG as key to making the river swimmable again:  Waterway management (eg. pollution control, water sensitive urban design, development controls, stormwater asset management)  Ecological health (eg wetlands, riparian vegetation, biodiversity, weed management, endangered species)  Management of swimming sites (eg safety, maintenance, facilities, monitoring). It provides a detailed analysis of the current state of governance and management of these areas. The Report also considers the role of strategic land use planning, important given the current focus of the NSW Government, specifically preparation of District Plans by the Greater Sydney Commission and their future impact on the Metropolitan Plan for Sydney (A Plan for Growing Sydney), as well as local plans directing land use by councils. The governance issues are collated across these issues according to common functional aspects and detailed in the ‘Summary of Governance Issues’ section, which draws on the desktop document review and the interviews/ workshops conducted with key stakeholders. This Report is one of a suite of research projects identified by the PRCG Strategic Plan 2016–2018 as key inputs to developing the Parramatta River Masterplan, which will be “the blue print for how the river will be made swimmable again by 2025”.1 The brief specifically requested that the review “draw upon the outputs and recommendations arising from the other Masterplan research projects: Swim Site Activation; Ecological Health; Water Quality Monitoring and Modelling; and Community Research." Best practice governance is essentially about establishing a framework of responsibilities to achieve an outcome, then monitoring and reporting against this framework. Effective governance requires role clarity and the authority and resources required for implementation. To implement swimmability governance arrangements, NSW Government commitment will be required to harness the interest and resources of state agencies and local government towards funding of measures to reduce diffuse source water pollution and support water sensitive urban design (WSUD) initiatives. Agencies will be reluctant to actively take on responsibilities beyond their legislative remit unless the NSW Government indicates its explicit support for the swimmability 2025 mission. The main element of the Masterplan yet to be agreed is how the ‘swimmability’ objective will be operationalised. Work on the Swim Site Activation project has established that the objective will include one or more swim activation options (ranging from natural river swimming, treated river swimming to off-river swimming) as well as other elements sought by the PRCG including having an engaged community, healthy ecosystems, quality facilities, ease of access to and along the river and creating business opportunities. The particular swim activation mix selected will have a pivotal impact on formulating appropriate governance arrangements. For natural river swimming, the key questions are: is the water clean enough to meet the standards required by NSW Health; will the water be clean enough in the future; and is the water considered clean enough by the community? This option requires high-level support from the NSW Government and local government to ensure adequate management of the catchment now and into the future. In turn, this will require significant coordination and support (ie. resources and strategic buy-in) from key agencies, local government and the community. Precedents for this option exist, such as Chiswick Baths, which are monitored under the NSW Beachwatch program and maintained by the local council. For treated river swimming the key issues are: agreeing standards for treated water at swim sites and ‘splash’ contact recreation; and the costs and responsibility for this treatment. Treated river water swimming can be different to a traditional swimming pool in that the water treatment may be designed to meets standards most, but not all, of the time. Adopting this as an outcome carries additional risk and operational responsibilities. This option may be particularly relevant for the upper river sites where water quality modelling suggests river water is suitable for swimming most of the time and would be increased with significant catchment interventions coupled with additional site-based river water treatment. Splash or secondary contact recreation (which has a lower water quality standard than primary contact) may be an alternative at some sites where water quality, physical infrastructure or site conditions may not be suitable for swimming. At these sites treatment of adjacent stormwater discharge points may be required to reduce the impact of locally based stormwater water pollution sources. For either option, the type and level of treatment required may vary considerably. It is important to note that a lower level of treatment may increase the level of public health risk. This will then require a higher level of coordination and support from key agencies, local government and the community to ensure runoff across the catchment and corresponding river water quality meets or approaches national guidelines for sites where swimming or secondary contact recreation is allowed.
For off-river swimming or other land based recreation the key issue is: which land-based swim sites would have the best access, least (catchment) cost and integrate with regional open space and recreation planning. Off-river swimming may provide recreational opportunities similar to Drummoyne Swimming Centre or South Bank, Brisbane and would rely on conventional swimming pool water treatment and maintenance. The actions to achieve this option could include engaging with recreation demand studies and broader strategic planning for green spaces and liveability, and aligning with planning for Greater Parramatta and Olympic Park river city vision. The governance issues for this option would be similar to those currently faced by planning agencies and public land managers associated with parkland and public pools. In order to gain community and political support for the mission, it is important that the PRCG and the future owners and managers of potential swim activation sites decide what form of swim activation they envisage in which locations. The PRCG and its members may choose to activate a number of the swim options along the Parramatta River. The community benefit of more swim and recreation options is significant and would generate greater connection and engagement with the Parramatta River. However, this would require engaging with more local councils and may require a greater degree of state agency involvement in the overall project. Under a multi-site implementation strategy there will be a need for site specific or sub-catchment governance arrangements. This will involve the key land and water management agencies and a high degree of coordination and funding commitment to ensure the sites’ suitability now and into the future.
StatusNot started