Why is compliance and enforcement important?
Water is a precious and sometimes limited resource. It needs to be managed fairly for all water users including farmers, households, communities and the environment.
Effective and strong compliance facilitates fair access to water. It helps maintain community confidence in the water entitlement framework and market as people know that everyone is held to the same rules. It also deters people from illegally taking and using water.
Strong culture of compliance in Victoria
Victoria has low levels of water theft. This is a testament to an effective water market in Victoria, regulation by water corporations and high voluntary levels of compliance by water users.
Safeguarding against water theft
Water corporations play a key role in deterring water theft, securing the rights of all water users and safeguarding our water resources. They are supported by almost 47,000 meters state-wide with around 23,000 meters with telemetry, that monitor water take from waterways accurately and in real-time. This allows water corporations to take quick action against water users who take more water than they are allowed.
Other safeguards against water theft include overarching bulk entitlements, robust reporting and accounting practices that promote transparency of information, educational activities to raise customer awareness and enforcement powers.
Monitoring groundwater levels is critical to ensure sustainability and fair and equitable sharing of the resource. The water levels in approximately 1,800 observation bores across Victoria are regularly monitored. Some of these sites are now monitored with telemetry systems, providing live monitoring data of groundwater levels and enabling swift remedial actions if necessary. For groundwater data visit the Water Measurement Information System website.
Victoria has the largest fleet of modern meters in Australia. Today, there are almost 47,000 meters state-wide with around 23,000 meters with telemetry that can provide accurate data on water use in real-time to both water users and authorities. With this, water users can monitor their own usage and stay within the limits their water shares or licences allow. Meters also enable water corporations to prevent and detect water theft quickly.
Over the past 20 years, Victoria invested heavily in metering by installing thousands of new meters and implementing Victoria’s non-urban water metering policy. Meters are owned and maintained by the water corporations. Water corporation officers read meters regularly to check that no one is using more water than their water share or licence allows.
Many irrigation systems today also have automated control systems. These systems provide water corporations with accurate information about water deliveries and losses. It also prevents people from ordering more water than they are allowed.
Victoria's water resources are managed under an entitlement framework. Water shares and licences are entitlements issued to individuals by water corporations.
Bulk entitlements are issued to water corporations. These entitlements set obligations on water corporations to ensure that water is distributed fairly and equitably.
Transparency and accountability are essential elements of a successful compliance culture. They build public confidence in both the legitimacy and fairness of water sharing.
Victoria publishes a broad range of information about its water resources. A comprehensive list of publicly available sources of information is available.
Victorian Water Register and Water Accounts
Victoria’s Water Register is a key source of information for water users. The water register allows water users to track their take of water against their entitlements, allowing for better self-regulation and compliance. The water register also helps water users verify that trades comply with market rules. These rules are reviewed regularly to make trading easier.
Another key source of information is the Victorian Water Accounts. These water accounts are annual summaries of the availability of water, specifically rainfall, streamflow and storage levels, and tracks the use of this water to its end use. Other market information are also available from the Victorian Water Register.
Community understanding is critical to a community culture of compliance. This requires a continuing program of awareness-raising campaigns and interactive education opportunities.
Water corporations educate the community by publishing newsletters and media releases. Newspaper notices about prosecutions are also regularly published. Water corporations hold regular committee meetings to discuss key issues and solutions, engaging with customers and other stakeholders.
Compliance pyramid that emphasises on the importance of deterring non-compliance through education
Enforcement tools available to water corporations include advisory letters, warning notices, orders for reinstatement where appropriate, cancellation of a licence or prosecution. An alleged serious offence or a repeat offender may warrant prosecution which can lead to fines or imprisonment. Consistent application of these tools foster public confidence that breaches in the law are taken seriously and deters other water users from doing the same.
Enforcement actions undertaken by water corporations are reported to the Department every year.
Strengthening compliance and enforcement in Victoria
While Victoria has low levels of water theft, risks to compliance can increase during drought when there is more competition for water or where there are constraints on delivering water during peak demand. Demand for water is increasing and we can expect increased competition in the water market.
Victoria strives to maintain high standards in water compliance by updating its policies, systems and legislation to be more effective in the face of changes in climate, reduced water availability and increased demand for water.
Allegations of significant water theft and poor regulation in the northern part of the Murray-Darling Basin in 2017 highlighted the importance of having effective compliance and enforcement systems across the Basin. All Basin States and the Australian Government have committed to a Basin Compliance Compact that will improve transparency and accountability of water management regimes and put in place more consistent compliance and enforcement practices in the Basin.
Victoria is now implementing the actions in the Compact.
In the Government’s water plan Water for Victoria, Victoria has committed to making changes that ensure a modern compliance regime. Such changes could include legislative amendments under the Water Act 1989 to increase penalties and provide authorities with more enforcement tools.