Our coast and bay, along with rivers, streams, groundwater, and wetlands are some of Victoria’s most valuable natural assets. Good quality water, healthy biological communities, and adequate flows in the waterways are essential to maintain the many demands that we, as a community, place on our water environments.
Healthy, productive waterways are vital for household supplies, industrial and agricultural use, aquaculture and recreation, and to support our tourism industry.
SEPP WoV and SEPP GoV are the key policies, addressing impacts to water quality across Victoria. A review of these policies is needed to ensure Victoria has clear and relevant standards, legal rules, and statutory obligations to protect and improve the health of our water environments.
The review process started in May, 2015, and is expected to be completed in late 2017. The revised policies will be streamlined and user-friendly, outcome focussed, and risk based. The SEPP Review is being led by the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP), in partnership with the Environment Protection Authority (EPA).
The Environment Protection Act 1970 enables the declaration of SEPPs. SEPPs ensure Victoria has clear and relevant standards, legal rules, and statutory obligations to protect and improve the health of the state’s natural environment.
In accordance with Section 19 of the Environment Protection Act 1970, the policies should be reviewed every 10 years. The SEPP WoV was last reviewed in 2003 and an administrative review of SEPP (GoV) in 2002.
The SEPP WoV provides a framework to protect all of Victoria’s surface water environments and provides for where special environment protection measures are needed for sensitive segments of the environment.
Areas covered by Schedules to SEPP WoV, include:
- F3 (1988) – Gippsland Lakes and Catchment;
- F5 (1996) – Waters of the Latrobe and Thomson River Basins and Merriman Creek Catchment;
- F6 (1997) – Waters of Port Phillip Bay;
- F7 (1999) – Waters of the Yarra Catchment;
- F8 (2001) – Waters of Western Port and Catchment.
The aim of SEPP GoV is to maintain and, where necessary, improve groundwater quality sufficient to protect existing and potential beneficial uses of groundwaters throughout Victoria.
A review of the SEPPs is needed to ensure:
- Water quality objectives reflect current science and changes to national guidelines, community aspirations and to respond to key threats on the water environment, particularly in Gippsland Lakes;
- Rules for decision-makers and industry obligations are streamlined to reflect current policy and risk-based approaches to regulation, and improve implementation and accountability;
- Alignment with, and support for, delivery of current government policy and programs. For example, Water for Victoria plan, Murray-Darling Basin plan, Victorian Waterway Management strategy, and Gippsland Lakes Environmental strategy; and
- Delivery of a single SEPP that covers all waters of Victoria, including groundwater and surface water.
DELWP has primary responsibility for the development and review of statutory policies, as part of the Statutory Policy Review carried out in 2013.
The EPA provides technical, standard setting and operational input, in line with the separation of policy and regulatory roles between the two agencies.
The Victorian Government has prioritised the protection and improvement of Victoria’s water environments. Information relating to the specifics and functions of the SEPP review can be found below:
The current beneficial uses in the waters and GoV have been reviewed. Given the policies will be combined into one, some beneficial uses have been harmonised across both water environments. The harmonised beneficial uses will be tested with stakeholders in April, 2017.
An important component of the SEPP is that it provides a series of indicators and objectives to describe the level of environmental quality required to protect different beneficial uses.
These indicators include:
- Specific chemical parameters, such a nitrogen and phosphorus concentrations;
- Turbidity and total dissolved solids; as well as
- Biological measures, such as the presence or abundance of macroinvertebrates.
Objective values are then derived for each of these indicators to represent the best assessment of what an environment would be like, if it had not been altered by human influences.
The EPA has completed a substantial program of work to develop new indicators and objectives that align with the latest science underpinning water management, reflect changes to relevant national guidelines, as well as defining policy segments that these objectives will apply to.
THis work is overseen by an independent Scientific Advisory Panel, which has provided technical guidance, peer review, and approval for the components of work.
The revised segments, indicators, and objectives will be released i the draft SEPP (waters).
As part of the review process, the DELWP and the EPA are viewing the clauses within the attainment programs of the water SEPPs to determine what will be retained, updated, or removed for SEPP.
DELWP and EPA have identified four key areas of the proposed policy for priority consultation with stakeholders. These areas reflect four attainment clauses under the current SEPP WoV.
The clauses identified are:
- Clause 24: regional target setting;
- Clause 26: off-set measures;
- Clause 32-34: on-site domestic wastewater management; and
- Clause 35: sewerage management.
The topics were selected as they were raised by many stakeholders through the consultation process to-date. DELWP and EPA are seeking additional feedback from stakeholders on interim positions.
Victorians had the opportunity to comment on the SEPP REview discussion paper when it was released for a four-week consultation period in June, 2015.
The discussion paper aimed to facilitate discussion and increase understanding of the role of SEPPs in setting a framework for the protection of water environments.
Feedback received from this first stage of public consultation is informing the development of a draft SEPP Policy and Policy Impact Assessment, which is expected to be released for public comment in late 2017.
The Ministerial Advisory Committee responsible for the Independent Review into the EPA released its report on 16 May, 2016. Chapter 15 identifies a new approach for setting standards and includes a recommendation that SEPPs should be replaced with a new, simplified approach to standard setting. The Government response to these recommendations is expected in early 2017.
In 2013, the then DEPI and EPA released the Statutory Policy Review (SPR) report which contains specific recommendations on how SEPP reviews are to be undertaken and a new model for SEPP content and ongoing oversight. Piloting the implementation of the SPR process is both a driver and requirement of the SEPP WoV and SEPP GoV Review.
The SPR noted SEPP (WoV) and SEPP (GoV):
- Could more effectively integrate with other statutory policy and tools;
- Attainment clauses are unclear or fail to address institutional accountability;
- Require streamlining to reduce the regulatory burden on industry; and
- Currently act as a 'catch all' rather than focusing on the key issues, and there is not a strong link with decision making on integrated catchment management or urban planning.
Reviewing SEPP (WoV) and SEPP (GoV) will allow issues noted in the SPR to be addressed so as to deliver better environmental and stakeholder outcomes by ensuring the updated policy is simple, relevant and focussed on outcome and risk-based approaches.