Safe and reliable water and sewer services are essential for community health and wellbeing, environmental protection, and economic productivity. In 2019, during intense drought, around ten regional New South Wales (NSW) cities or towns were close to ‘zero’ water and others had six to 12 months of supply. In some towns, water quality was declared unsafe.

The Department of Planning, Industry and Environment (the department) is the lead agency for water resource policy, regulation and planning in NSW. It is also responsible for ensuring water management is consistent with the shared commitments of the Australian, State and Territory Governments under the National Water Initiative. This includes the provision of healthy, safe and reliable water supplies, and reporting on the performance of water utilities.

Ninety-two Local Water Utilities (LWUs) plan for, price and deliver town water services in regional NSW. Eighty-nine are operated by local councils under the New South Wales’ Local Government Act 1993, and other LWUs exercise their functions under the WM Act. The Minister for Water, Property and Housing is the responsible minister for water supply functions under both acts.

This audit examined whether the department has effectively supported the planning for and funding of town water infrastructure in regional NSW. It focused on the department’s activities since 2014. This audit follows a previous Audit Office of NSW report which found that the department had helped to promote better management practices in the LWU sector, up to 2012–13.

Key findings:

  • The Department of Planning, Industry and Environment has not effectively supported or overseen town water infrastructure planning in regional NSW since at least 2014. It has also lacked a strategic, evidence-based approach to target investments in town water infrastructure.
  • A continued focus on coordinating town water planning, investments and sector engagement is needed for the department to more effectively support, plan for and fund town water infrastructure, and work with Local Water Utilities to help avoid future shortages of safe water in regional towns and cities.
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