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Managing water in our towns and cities

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Many state government, local governments and private organisations are among those who undertake urban water management in South Australia’s towns and cities.

The South Australian Government sets the directions for water management with the support of the Department for Environment and Water (DEW) and other departments.

There are many other delivery partners who contribute to ensuring the five service areas are managed to the standards that are expected by South Australians.

Managing the urban water cycle

The urban water cycle management involves five interrelated service areas.

  • rivers and coasts (natural environments)
  • drinking water (potable supply)
  • non-drinking water (non-potable supply)
  • wastewater
  • stormwater

Urban Water Cycle process diagram

Natural environments

All water in the urban area begins from rainfall, surface water runoff, groundwater or seawater. The natural system also includes freshwater and marine ecosystems that are important habitats and receive discharges of stormwater and wastewater.

  • Landscape boards oversee the development of water allocation plans that underpin the take of water for urban use in prescribed areas and set out the requirements for water affecting activity permits.
  • Local councils are responsible for the receiving environments on lands that they manage, including riparian areas, estuaries and coasts.

Drinking water supply

Most of the water used in urban areas is treated to a quality that is safe for drinking; this is referred to as potable water. Water from rivers, seawater or groundwater is treated to drinking standard and distributed to homes, businesses and other properties.

  • SA Water delivers potable water supply (to 99% of SA customers).
  • SA Health regulates public health aspects of urban water, including safe drinking water requirements.

The SA Water database Your drinking water profile provides information on drinking water supply and its mineral make‑up. Postcodes and suburbs are matched to the water supply system and show you the most current information about your tap water. With this database you can find all the information about what makes up your drinking water, at home or at work.

Non-potable water supply

In some areas water from a diverse range of sources including stormwater, wastewater, rainwater and groundwater is treated and supplied for toilet flushing, irrigating parks and gardens and other non-contact uses. This water is either not treated or treated to a lesser degree than is required for drinking water; it is known as non-potable water. Public health and environmental regulations are in place to ensure water is treated and managed to the level required for its intended use (‘fit-for-purpose’). Most commonly non-potable water is used close to where it is collected and stored, but sometimes it is piped to other parts of a town or city or exported for horticulture irrigation in rural areas.

  • Local councils collect, treat, store and supply non-potable water for irrigating parks and gardens. In some cases this is also supplied to other users.
  • SA Water supplies recycled water for irrigating parks, to some homes and to horticultural areas and in some parts of South Australia water that is not drinking quality is supplied without treatment.
  • Private water industry entities supply collect, treat, store and supply non-potable water.

Managing wastewater

Wastewater from toilets, showers and sinks in homes and other buildings is delivered to treatment plants by the sewerage system. Once treated, some of this water is used for non-potable supplies. Water that is not used is discharged to rivers or coasts.

  • SA Water delivers sewerage services (to 87% of SA customers) for cities and many towns.
  • Local councils provide sewerage services in most regional towns and cities.
  • Private water industry entities deliver sewerage services in some localities.

Managing stormwater drainage

Rainwater runoff that drains to roads and streets is captured and drained in a system designed to minimise the risk of flooding. Some stormwater is treated and used for non-potable supplies. Water that is not used flows to the rivers or coasts.

Managed aquifer recharge

Managed aquifer recharge (MAR) is the intentional draining or discharging (injecting) of water directly or indirectly into a well for storage or environmental benefit. For example, in times of high rainfall and stormwater runoff, water can be stored in an aquifer to be used at a later date when the rainfall is low. The recharged water can then be extracted and used as an additional water source.

Although initial MAR investigations in South Australia can be traced back to the early 1950s, large schemes weren’t established until the early 1990s, mainly as a part of stormwater harvesting and reuse schemes. There are now over 40 MAR schemes operating across the greater Adelaide metropolitan area that have injected 48 GL of water for non-potable uses. Many organisations, such as councils and golf clubs, use MAR schemes as a way to improve their water security by providing alternative water supplies. They are able to recharge and store excess water in winter and recover it in summer when their irrigation needs are greater.

MAR schemes are regulated in a number of ways:

  • Drilling a well requires a well construction permit
  • Draining domestic rainwater into an aquifer requires a drainage or discharge permit (Find out what information you’ll need to apply for a permit and get the permit form)
  • Injecting water into a well requires either an Environment Protection Authority (EPA) licence or a water affecting activity permit issued by DEW is required (see below for further information).
  • Extracting water from a well requires a licence from DEW if the water resource is prescribed. Find out if this applies to you.
  • Use of recycled water is regulated by the Department for Health.

EPA licence

DEW Permit

  • Have a surface water capture area greater than one hectare within the Adelaide metropolitan area;
  • Have a surface water capture area greater than one hectare within specified areas of the City of Mount Gambier
  • Inject water containing antibiotic or chemical water treatment with a discharge volume greater than 50 kL per day anywhere in the state. Typically, treated wastewater contains water treatment chemicals
  • Anything that does not require an EPA licence

For EPA MAR licensing enquiries, contact: epa.marart@sa.gov.au   

For DEW MAR licensing and permit enquiries, contact: Water Licensing team DEWWaterLicensing@sa.gov.au 

For further information or assistance contact us on 8463 6063 or the EPA on 8204 2064

Water industry regulation

South Australian water ‘consumers’ are protected by regulation that ensure value for money and technical compliance in the delivery of the water services.

Essential Services Commission of South Australia provides economic regulation of licensed water industry entities (water and sewerage services retailers).

Department of Treasury and Finance supports the Treasurer in relation to pricing orders the Treasurer may issue for compliance by the Essential Services Commission of South Australia.

Office of the Technical Regulator (Department of Mining and Energy) oversees water services technical standards and compliance.

Office of Local Government administers State grant funding to assist the development of new community wastewater management schemes by regional local councils.

Infrastructure SA provides independent advice to government to enable informed and evidence-based decisions on planning, investment, delivery and optimisation of infrastructure, including urban water.

Integrated urban water management

Integrated urban water management is an approach that aims to manage water supply, wastewater management and stormwater management together to most efficiently provide the water security, public health environmental and urban amenity outcomes that the community seeks. The outcome is more cost efficient and effective whole of system outcomes.

Some examples of how managing urban water in an integrated way provides benefits include:

  • Increasing stormwater harvesting and wastewater recycling for non-potable reuse reduces the need for harvesting from natural sources and the volume of water that needs to be treated to drinking water quality.
  • Managing urban planning and stormwater systems to retain rainwater and runoff in the urban landscape reduces the volume of water and amount of pollutants that flow to natural environments. The retained water also soaks into the soil, reducing the volume of water needed to irrigate trees and other vegetation.
  • Reduced water use in homes leads to less wastewater discharge that needs to be treated and managed for reuse or discharge to the environment.
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