Australia needs better integration of urban and regional water planning if the country is to maximise the use of water to create liveable and sustainable cities, metropolitan areas and regions, a leader in the planning sector says.

Griffith University Professor Darryl Low Choy, an urban planning expert who is involved with the Corporative Research Centre for Water Sensitive Cities, says cities and regions need to better coordinate planning efforts across various governments and authorities at different levels of government if Australia is to maximise water as an essential resource.

Low Choy says there are many facets to water planning ranging from basic water supply to water security; flooding; drainage; the flow of water into, through and out of cities as well as where it comes from; how it is manufactured (desalination, recycling, and so on); energy use associated with water infrastructure and the social and cultural value of water in terms of views, recreational activities and attracting tourism.

“Having said that, we should be attempting to manage water in a holistic way,” Low Choy said. “At the moment, the Department of Water Supply is responsible for water supply, the Department of Tourism is responsible for improving tourist scenery and so on. Local government is responsible for certain aspects of water supply governance. So we are not making the links.

“We need to have a horizontal and vertical coordination in the way in which we are planning our policy and managing water.”

His comments come as the importance of water management in terms of sustainability has been brought into focus following the release of the Turnbull government’s plan to increase tree coverage across major cities as part of efforts to tackle the ‘heat island’ effect of major cities on hot days.


Since vegetation requires water, Monash University urban climate researcher Professor Nigel Tapper said the importance of identifying new water sources and better ways of using the water we have in terms of making the plan work cannot be understated.

Besides, along with parks and trees, urban waterways in themselves can help reduce local temperatures, Tapper said.

Low Choy says water should be incorporated into all facets of planning and that better linkage were needed across individual local councils, different agencies at state level, between state and local government, and between all of these layers of government and the community.

He says the federal government could help though financial incentives to those who undertook an integrated approach.

“The starting point is to take a whole of catchment approach rather than plan just on artificial boundaries say city, town or local or state government area,” Low Choy said.

“Most of the boundaries are artificial and are not consistent with natural boundaries. I am not arguing that we reshape local government. I’m just saying that within a catchment there are a number of local authorities who need to be cooperating and working together according to whole of catchment approaches to planning and management. That’s the first step.”

“The next step that is we need to have joined up planning in a vertical sense. Local government has certain responsivities, so too do state government agencies. We need to list the state government agencies horizontally and we need to link vertically between local government and state government.”