An innovative program on water efficiency efforts by local governments has been expanded to highlight achievements in creating resilient, sustainable, productive and liveable communities – and a flagship Cooperative Research Centre for Water Sensitive Cities (CRCWSC) tool, the Water Sensitive Cities Index, has played a key role in the shift.

Established in Western Australia in 2009, the Waterwise Council Program is a free, cooperative program supporting better water management and sustainability outcomes for local governments and their communities.

The program already empowers 80% of Western Australia’s metropolitan councils. Sponsored by the Water Corporation and Department of Water, it provides training (in areas like water auditing), information, and financial support (such as funding to promote low water use verge gardens) to councils to improve their water use; as well as workshops, guidelines, and advice on how existing policies compare to best practice. It also provides clear criteria for guiding progress – and for endorsing and recognising the achievements and ongoing efforts of councils working to make their precincts water efficient and sustainable.

Now, endorsed waterwise councils are set to benefit from the program taking a broader view of sustainability in its mechanism to recognise, via a dedicated Recognition Scheme, councils leading the way in sustainable water management.

In 2017, the criteria for recognition have been expanded to encompass the seven goals (such as community capital and quality urban space; see Box 1) conceptualised by the Water Sensitive Cities (WSC) Index. Whether local councils, developers of new estates, state planners, or others, the Index enables users to assess and visualise their area’s current performance – and set new targets for improvement – against crucial indicators. The shift has been welcomed by councils aspiring to go beyond simply saving water.

“Councils are in a unique position to create sustainable and water sensitive cities and we want to empower and support them,” said Sue Murphy, Chief Executive Officer of the Water Corporation.

Expanding the criteria celebrates that position, and marks the embedding of a research-driven tool into leading industry practice.

With more cities and towns looking to better protect their communities from challenges like flooding, water scarcity, heat waves, and population growth, resources like the WSC Index provide an invaluable way forward.

For more on the Waterwise Councils Program, visit the website.

The Water Sensitive Cities Index: Not just for councils

The Water Sensitive Cities Index was conceptualised, with close industry involvement, as one of the early articulations of the concept of a water sensitive city: an urban place that leverages the role of water to create communities that are sustainable, resilient, productive, and liveable – despite future challenges like climate shifts and water scarcity.

Having grown over time, the Index will ultimately underpin a reliable and user-friendly web platform that can be used to assess cities across Australia and the rest of the world. Run by accredited trainers and already implemented for Perth, Melbourne, and the Gold Coast, the tool lets councils and others set targets, compare their performance to other councils or cities, and identify strategic priorities.

The WSC Index outlines 7 goal areas now captured in the Waterwise Councils Program:

  1. Ensure Good Water Sensitive Governance.
  2. Increase Community Capital.
  3. Improve Productivity and Resource Efficiency.
  4. Improve Ecological Health.
  5. Ensure Quality Urban Space.
  6. Achieve Equity of Essential Services.
  7. Promote Adaptive Infrastructure.

For more on the WSC Index, see here.