Western Australia has not delivered on its promises to make environmental water provisions (EWPs), including to restore environmentally sustainable flows of water to waterways and wetlands. WA has prioritised water supply for consumptive use under pressure from a growing population. Urban areas draw a significant amount of water from outside urban regions to the detriment of the natural environment. This article reviews the implementation of EWPs under Western Australian law by testing the operation of the current legislation on a case study of the catchment of a Ramsar listed wetland in south-west Western Australia and suggests solutions to the legal deficiencies. We find that National and State policies on EWPs are not being complied with, including statutory recognition of legally secure EWPs and the return to environmentally sustainable levels of extraction. WA has not implemented transparent water allocation planning; instead, it has discarded early environmental impact assessment approval conditions in favour of confidential processes of water licensing to administer small summer releases. We argue that restoration aspirations are more likely to be achieved if there are clear justiciable duties on the Minister for Water to provide EWPs and propose how this may be done.

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Last updated: 15th Jan 2018