The private and public sectors will both benefit from a reimagining of what it is to live, work and play in a metropolitan city that invests in water sensitive infrastructure to become more liveable, sustainable, resilient and productive.

Both sectors have a role in redesigning and improving water management as part of this transition to water sensitive, low carbon, green cities.

While we know local government has a specific role in the transition to a water sensitive city (WSC)—as the owner and manager of roads and a large amount of open space, and as a planning authority that oversees private development—it’s not always easy to identify the immediate benefits of water sensitive investments. This is mostly because the benefits extend over a long period of time, across a range of beneficiaries, and are sometimes local and sometimes regional in spatial scale. Therefore, justifying large upfront capital expenditure can be difficult.

We’re making it easier for local government

To make it easier for local governments to make business cases for WSC investments, we’ve just published Constructing business cases for water sensitive investments: a handbook for local government.

What sorts of local government WSC investments are we talking about?

Around Australia, local governments have different responsibilities, and processes for traditional infrastructure investments are usually well established. So, before we walk through the steps outlined in the handbook, let’s get clear on the types of local government WSC investments we are talking about:

  • bioretention systems
  • passive irrigation systems
  • constructed wetlands
  • stormwater harvesting systems
  • rainwater harvesting systems
  • green roofs
  • green walls
  • stream naturalisation projects
  • buffer zones and the reuse of existing land within or next to water infrastructure assets (e.g. retarding basins and treatment plants), for passive and active recreation or other community values
  • groundwater allocations and extractions.

So, how does a council make a case?

The handbook outlines 14 steps and specific details for each:

  1. Consider council’s strategic direction.
  2. Create the narrative and pitch (the story).
  3. Get clear on budget and revenue.
  4. Understand community needs and interests.
  5. Look for external funding (grant) opportunities.
  6. Define who will benefit.
  7. Access CRCWSC tools and products to calculate benefits from the investment.
  8. Advocate, advocate, advocate.
  9. Clearly document the benefits and what they are worth monetarily (look at the CRCWSC’s 2015–16 willingness to pay study).
  10. Consider direct water and nutrient benefits, and impact on property values.
  11. Factor in mental health benefits, particularly of greening and tree planting.
  12. Consider distributed storage and flooding benefits.
  13. Capture the benefits of avoided infrastructure and reduced maintenance.
  14. Cite specific benefits of sustainable groundwater management.

Once a council has this material, it can package it in the business case document, using this chapter structure:

  • The problem
  • The context
  • The options
  • The project
  • Business as usual (BAU)
  • Costs
  • Timeframes

For help fleshing out the details of the 14 steps, councils can access the CRCWSC’s IRP2 team’s Investment Framework for Economics of Water Sensitive Cities (INFFEWS), which includes the:

  • Benefit Cost Analysis Tool
  • Value Tool
  • detailed resources to guide their application and decision making processes.

All the links to all IRP2 outputs are here, and Constructing business cases for water sensitive investments: a handbook for local government is now available too.

For more information about the handbook and council investments in WSC, contact Lorena Ikic (Portfolio Manager—Adoption) at

Last updated: 24th Mar 2020