case studies

Waterwise Council Program


A program to support and endorse local governments in Western Australia for their leadership in creating water sensitive communities

Project description

The Waterwise Council Program established in 2009, is a partnership between the Water Corporation (WA water utility) and the Department of Water and Environmental Regulation. It aims to build a cooperative working relationship with local governments, to improve water use efficiency and adopt water sensitive cities concepts in their operations and communities. The program also acknowledges councils that are demonstrating leadership in sustainable water management. It is an opt-in program for councils in Western Australia, providing education, training, materials and funding opportunities, to improve water efficiency and build water sensitive communities.

Key figures: 

  • 56 councils involved in the program
  • Over 80% program participation rate among metropolitan councils, reaching over 1.6 million residents
  • 40% participation in recognition scheme in first year
  • 20% of councils nominated for platinum recognition in first year

The drivers

Climate change in Western Australia, as well as an increase in water demand due to population growth, presents significant challenges in how we sustainably manage and use our water resources. The Waterwise Council Program responds to these challenges through the following objectives.

  • Collaboration: Build and foster collaborative working relationships between local governments, Department of Water and Environmental Regulation, Water Corporation and the community.
  • Sustainable water management: Sustainably manage water use within council facilities, public open space and within communities.
  • Liveable communities: Support councils to implement water sensitive urban design principles into their urban planning to create more liveable and productive communities.
  • Leadership: Empower councils to become leaders in sustainable water management and water sensitive implementation.
  • Education: Support councils to improve water literacy in the community.

The Waterwise Council Program initially focused on water use efficiency, but leading local governments were striving to achieve greater benefits across the water cycle. To recognise and encourage these achievements, the program was revamped in 2017 to embed the seven goal areas of the Water Sensitive Cities Index in a new recognition scheme. This is a key pathway to promote and celebrate water sensitive practice by local government.

The innovations

Waterwise Council Endorsement Program: Under the program, local governments who successfully meet the criteria are endorsed as Waterwise. To become endorsed, participants must agree to and meet the following five criteria:

  1. Sign a Memordandum of Understanding to demonstrate council commitment.
  2. Create a five-year Waterwise Council Action Plan to determine opportunities and goals.
  3. Ensure allocated team members complete free Waterwise training.
  4. Adhere to their annual groundwater licence terms set by the Department of Water and Environmental Regulation, and scheme water usage terms set by the Water Corporation.
  5. To retain their endorsement, councils are required to submit a program annual report, providing an update on each of their actions and initiatives.

Waterwise Verge Incentive Scheme and Best Practice Guidelines: Through the Waterwise Verge Incentive Scheme, the program provides funding to councils who promote low water use verge gardens within their communities through either rebates or verge replacement programs. Verge guidelines were also developed to provide councils with a benchmark to assess how their own policies compare with best practice. Councils are encouraged to use the guidelines to develop new best practice verge policies or update existing ones.

Benefits to endorsed Waterwise councils: Councils who are endorsed receive a number of benefits, including:

  • opportunity to participate in liveability projects and trials, as per the Waterwise Council webpage
  • free waterwise training for staff
  • waterwise materials and presentations to promote water conservation to the community
  • funding opportunities to implement water sensitive practices
  • access to services such as data logging.

Award ranking and recognition scheme: The Waterwise Council Program recognition scheme acknowledges councils that are demonstrating leadership in sustainable water management, with Gold status for top performing councils and a Platinum award for the council of the year. Recognition criteria aligns with the Water Sensitive Cities Index to celebrate the great work councils are doing across the water cycle. This Index allows participants to benchmark their performance against seven urban water goal areas that characterise a water sensitive city, to help councils set targets and identify strategy priorities.

The lessons

  • Local waterwise champions: It's vital for each local government to have a waterwise champion, preferably two, to drive advocacy and behaviour change at different levels.
  • Some councils require more organisational change than others: Some councils require a robust framework, change in policy and cross-agency support to obtain executive endorsement for adoption/investment in implementing the water sensitive cities framework.
  • The Waterwise Council Program provides an important link to community: The program provides an opportunity to educate the community about water issues and strengthen people's connection to water.
  • Resourcing constraints are a barrier in councils implementing water sensitive cities aligned initiatives: The program framework and supporting resources take into account the additional support councils require to deliver water sensitive cities initiatives.
  • Local expertise: Each local government has its own specific challenges and motivations, so it’s important program advice and support isn’t one size fits all.


This program is highly transferable to other locations to help drive water efficiency outcomes and create water sensitive communities. It is a great demonstration of a partnership between state and local agencies leading the way and demonstrating water sensitive city outcomes to the local community.

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Project stats


WA, Australia


Australian Water Association WA Water Award 2011 - Program Innovation Award

The outcomes

Cities providing ecosystem services

  • Sustainable groundwater use: The program protects groundwater and dependent ecosystems by ensuring that endorsed councils are not in breach of groundwater licence terms.
  • Urban cooling: Improved water efficiency and better designed public open space and streetscapes (which support functional green spaces) will in turn deliver urban cooling benefits. Councils have the opportunity to work collaboratively with Water Corporation and the Department of Water and Environmental Regulation to enhance the value of their stormwater drains and basin to the community.

Cities as water supply catchments

  • Reduce water use: The program creates water efficiency outcomes for local government operations and the community.
  • Diversified supplies: The program offers increased recognition and support for alternative water supply schemes.

Cities comprising water sensitive communities

  • Increased capability and knowledge: The program involves training for local government staff, and education materials for the community.
  • Demonstration of positive behaviours: Waterwise Council endorsement requires councils to demonstrate a number of waterwise behaviours, empowering them to act as leaders in the community in promoting efficient and effective water use.
  • Building water sensitive communities: The Waterwise Council Program recognition scheme aims to award local governments that are demonstrating leadership, and building water sensitive communities within their local government area.

Business case

Costs Benefits

Cost of benchmarking: The Waterwise Council Program has been providing funding support for councils to undertake benchmarking using the Water Sensitive Cities Index.

Aligning the recognition scheme with the water sensitive cities framework:

  • Recognises councils' efforts across the seven urban water goal areas that characterise a water sensitive city.
  • Links local governments with water sensitive cities funding, updates, projects and opportunities.
  • Enables councils to report on projects and identify opportunities to drive liveability outcomes across the water cycle.
  • Increases program focus and reach beyond water efficiency, accounting for water sensitive urban design and liveability benefits for communities.
  • Drives program engagement and provides a robust framework for councils to adopt the water sensitive cities framework in their operations.
  • Promotes Water Sensitive Cities Index benchmarking.
  • Is a key enabler in meeting Water Corporation's water sensitive cities targets.

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