Project Round
Project Number
10TR16 - 001
Research Organisation

Water Quality Offsets Framework

The Challenge

The offsets framework is intended to be a support tool for the Victorian water industry. It describes how water authorities can assess and implement potential options for offsetting the water quality impacts of wastewater discharges into waterways (and in doing so achieve an environmental benefit).

Such offset options might be considered in instances where water corporations face a significant challenge in meeting existing or projected EPA discharge licence conditions or recognise a genuine opportunity to deliver a net environmental benefit at a lower community cost. In most instances this will be driven by the potential to defer capital expenditure on infrastructure upgrades that might otherwise help meet the licence conditions or a policy driver.

It aims to provide enough rigour so that the community and regulators have confidence in decisions made while providing the water industry with flexibility and the opportunity for innovation.

The framework was developed in close consultation with stakeholders from across the Victorian water industry and state government agencies, including the EPA and DELWP/DEPI. It uses the EPA’s proposed offset principles (EPA 2008), risk assessment guidelines (EPA 2009) and principles for environmental protection (Environment Protection Act 1970) as its basis.

The Project

The key activities undertaken in the project were:

  • Literature review
  • Two meetings with scientists working on understanding of the system
  • Community meeting and survey
  • Three industry/stakeholder workshops

Importantly it was based on the ‘principles’ for offsets previously outlined be the EPA that should be used to demonstrate that the offset itself will provide a ‘net environmental benefit’. These are:

  • Equivalence
  • Alignment with management priorities
  • Additional
  • Timely
  • Located appropriately
  • Enforceable
  • Verifiable
  • Socially acceptable

The Outcome

The outcome was a five phase framework for the water industry which outlines how and when offsets could be considered

Five phases are included in the framework, each with a distinct purpose and outcome. The phases outline each of the tasks that a proponent will need to undertake in order to make a decision about whether offsets are an appropriate tool, and then how to evaluate various offset options.

Phases 1 and 2 are intended to scope the issues regarding the licence or policy driver, the impacts on beneficial uses and the data required to guide decision making. These phases are based on the steps contained in EPA’s risk assessment guidelines (EPA 2009). These phases are not offsets specific, they should be carried out to establish and understand the base case before offsets are considered. At the end of Phase 2 the proponent will have enough information to decide if offsets are a possible and/or desired path.

Phase 3 contains the development, analysis and evaluation of various offset options.

Phase 4 is carried out when a preferred offset option has been identified. It involves contractual arrangements between the proponent and the EPA, and usually a separate contract with the organisation delivering the works.

Phase 5 is aimed at reviewing the implementation and using that to inform the framework and future offsets.

Supporting Information

In parallel to development of the Water Quality Offset Framework, Smart Water Fund invested in a project, guided by Western Water with specialist expertise from the Centre for Aquatic Pollution and Identification and Management (CAPIM). Key findings of this study and many other related studies helped inform Alluvium’s overall development of the Water Quality Offset project.

These reports are made available to assist the reader to understand the wider catchment implications of Jackson’s Creek area and potential for offset opportunities within this catchment, which may be useful for proponents undertaking similar investigations in the future.

Supporting documents