The delivery of safe drinking water plays a critical role in the viability, self-determination, and sustainability of First Nations remote communities. Water is core to life and has an important role in connection to Country.


Outside of Australia’s capital cities, it can be particularly challenging to deliver water services to remote areas of the country – with incredibly varied landscapes, from desert to tropical savannah, often extreme and robust micro-climates, and the challenge of long transport times through tough terrain. These areas are, however, not empty, and to the members of many small First Nations communities, this is their Country, this is their home, it is not remote.


Many communities report concerns about their water supplies – with taste, smell, odour, contamination. This is backed up by evidence from various reputable health and epidemiological studies, plus water quality reports from utilities and service providers, which reveal that water quality issues are persistent and in some cases getting worse, in remote communities.


Delays in maintenance and poor customer service compound these issues, increasing the cost of living and leading to neglect. Communities report distrusting government, and that people in remote communities prefer to drink bottled water or soft drinks over tap water. Studies by the Productivity Commission (2021) and Infrastructure Australia (2021) have identified shortcomings in provision of services to remote communities, but there is a lack of available and consistent information.


Most of us take safe drinking water for granted; but as a number of reports have noted, Australia is falling short in its delivery of services to First Nations remote communities, as measured against the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 6: Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.


In 2021, WSAA commissioned Eric Vanweydeveld to research and document the arrangements for water servicing of remote communities across Australia.

Through extensive research and engagement with stakeholders and the communities themselves, Eric has developed a review which maps the complex and opaque arrangements in each jurisdiction, highlighting the linkages, differences and legacies.

In this report, WSAA presents the most complete snapshot that we can of the information we have obtained at time of publication.