Good waterway condition provides the essential building block for liveability , growth and prosperity. Rivers provide water for Victoria’s five million people and support agriculture, recreational fishing and commercial industries.
Declining waterway condition can also lead to direct economic costs for communities. Poor land management can result in a deterioration of water quality and hence high costs for water treatment. Poor water quality, in turn, can trigger algal blooms leading to costs associated with providing alternative water supplies, cessation of irrigation, closure of recreational lakes and loss of recreational and tourism revenue. Accelerated erosion of riverbeds and banks may cause loss of valuable land or public infrastructure, such as roads and bridges. Other costs will not be able to be measured in economic terms. For example, over extraction of water affects diversity and abundance of many native aquatic plants and animals.
Communities have become increasingly aware of environmental problems and they value improvements in environmental condition. Farmers, Landcare networks and other community action groups play a significant role in contributing to improvements in the environmental condition of waterways through better on-farm management practices, local planting days and pest plant and animal control. Some of the gains in environmental condition from restoration work can be measured in economic terms.
Recognising the economic values of waterways is essential to appreciating the wide scope of ecosystem services – the benefits that humans receive from nature. Economic costs and benefits delivered by waterways include:
- Urban water supply/storage
- Recreation and commercial tourism
- Natural water treatment and dilution/assimilation of waste
- Production from extractive uses
- Drainage and flood conveyance
- Increase in property values
Each of these economic benefits contributes to economic activity and jobs (both directly and indirectly).
Many values that waterways support, including economic values, are rarely reflected in organisational or national decision-making frameworks. This includes the System of National Accounts (SNA), the internationally agreed standard set of recommendations on how to compile measures of economic activity. The SNA excludes environmental features such as the atmosphere and ecosystems. This has led to the development of the System of Environmental-Economic Accounting (SEEA) by multiple international organisations including the United Nations, the European Commission, the World Bank Group and others.
- Waterways are recognised as important natural capital providing regionally-significant ecosystem services, value and benefits
- Waterway management will progressively incorporate frameworks for ecosystem accounting and valuation more formally into reporting systems.
- Develop and apply new international standards for environmental-economic accounting to priority waterways in the Port Phillip and Westernport Region. A more businesslike approach to accounting for waterway management and investment will highlight the dependencies between waterway management activity, economic prosperity, social wellbeing and economic performance
- Determine the current baseline (value, extent and condition) for priority waterways in the Port Phillip and Westernport Region such that the change in asset extent and condition can be measured
- Utilise the region’s waterway environmental-economic accounts to more transparently demonstrate the return on investment in meeting government outcomes for the environment, economic growth and community wellbeing.
Incorporate environmental-economic accounting into the ongoing adaptive management and monitoring, evaluation and reporting to support the delivery of the Healthy Waterways Strategy by 2023.