Development of the National Water Account

As part of its national water information mission, the Bureau of Meteorology (the Bureau) was given the task and resources to produce an annual National Water Account. Under the Water Act 2007 (Cth) the Director of Meteorology is required to publish an annual National Water Account.

The initial mandate for water accounting came in 2004 from the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) in the National Water Initiative. The National Water Account builds upon the significant water accounting activities accomplished through the implementation of the National Water Initiative and related programs.

The purpose of the National Water Account is to report on the total water resource, the water available for abstraction, the rights to abstract and the actual abstractions.

The National Water Account is a new style of water reporting which brings together the disciplines of hydrology and financial accounting. As such, it will take some time to be firmly embedded in the water information landscape. Planning by the Bureau of Meteorology envisaged a 10 year timeframe for the development of a mature National Water Account.

A continuous improvement strategy has been adopted. This involves cycles of evaluation and review leading to developments in methods, coverage and presentation. The National Water Account will also be refined over time to better meet the needs of users.

National Water Account Roadmap

In late 2008 Council of Australian Governments resolved that a National Water Account Committee (NWAC) be established and that the Bureau's efforts should be guided by a National Water Account Roadmap (the Roadmap). NWAC has had an important role in supporting the Bureau in producing a pilot and then the first National Water Account.

This Roadmap was informed by discussion and consultation with relevant stakeholders and experts. This included a national workshop convened in December 2008.

The Roadmap set out the steps for publication of a pilot version of the National Water Account in December 2009 and the comprehensive first National Water Account 2010. The significant milestones identified in the roadmap have been achieved.

Pilot National Water Account

In 2009, the Bureau of Meteorology tested a range of methods and processes necessary to produce the National Water Account.

Seven pilot regions were selected, affording sufficient coverage of the physical and water planning and management conditions which occur across Australia, These seven pilot regions were: South- East Queensland region (Qld), Namoi-Peel catchment (NSW), Murrumbidgee catchment (NSW), Murray-Darling Basin, Melbourne region (Vic), Onkaparinga catchment (SA) and Gnangara Mound (WA).

The Pilot National Water Account, published in Dec 2009, demonstrated the breadth of information being considered for inclusion in the National Water Account. It contained demonstration water accounting reports for the Murray–Darling Basin, and the Onkaparinga, Murrumbidgee and Namoi–Peel catchments.

Feedback and knowledge gained through this process guided the shape, content and structure of National Water Account 2010.

The first National Water Account

The first National Water Account was published in 2011 for the reporting year 2009–10. The 2010 Account reported on most of the high-intensity water use regions of Australia, covering six capital city and two rural regions. There are many competing demands for the water in these eight regions. The information presented in the 2010 Account outlined how water was shared between the economy, critical human needs and the environment.

The National Water Account 2010 was prepared by the Bureau of Meteorology in partnership with some 30 water agencies across Australia, with contributions by a further seven organisations.

A cooperative approach was taken to the production of the 2010 Account, with the Bureau and reporting partners jointly developing the content. Planning included defining the scope of information to be contained in the set of eight water accounting reports along with their geographic boundaries. Data collation and analysis started in mid-2010 and continued until early 2011.

Due to the newness of the publication, and the importance placed on robustness and transparency, a rigorous review process was undertaken. Feedback and suggestions provided by the many partner water agencies greatly assisted in ensuring the information in the National Water Account 2010 is a fair and true representation of water management in each of the eight regions for the 2009–10 reporting period.

The preparation and presentation of the 2010 Account was guided by the first Australian Water Accounting Standard, in its exposure draft form.

The 2011 Account – refinement of processes and methods

An evaluation process followed the release of the 2010 Account. The outcomes have informed the preparation of the National Water Account 2011 and will contribute to its on-going development. The focus has been on streamlining the National Water Account preparation and publication process, refining technical methods and clarifying the interpretation of underlying concepts.

The Bureau has developed a suite of information technology tools designed to streamline information gathering, processing, reviewing and publication. A particular focus has been on improving the overall production process through investment in data management tools and improved project management. Together they will help to ensure timely and effective communication between the many contributors. These tools were tested in the production of the 2011 Account and will be further refined over the next few years.

The 2011 Account includes a number of notable enhancements. The Water Accounting Statements include both a reporting year and a comparative year. Segment reporting has been introduced for the Murray-Darling Basin which provides increased detail about water management in sub-areas of the Basin. In response to feedback on the 2010 Account, the notes in the water accounting reports have been restructured and the Water Accounting Statements simplified.

User needs analysis

The Bureau has an on-going program to seek input from potential users of the National Water Account. The development of the Account has been informed by input from the water information community and the Bureau continues to engage with users. In 2011 the Bureau undertook a series of interviews and surveys with priority users so as to better understand their information needs. Feedback has helped define the requirements for supportive and interpretive materials so that users can extract maximum value from the information provided in the National Water Account.

On-going development of the National Water Account

The strategic plan for on-going development of the National Water Account is being developed. The approach of continuous improvement will be maintained. Annual production will be followed by evaluations of technical methods, data ingest, project management and project governance. Priorities for expanded geographic coverage and refinements of the information presented are being developed. User input continues to inform the development of the National Water Account.

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