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Arrangements for setting drinking water standards

International benchmarking report

This report was released on 14 April 2000. The report resulted from a continuing program of research benchmarking the performance of economic infrastructure industries. Earlier studies have focused on information about outcomes, such as prices and productivity. This study of the water sector, however, compares regulatory processes for the development and enforcement of quality standards, in Australia and overseas, against accepted best practice principles.

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  • Media release
  • Contents

There is considerable scope to improve the way drinking water standards are developed and enforced in Australia, according to a report released today by the Productivity Commission.

The Commission compared regulatory arrangements and processes in Australia with those in Canada, France, New Zealand, the UK and US.

Commissioner Neil Byron, said: 'The study revealed a wide range of approaches. However, most of the countries examined, like Australia, could clearly do better in how they set and enforce water quality standards.'

Apart from in the United States, the health benefits are rarely weighed up against the cost to consumers when developing standards. This is an important omission because further increases in standards can require significant additional investment in water treatment infrastructure. In particular, the cost to smaller communities may be relatively large because of scale disadvantages.

The Commission found that without rigorous regulatory assessment, it is difficult for authorities to fully justify existing standards, which vary across and within jurisdictions. It is also difficult to make sound decisions about infrastructure investments, in the face of pressures to adopt new technology.

The study revealed that there is little publicly available information on the quality of drinking water in different parts of Australia and the accompanying risk levels. Dr Byron said: "This lack of information is an impediment to effective consultation required to find out how the community sees the tradeoffs."

The Commission also notes that, in addition to the need for greater transparency, clearer responsibilities for water regulation would enhance government accountability for standards that best serve the community.

Further information

02 6240 3330

Cover, Copyright, Foreword, Contents, Abbreviations, Glossary

Key Messages, Overview

1 Introduction
1.1 Purpose
1.2 Terminology
1.3 Approach
1.4 Study scope
1.5 Report outline

2 The drinking water sector
2.1 Urban water cycle
2.2 Historical evolution of drinking water guidelines and standards
2.3 Current concerns
2.4 Treatment technologies
2.5 Economics of the industry and water quality regulation
2.6 In summary

3 Regulatory practices and institutions
3.1 Drinking water guidelines and standards
3.2 Linkages between standards and monitoring and response
3.3 Transparency, accountability and consultation
3.4 Incident plans and response protocols
3.5 Regulation review process
3.6 In summary

4 Setting parameter values
4.1 General approach
4.2 Risk assessment
4.3 Evaluating public health costs
4.4 Evaluation public health benefits
4.5 In summary

5 Monitoring and enforcement
5.1 Regulatory instruments
5.2 Enforcement agencies and procedures
5.3 Monitoring practice
5.4 Compliance record and enforcement costs
5.5 In summary

6 Systems management, cost recovery and risk communication
6.1 Quality management systems
6.2 Cost recovery
6.3 Risk communication
6.4 In summary

7 Overarching issues
7.1 Standard setting
7.2 Standards promulgation
7.3 Enforcement
7.4 Coordination with economic and other regulation
7.5 Implementing reform
7.6 In summary

A Participants

B Australian Drinking Water Guidelines

C Arrangements in Australia
C.1 New South Wales
C.2 Victoria
C.3 Queensland
C.4 Western Australia
C.5 South Australia
C.6 Tasmania
C.7 Northern Territory
C.8 Australian Capital Territory

D Overseas Arrangements
D.1 European Union
D.2 England and Wales
D.3 United States
D.4 Canada
D.5 New Zealand
D.6 France

E Legal responsibilities