The Central City District's waterways help shape its landscape and character. They are natural assets, cultural resources and recreational destinations. As the population of the District grows, greater housing density around waterways, and more people looking to use waterways for recreation, will mean that these assets will need to be carefully managed so that they continue to support a wide range of activities.
The waterways and rivers of the Central City District are part of an overall natural system and contribute to the green infrastructure that cools and greens the District. The District's waterways support coastal, marine and groundwater-dependent ecosystems, which benefit from continuing protection and management. They support threatened ecological communities and accommodate the disposal of stormwater and wastewater. More than 50 per cent of the District's population lives within a kilometre of a waterway, highlighting the role of waterways in creating a sense of place and connecting communities to the natural landscape. The District's catchments and waterways are shown in Figure 21.
A legacy of historical land uses, contaminated land and groundwater, aged infrastructure and the pattern of urban development have impacted some of the District's waterways. Other waterways, such as Lake Parramatta, are in better health, provide habitat, are accessible and are popular for swimming.
Urban development, the clearing of vegetation and an increase in impermeable surfaces have resulted in large quantities of stormwater run-off, reduced water quality and loss of habitat. Urban stormwater carries litter and contaminants into the District's waterways.
The District's waterways often flow through more than one local government area and are managed by a number of State agencies and stakeholders, so water quality and waterway health are best managed at a catchment and sub-catchment level.
New developments and investment in infrastructure provide opportunities to improve the necessary health and quality of the District's waterways, foreshores and riparian corridors, through improving public access to, and along, the foreshores; providing connected green space around the foreshores; conserving cultural heritage; protecting and enhancing flora, fauna, and urban bushland; reducing erosion and sedimentation; improving bank stabilisation; promoting pervious surfaces; providing riparian vegetation buffers; and recovering and reinstating more natural conditions in highly modified waterways.
Enhancing community access to the waterways within the District should be prioritised. This includes access for pedestrians as well as boats and other watercraft. The delivery of the Greater Sydney Green Grid (refer to Planning Priority C16) will enhance connections to the Parramatta River, Duck River, South Creek and its tributaries.
Legislation, policies and plans are in place to improve the health of waterways and to manage water resources. For example, the Coastal Management Act 2016 integrates estuarine management and land use planning, the Fisheries Management Act 1994 protects aquatic biodiversity, and Sydney Regional Environmental Plan No.20 - Hawkesbury-Nepean River (1997) sets out planning considerations to protect the environment of the river system. NSW Water Quality and River Flow Objectives identify the high-level goals for several catchments in the District. State agencies and councils also manage the health of waterways through planning and development decisions, environmental programs and through the management of public land.
Figure 21: Central City District’s catchments and waterways
The Metropolitan Water Plan 2017 is the NSW Government's plan to ensure there is sufficient water to meet the needs of the people and environment of Greater Sydney, now and for the future. The WaterSmart Cities Program will explore new ways to supply drinking water, and manage stormwater and wastewater in a more integrated, cost-effective and sustainable way.
This District Plan aims to protect and improve the environmental health of waterways. Many councils have identified and mapped environmentally sensitive areas of waterways that are important to the local community and use additional local provisions and natural waterways and environment zones to protect these areas.
For local waterways, where governance and ownership of the waterway can be highly fragmented, a green infrastructure approach, which values waterways as infrastructure, can lead to more innovative management of waterways with outcomes that better reflect community expectations.
An integrated approach to the protection and management of waterways will rely on more comprehensive approaches to the monitoring and reporting of water quality and waterway health. Councils monitor water quality and waterway health, implement sustainable urban water management and encourage water sensitive urban design.
The District Plan aims to integrate the objectives for waterways that are set out in legislation, policies and plans, by prioritising the management of waterways as green infrastructure. This involves:
- reconceptualising waterways as an infrastructure asset that provide environmental, social and economic benefits to communities
- integrating approaches to protecting environmentally sensitive waterways within a network of green infrastructure
- addressing the cumulative impacts of development and land management decisions across catchments to improve water quality and waterway health.
Collaboration and coordination across levels of government and with the community are needed to deliver the green space, urban cooling and integrated water management outcomes required to support the Central City District.
Future work will apply lessons from previous management of the District's rivers, notably the Parramatta River Catchment Group, which coordinates the management of the Parramatta River.
Catchment-scale management and coordination can:
- solve multiple problems - for example, catchment condition and water scarcity, or water quality impacts on aquifers, estuaries and the marine estate
- set objectives for the District's waterways and enable them to be achieved in innovative and cost-effective ways
- enable both public and private benefits to be achieved - for example, stormwater from private land could provide a benefit to public management of green space and urban waterways
- promote integrated water cycle management and investment in sustainable water, wastewater and stormwater infrastructure.
Strategic planning needs to manage the cumulative impacts of activities and associated infrastructure such as mooring, marinas and boat launching facilities while ensuring public access and opportunities for swimming, and small boat and kayak launching from publicly owned land. Access to waterways should not compromise the integrity of environmentally sensitive aquatic and riparian habitats.
Parramatta River is central to Greater Sydney's Aboriginal and colonial history and the development of modern Sydney. Its foreshore has an enhanced network of open spaces, walkways and cycleways.
In the past, Parramatta River and its tributaries have suffered from degradation and contamination. There have been gradual improvements to water quality in recent decades, although recent modelling has predicted water quality in the river will worsen unless additional management interventions are implemented19.
The NSW Government is working with councils and the community to develop the Parramatta River Masterplan, a blueprint for making selected sites along the Parramatta River swimmable. Four sites, including Lake Parramatta, are already open for swimming and a number of other sites have been identified for further investigation.
The masterplan adopts the Office of Environment and Heritage and NSW Environment Protection Authority's risk-based decision framework. Proactive management and improvements to wastewater and stormwater systems, including state-of-the-art water quality analysis and modelling, will provide the foundation of a healthy river.
Making more sites along the Parramatta River swimmable requires improvements to the water quality and waterway health in the upstream catchment, including the Duck River catchment. This will take time to implement. Measures which slow the flow of stormwater into waterways and create bio-retention systems along streets, where water can be filtered and soak into the soil, will help make the river swimmable.
Improving the health of Parramatta River's tributaries will also improve the liveability of communities across the western part of the District, help cool the District and restore habitat for aquatic species. This will complement improvements to parks and open spaces along river corridors.
Duck River, a main tributary of Parramatta River, is an important waterway for the Central City District, with extensive natural and recreational values along the corridor.
Duck River and its associated wetlands are home to several threatened species such as the Grey-headed Flying Fox and the Cumberland Plain Large Land Snail, and endangered ecological communities, such as Coastal Freshwater Wetland. The Duck River corridor is recognised for its connected areas of parklands, which include Auburn Botanical Garden, the Duck River Walk and several parks and reserves for both passive recreation and organised sports.
Improving the health of the Duck River is an important priority for the District and essential to achieve the long-term vision of making downstream areas of Parramatta River swimmable. This will require careful management of stormwater, nutrients and litter. Improving access to the waterway is also a priority, as it helps to connect communities to the natural landscape. Cumberland Council is developing a strategic masterplan to shape the Duck River corridor as a green heart of the community. An opportunity exists to activate key destination points along the corridor, provide improved walking and cycling connections, conserve heritage, protect and enhance aquatic and terrestrial biodiversity, foster active sports, recreation, arts and cultural activities. The strategic masterplan can also help to address water quality, manage stormwater and litter.