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Protecting and improving the health and enjoyment of the District's waterways

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Planning Priority S13

The South District's coast and waterways shape its landscape and character. They are natural assets, cultural resources and recreational destinations. As 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 they continue to support a wide range of activities.

The waterways and rivers of the South 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. The District's catchments and waterways are shown on Figure 20.

The District's coastline includes popular beaches, some of which are protected within national parks. Its aquatic reserves at Boat Harbour, Towra Point and Shiprock have been created to protect fish, aquatic animals and marine vegetation. The Ramsar-listed Towra Point Nature Reserve is critical for migratory shorebirds, and is protected by international migratory bird conservation agreements. It provides roosting habitat and feeding grounds to replenish reserves before the birds migrate to the northern hemisphere.

The District's waterways and coastline also offer great views, access to peace and quiet, open space and wildlife as well as opportunities for boating, swimming, walking and cycling. They tell the story of Aboriginal and European history, and are used for the arts, family visits and sports. They have an economic value in tourism and maritimerelated industry.

Botany Bay, Port Hacking, the Georges River, the Woronora River and the Cooks River form part of the Greater Sydney Green Grid. Waterway corridors such as the Cooks River and Salt Pan Creek provide local parks and native vegetation close to urban areas in the District's north.

The Cooks River runs through some of the most urbanised suburbs in Australia. Many parts of the river and its foreshores offer beautiful riverside walkways and cycle paths, wonderful parks and facilities and habitat for native plants and animals.

A legacy of historical land uses, contaminated land and groundwater, aged infrastructure and the pattern of urban development has impacted some of the District's waterways. Other waterways, such as the Georges River at Oatley Bay Baths, are healthier and accessible while providing habitat.

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 is best managed at a catchment and sub-catchment level.

New development and investment in infrastructure provide an opportunity to improve the necessary health and quality of the District's waterways, foreshores and riparian corridors, by improving public access to, and along, the foreshores; providing connected green space around and along the foreshores; conserving cultural heritage; protecting and enhancing flora, fauna and urban bushland; reducing erosion and sedimentation, which improves bank stabilisation; promoting pervious surfaces; providing riparian vegetation buffers; and reinstating more natural conditions in highly modified waterways.

Enhancing community access to the coast and 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 S15) will enhance connections to the Georges River and other waterways.

Figure 20: South District catchments and waterwaysLayout Builder Inline Block

A stylised map showing the river catchments and waterways, including coastal catchment, river flow direction and the Sydney drinking water catchment.
Download this image south_figure_20.png (format PNG / 1,933 KB )

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 coastal management and land use planning and the Fisheries Management Act 1994 protects aquatic biodiversity. The 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.

The 2017 Metropolitan Water Plan 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 Government's 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.

The Marine Estate Management Authority has prepared the draft Marine Estate Management Strategy 2018-28, which, when finalised, will support a clean healthy and productive marine environment.1

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 also 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 provides 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 is needed to deliver the green space, urban cooling and integrated water management outcomes needed to support the South District. This is particularly important for the Cooks River, which passes through both the South and Eastern City districts.

Future work will apply the lessons from previous management of the District's rivers, notably the Georges River Combined Councils' Committee, which coordinates the management of the Georges River, and the Cooks River Alliance.

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 moorings, 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.

Botany Bay

Botany Bay is recognised for its significant economic, environmental and cultural assets. Kamay Botany Bay National Park, Towra Point Nature Reserve and Cape Banks Aquatic Reserve have been established in recognition of Botany Bay's environmental and cultural significance, while other waterway and foreshore areas also contain valuable biodiversity and scenic coastal landscapes.

The land adjacent to Botany Bay was settled for thousands of years by the Eora and Tharawal people. Aboriginal people continue to have strong association with Botany Bay. Botany Bay was the scene of the first European landfall on the east coast of Australia in 1770 and Captain Cook's landing at Kurnell place has become a popular tourist attraction.

As home to Sydney Airport and Port Botany, Botany Bay is Greater Sydney's main international passenger and trade gateway. The waters around La Perouse are renowned for snorkelling and scuba diving, while the beaches and extensive foreshore parklands along the Grand Parade provide attractive settings for recreation.

Councils of both the Eastern City and South districts are working together to improve water quality in the Georges River and the Cooks River, which both flow into Botany Bay. Managing water quality and waterway health continues to be a significant challenge, given the highly urbanised nature of the catchments, the changes to the shoreline of the Bay following reclamation for infrastructure, and the legacy of groundwater contamination from historical industrial activity.

The Cooks River Alliance, is a partnership of councils from Bayside, Canterbury-Bankstown, Inner West, and Strathfield, has been in place since 1997. The Alliance works with communities for a healthy Cooks River catchment. The Alliance with funding from the NSW Government, will develop a scoping study for a Cooks River Catchment Coastal Management Plan. It will be developed under the NSW coastal management framework with priorities actions for the Cooks River.

Georges River

The Georges River flows north through the Western City District, before it turns south east at Chipping Norton towards Botany Bay. Its catchment flows through a varied landscape from the steep heavily wooded upper reaches near Appin to the urban areas of the lower reaches in the South District. Woronora Dam, on the upper reaches of the Woronora River, a tributary of the Georges River, is located in the Sutherland Council area.

Woronora Dam is within the Georges River catchment and is part of Greater Sydney's drinking water supply network.


Protect environmentally sensitive areas of waterways and the coastal environment area.

Councils, other planning authorities, State agencies and State-owned corporations


Enhance sustainability and liveability by improving and managing access to waterways, foreshores and the coast for recreation, tourism, cultural events and water-based transport.

Councils, other planning authorities, State agencies and State-owned corporations


Improve the health of catchments and waterways through a risk-based approach to managing the cumulative impacts of development including coordinated monitoring of outcomes.

Councils, other planning authorities, State agencies and State-owned corporations


Work towards reinstating more natural conditions in highly modified urban waterways.

Councils, other planning authorities, State agencies and State-owned corporations