Why? Well-designed urban green infrastructure supports connections between people, water and nature, and creates opportunities for experiences that improve human wellbeing. These benefits are even more important when climate change impacts to the stormwater system are considered. Our changing climate (higher temperatures, increased intensity of rainfall, and longer dry periods) will create pressures on urban waterways, and the residents of our cities.

Green infrastructure contributes to a more resilient community when it is designed to achieve not only stormwater management objectives, but also other benefits such as mitigating urban heat island impacts, providing a diverse water supply and helping people to connect with each other and the natural environment.

While the integrated design process can be challenging, a known success factor for achieving these outcomes is a collaborative design approach, where planners, landscape architects, engineers and other disciplines contribute equally to the process.

What is Living Waterways? Living Waterways is an approach and framework that incentivises collaboration and integrated planning and design of urban water systems. These outcomes are achieved through simple and measurable targets, against which designs can be easily assessed whilst ensuring ongoing operation and maintenance costs are reduced.

The Living Waterways approach can help teams in government and industry to deliver successful projects by:

  • Providing an easy to use framework to guide multiple outcomes from the design phase.
  • Encouraging the project team to understand and optimise the relationship between the site, its immediate surroundings and its community.
  • Considering synergistic solutions that deliver a high performing site that respects its physical place in the broader community as well as its role in meeting broader community goals and expectations.
  • Understanding the needs of a community in regards to their waterways
  • Establishing the desired outcomes of the project early in the design process so that associated goals and requirements can be achieved efficiently.
  • Ensuring integrated sustainable water management and amenity outcomes are at the forefront of the early design process, preventing costly and untimely design conflicts during planning and construction phases.
  • Promoting a process whereby Planners, Urban Designers, Landscape Architects, Civil and Environmental Engineers, and Certified Environmental Practitioners are present and accountable in the initial design phases of projects.
  • Promoting Collaborative Thinking when developing design solutions and strategies for site layouts.
  • Enabling communities to be engaged in a meaningful consultation or co-design process.
  • Enabling continuity from the initial designs through the planning approval and construction stages to the operation and maintenance phase.
  • Promoting the support and establishment of an informed development community that has ownership of Living Waterways Principles as a final outcome of the process.

Version 2 - What’s new? There is an updated, easier to use scoring system that can clearly and transparently demonstrate how the design of urban stormwater projects aligns with meeting a broad range of desired outcomes, such as waterway health protection and resilience building. The system provides government authorities with the opportunity to set different minimum standards for development projects that align with the diverse values of their communities. There are five key additions to the framework in version 2: An updated scoring system The scoring system has been simplified and improved to create a stepwise process to meet required scores for each of the following elements in Table 1, in accordance with local or state government regulation, but with minimum standards.

Resilience Module The resilience score has been developed to analyse how the project contributes to the principles of social-ecological resilience. This score will consider how well the proposed project aligns with the overarching need for greater adaptability and flexibility in management approaches in the face of complex threats – such as increasing climate variability, population growth, and pollutant sources. Projects that have achieved the minimum Living Waterways overall score can also be compared using this resilience score which is calculated automatically.

Strategic Planning Module Different parts of a catchment have different values, threats and opportunities. Strategic planning can help to redistribute effort and investment to where it is needed most (refer Figures 1-4). Where individual site design recognises and reflects this planning, and tailors individual site solutions within the broader context, these are rewarded with bonus credits in the Living Waterways framework. For example, areas with a high sensitivity to changes in hydrology (such as natural wetlands) may require special treatment compared to areas with a low sensitivity (such as concrete channels).

Local governments which have conducted strategic planning for waterways and receiving environments can provide proponents with flexible options. The latest revision of Living Waterways also includes additional flexibility for those local governments with strategic plans. Under the Living Waterways strategic planning module, incentives are employed to maximise multiple outcomes. It does this by providing a number of bonus points where the local project aligns with strategic planning that has been conducted by local or state government. In order to achieve bonus points there must be a strategic plan in place, and the project outcomes must link to this planning. The strategic plan must include layered mapping for environmental factors such as soils and vegetation.

The Living Waterways strategic planning module can provide flexibility for stormwater offset solutions (i.e. Those organisations with an arrangement for collecting money for offsite stormwater projects may use the Living Waterways Framework to facilitate diversion of investment from low priority areas to high priority areas). Bonus points will be accrued when the project outcomes are shown to align with the relevant local government strategic planning objectives for stormwater management projects that are developed either on- or off-site.

How to save money with Living Waterways? By ustilising the flexibility of the Living Waterways Framework, property developers can save on space allocation and money but still deliver genuine improvements for the community and environment. The LW framework allows for a discount of the Stormwater Load Reduction Targets set by the State Planning Policy (SPP). These targets can be eased by up to 20% for each item which can reduce the footprint of WSUD systems such as bioretention basins and wetlands. For some housing estates this may mean less capital outlay and the ability to sell a couple more lots. It is noted that a minimum amount of stormwater pollutant load reduction is still required under these SPP concessions (i.e. a minimum of 2 points is required for element LW1).

The reason we allow and encourage this approach is that we recognise that waterway health is much broader than just water quality load reduction targets. And while end-of-line stormwater treatment devices are part of the solution, there is much that can be done within the catchment (i.e. through rainwater harvesting and minimising impervious areas). There are also many ways that the local creeks can be protected and enhanced through direct rehabilitation and habitat restoration. The Living Waterways Framework provides credit for these actions that contribute to waterway health which in turn provides developers the flexibility to tailor their WSUD strategy to the local context.

Living Waterways Funding for the development of this product was generously provided by the Department of Environment and Science, the Office of the Great Barrier Reef, the SPLASH group with support from Healthy Land and Water and RUSMG. We thank all those who have contributed to the development of this product.

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