16 years ago, the formation of 14 councils across 40,000 square kilometres of the Central West of New South Wales initiated the organisation now known as the Environment & Waterways Alliance. At that time, the prime concerns were the environmental and economic impacts of salinity to the region. Since then, the organisation has developed to reflect a variety of values regarding environmental preservation, but it still strives to uphold the membership-based structure from which it began. “The key goals they wanted to implement back then were around action, salinity, education, and capacity building,” says Project Support Officer Mick Callan. “Over time the Alliance has really grown and developed, particularly when the Central West Catchment Management Authority (CMA) came on the scene in 2005.
The Alliance was really boarding under the umbrella of the CMA back then, and the scope of it widened to takieinto account waterway health and management. Due to that, the name of it was changed to the Central West Councils Salinity & Water Quality Alliance, and the project support office was employed in 2007; that’s when they really took on more of a professional stance and had a broader reach. The real strength of the Alliance is that it’s continued to evolve and develop over time and meet the needs of those member councils. So, last year, the name changed again to better reflect what the organisation is about. It became the Environment and Waterways Alliance, and we now have 18 member councils across 120,000 square kilometres of the Central West of New South Wales.”
In regards to their council members, the Alliance is keen on providing the support needed to ensure better environmental outcomes throughout the region – especially within the realm of capacity building. Their parenting body, Local Land Services, also offers any additional assistance needed through their Central West and Central Tablelands sectors. “In the last couple of years, we hosted a stormwater conference over in Dubbo; we partnered with the Institute of Public Works Engineering Australasia to host that, and that was a big draw card for us to help get the engineers in that are critical to the success of improving stormwater outcomes. We’ve also hosted a couple of Hollows for Habitat forums around hollow-dependent fauna and partnered with a bunch of agencies to put those on.
We do a lot of training, including registered training such as erosion and sediment control, project management training, and we’ve got some upcoming training around managing bushland for wildlife outcomes. We also have quarterly meetings where we’ll have guest speakers and really try to build up the skills and knowledge of our members. We do case studies and things like that – fact sheets. We have an Alliance website and social media as information sources. So, they’re the sorts of things we’re constantly doing, as well as funding on-ground works through Local Land Services.”
Callan loosely compares the Alliance model to that of a Regional Organisation of Councils; however, the difference lies in the fact that their sole focus remains on improving the regions environmental outcomes within their member-driven organisation. They are also strong believers in the 202020 Vision initiative, as it is very similar to their values and goals as an organisation. “We’re not really in the business of trying to improve economic outcomes or things like that,” he says. “We’re all about the environment, and that really sets us apart from the regional organisations of councils. The 202020 Vision is very much consistent with the priorities and goals from our five-year plan; increasing urban green space, valuing trees, and those sorts of things are very much consistent with what we’re trying to achieve. The whole way that the 202020 Vision is established as volunteer membership – people wanting to really get involved and being behind a push to make change across the whole of our country – really appeals to us. We’re able to use that to provide the learnings and the case studies to our member councils, and we’re also able to utilise the 202020 Vision to promote the good work that our councils are doing across the region.”
The structural nature of the Alliance allows a deeper focus on relationships with its council members and partner organisations; their funding is provided through both sectors of Local Land Services, and they have also received assistance through projects and programs through a variety of local governments and organisations. “We rely heavily on developing those relationships within that inner circle,” says Callan. “We also have some significant relationships and memberships. As well as the 202020 Vision, we’re members of Stormwater New South Wales, the Cooperative Research Centre for Water Sensitive Cities, and The Splash Network – a group of various government agencies out of Sydney including local government and state government agencies, all about combatting climate change through the utilisation of water sensitive urban design initiatives. So, all of those networks help us to provide our members with the best current practice – information, case studies, all those sorts of things – and then we also partner with a lot of agencies to put on training, workshops, and building events in those capacities; groups such as Landcare, the Invasive Animals Cooperative Research Centre, the Institute of Public Works Engineering Australasia, the Office of Environment and Heritage, the Great Eastern Ranges Initiative and Taronga Western Plains Zoo, just to name a few.”
The main factor within the industry that will have a direct effect on the Environment and Waterways Alliance is the process for both approved and pending council amalgamations; however, Callan remains confident in the Alliance’s strategy to avoid any further setbacks as a result. “It’s really created a lot of uncertainty in what we’re doing because some of the councils have this sort of hanging over their heads in a time of instability, and that instability flows onto us,” he says. “So, rather than put out three-year membership agreements, which we would have done at this time, we’ve extended our membership by one-year terms. It’s certainly had a big effect on what we’re doing. It’s something that we are considering day-to-day but, at the same time, our history is really one of evolution, changing, and meeting the demands and the needs of our members. While we’re aware of the risks associated, we’re not fearful of it, and we’re very confident that we’ll come out the other side in a really strong situation. But, it certainly is a stand out issue that is affecting our Alliance.”
Over the next 12 months, Callan hopes that the amalgamation process will not have a large effect on the productivity of the Alliance, and they are still able to maintain a strong, sustainable model. There are also several projects set to commence within that time, with the help of their trusted partners. “We’re putting in the effort to make sure that’s managed suitably,” he says. “We’re looking at working with Central West Local Land Services around a barking owl project – a threatened species in our region. We’ve got a couple of wetlands projects on the cards based around creating habitats for migratory birds. We have a koala project in the pipeline that we’re pretty excited about where we’ll be working closely with Central Tablelands Local Land Services to increase koala habitat as well as a big education campaign around that. We’ve got a few riparian rehabilitation projects across some urban creeks and waterways within our region, as well as the Macquarie River, which is one of the major waterways in our area. So, we’re pretty excited about the next 12 months. On top of that, we’ve already got some training lined up through our member councils, and we’re partnering with Landcare in that; it’s based around bushland management to increase wildlife outcomes. We’ve got a lot of pots on the boil at the moment, which is pretty standard for us – they’re just a few of the projects that stand out as something we’re really looking forward to delivering on this year.”