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New report highlights gaps and question marks over water supply & safety in regional and rural SA

The South Australian Council of Social Service (SACOSS) is releasing a new report (Falling through the gaps) that casts a light on the issue of access to safe, secure and reliable drinking water services in regional and remote South Australia. It also provides practical solutions that can bring real change, to ensure that communities in these areas can have this fundamental need met. SACOSS is calling for action on this critical area.

SACOSS CEO Ross Womersley has welcomed the report's insights into the realities of water service provision in rural and regional South Australia, and some of the key challenges being faced. The Falling through the gaps report is the result of work undertaken by water policy consultants Aither, who SACOSS engaged to identify practical recommendations and actions to improve drinking water services for those living in regional and remote South Australia.

"It has long been clear that something needs to be done about access to safe, affordable and reliable drinking water services for people living in regional and remote communities in South Australia. The situation currently being faced in some communities is simply not ok. We can do better than this, and we must," stated Mr Womersley.  

The United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals have a specific goal relating to water, to 'ensure access to water and sanitation for all'. At an aggregate level Australia meets drinking water targets, but the reality is that many smaller regional and remote communities across Australia do not have reliable access to safe water services.

Key findings and points made in the 'Falling through the gaps' report include that:

  • Delivery of basic water services is recognised internationally as a fundamental pillar of social, economic and cultural wellbeing.
  • Regional and remote Australian communities face specific challenges when it comes to the provision of water services.
  • Recent droughts, bushfires and the impacts of COVID-19 have brought the difference of service levels between major cities and regional and remote communities into contrast.
  • The recent Productivity Commission inquiry into water reform (draft report) recommends that State and Territory Governments develop a definition of, and commit to ensuring access to, a basic level of service for each community in their jurisdiction.
  • Responsibility for water management in South Australia is distributed across a number of government agencies and stakeholders and various pieces of legislation. This complexity adds to confusion in leadership and a lack of direction and accountability.

"One of the problems that has been highlighted in this report, is that there is no one clear source of information or understanding about what is going on. Different organisations hold different pieces of the picture, but it is fragmented and incomplete," stated Mr Womersley.

"As a result, no-one in or out of government knows or understands the magnitude of the problem. So there is a tendency to short-term and sometimes perhaps shortsighted solutions to individual problems where they flare up. It's unclear what is an isolated issue and what may be more wide-ranging. The report finds that this contributes to a lack of responsibility and coordinated action.

"The good news is that the work that has been done with this report, which also builds on previous work undertaken in this space, gives us some clear steps to take to fix drinking water supply for people living in regional and remote SA communities. SACOSS is calling for the government to:

  • Undertake a state-wide stocktake of current water supply arrangements to townships and communities (including remote Indigenous communities). This stocktake should consider drinking water security of supply, quality, governance and service delivery arrangements and costs, and look at delivery from the source to the household.
  • Develop a policy that outlines a basic level of safe and reliable water services for all South Australian towns and communities.
  • Undertake water security planning in regional and remote communities.
  • Conduct a public review investigating the merits of broadening the application of the Community Service Obligations (CSOs) to all water service providers.

"We know that the Productivity Commission in its draft report has already made a recommendation for states and territories to step up with a commitment to ensuring access to a basic level of safe and reliable water for regional and remote communities. Let's get ahead and see SA lead the way on this. It's the right thing to do for our regional communities, and the right thing to do for our state."


The Falling through the gaps report  was prepared for SACOSS by water policy consultants Aither, who were engaged by SACOSS to identify practical recommendations and actions to improve drinking water services for those living in regional and remote South Australia. Although its focus is South Australia, it also has broader relevance, particularly in the context of the Productivity Commission’s recent draft report for the National Water Reform inquiry, to which SACOSS made a submission, and gave evidence in March this year. The Falling through the gaps report follows two publications SACOSS released last year: a Scoping Study on Water Issues in Remote Aboriginal Communities, and a discussion paper: Towards equitable access to clean water and sanitation for all South Australians. 

Access the report here

19 May 2021

Media enquiries:
Eva O'Driscoll, Communications Coordinator:
8305 4227 / eva@sacoss.org.au

Published Date: 
Wednesday, 19 May 2021