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Local water standards

We are proposing to seek to substitute local water quality standards

We are building an airport for Western Sydney’s long-term future and that means we are focussed on sustainability and minimising the impact of the airport on the environment.

WSI is located next to Cosgroves, Badgerys, Oaky and Duncans creeks. These creeks have poor water quality due to pre-existing local topography, geology, climatic conditions and historical land use within their respective catchments. This history means the water quality already exceeds the accepted limits in the Commonwealth Airports (Environment Protection) Regulations 1997 (AEPR). These regulations concern the management of all on-ground environmental issues, including air, soil, water, noise and chemical pollution at leased federal airports.

It is anticipated the water quality will improve during airport operations due to the controls on the airport site and rehabilitation of the WSI environmental conservation zones. To understand the improvement and to ensure our controls are working effectively we need to determine what the water quality is in the existing creek systems prior to airport operations.

Under the AEPR, WSI intends to apply for an appropriate local water quality standard for the nearby creek systems based on this preexisting water quality. This is an important step to enable WSI to accurately monitor our water discharges for any impacts to local waterways from our future operations and be held accountable for our environmental performance going forward.

Why can’t WSI improve the water quality instead of changing the standards? 

WSI has already designed and constructed a comprehensive airport-wide stormwater drainage system and is delivering environment and sustainability initiatives to help improve local water quality, including the rehabilitation of the nominated environmental conservation zones. 

However, the current water quality predates any airport operations. It is the result of historical environmental and climatic conditions and land uses that are unrelated to the airport’s construction or operations. Our application is about more accurately recording these existing conditions so we can then better monitor any impacts from our operations in the future and respond to them, as necessary. These steps will ensure greater accountability, not less. 

What are WSI’s environmental management legislative requirements at WSI? 

WSI is located on Commonwealth land. It is therefore subject to a Commonwealth legislative framework and is managed under a comprehensive environmental regulatory framework established by the AEPR. This regulatory framework applies to the management of all on-ground environmental issues, including air, soil, water, noise and chemical pollution on-airport. The Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development, Communications and the Arts is responsible for administering the legislation.

Under this legislative framework the criteria to monitor potential pollution as set out in the Schedules to the AEPR may not be appropriate to certain airports due to the sites specific climatic, topographical, geological, other local conditions. For example, the soil at an airport may contain naturally high levels of some metals or groundwater may be highly saline, resulting in potential breaches of the Schedule limits on pollutants without any airport activity taking place whatsoever. As a result,  an airport operator such as WSI may apply to the Commonwealth Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government (the Minister) for  a variation of the Schedule standards in the AEPR as they apply to the specific airport. Standards as varied are called 'local standards’.

WSI is seeking to develop local standards for some of the water quality accepted limits in Schedule 2 of the AEPR.

Local standards are not alternative standards to reduce environmental protection. They are standards which take into account the physical attributes of the specific airport site and would facilitate effective management of potential risks to water quality from airport activities.

What does the consultation process involve? 

The need for WSI to seek the development and approval of local standards for surface water and groundwater quality for the operational phase of the airport was identified in the Western Sydney Airport Environmental Impact Statement 2016 (2016 EIS).

The comprehensive process to develop, and obtain approval for, local standards is set out in Part 5, Division 1 of the AEPR.

The first step before determining appropriate local standards is for WSI to initiate consultation. This includes publicly advertising the intention to develop any local standards; and to allow interested parties 90 days from the publication of the advertisement to make written comment.

To determine the local standards, WSI must consider these written comments and also consult with:

  • relevant NSW state bodies (e.g. NSW Department of Climate Change, Energy, Environment and Water; NSW EPA; Sydney Water; Penrith City Council. Liverpool City Council)
  • the Commonwealth Department of Climate Change, Energy, Environment and Water; and
  • all persons who could be significantly affected by the proposal.
What’s the next step after the 90 days?

Following consultation and consideration of all written submissions, WSI will finalise the development of the proposed local standards for water quality on the airport site.

The development of local standards will be consistent with the Australian and New Zealand Environment and Conservation Council (ANZECC) & Agriculture and Resource Management Council of Australia and New Zealand (ARMCANZ) 2000 water quality guidelines (ANZECC 2000) for developing site specific water quality criteria.

To undertake this technical aspect of the proposal, WSI has engaged a specialist consultant with the necessary subject matter expertise to undertake the technical aspects of developing the local standards.

WSI will ensure that the results of the consultation and written submissions received will be fully considered in the development of the local standards.

What is the approval process? 

If, following consultation, WSI decides to develop appropriate local standards, we will apply to the Commonwealth Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government for determination of the application.

The application may be decided by the Minister in one of three ways, by:

  1. Granting it;
  2. Granting it subject to any condition the Minister considers appropriate; or
  3. Refusing it.
How would the new standards be implemented?

If approved, the local standards will be implemented by WSI when airport operations begin in late 2026 and after construction works are completed. This will allow WSI to accurately monitor our water discharges to local waterways from the airport operations and be held accountable for the airport’s environmental performance. Monitoring will occur at the same nominated locations within the local waterways. 

What happens if the new application is refused? 

If the local standards are not approved, it becomes very difficult for WSI to determine if any potential exceedance of a current water quality accepted limit in Schedule 2 of the AEPR is the result of operational airport activities, and subsequently taking appropriate actions to address the matter, or if it is simply reflecting the normal background levels due to factors such as local geology. This will reduce the overall effectiveness of WSI’s  management plans and systems in improving the water quality of the local creeks and the broader downstream catchments.

How long does this whole process take?

The timeframe for the development of any local standards is largely determined by  the AEPR. This includes the 90-day period for seeking written submissions and consultation with the identified stakeholders and a  30-day period within which the Ministerial decision on the application is required. 

The 90-day period for advertising and consultation began on 31 May 2024.

Submissions are welcome by Thursday, 29 August 2024. It is important to note that, if approved, the local standards will come into effect when the airport becomes operational in 2026.

You are welcome to read more about the technical information about the local standards. Alternatively, this information is also available to read at the following locations

Western Sydney International Airport Experience Centre
100 Eaton Road Luddenham NSW 2745

1800 972 972

Hours: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday 10 am to 4 pm.

Closed on Thursday, Friday and public holidays.

Western Sydney Airport head office

Level 3, 45 Scott Street Liverpool NSW 2170

1800 972 972

Hours: Monday to Friday 9 am to 5 pm. 

For further information, please contact: WSI Environment and Sustainability team