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Urban water can have an impact on our local waterways, wetlands,
and ultimately, the Great Barrier Reef.


‘Urban water’ is generally understood to be water associated with municipal, residential, commercial, and industrial activity in urban areas. It includes stormwater runoff and wastewater discharge.

In Townsville, our local council, local industry and business, and the wider community all have roles to play in understanding and responding to the dynamics and effects of urban water.

While every year our Partnership produces its annual water health report card to score regional water catchment quality and conditions, Townsville’s urban water management practices are also periodically assessed and rated.

The system through which these management efforts are reviewed is the Urban Water Stewardship Framework (UWSF).

The Framework rates levels of urban water quality management practices. It was developed by the Department of Environment and Science (DES) as part of the Reef 2050 Water Quality Improvement Plan.

We’re applying the Framework in Townsville

Between 2020 and 2021, the UWSF assessment method was applied with experts from Townsville City Council, the Urban Development Institute of Australia, and DES, to rate and assess 48 stormwater and 17 sewage treatment activities across Townsville.

Overall urban water management for the Townsville City Council local government area was rated as C level practice, equating to meeting minimum standards and a moderate risk to water quality.

In 2023 we’re revisiting the Framework to determine where Townsville stands regarding urban water stewardship today.

We’re investigating how far we’ve come, what gaps exist, and what actions might contribute to improvement. Management practice levels need to improve to at least B level (current best practice) to demonstrate ‘stewardship’. Final results will be released with our next Report Card.

Sources of urban water pollution

Pollutants enter water environments from two main types of sources: point and diffuse:

Point source pollution comes from a single, identifiable source, such as a pipe or a drain where pollutants, such as litter and nutrients, are discharged.

Diffuse sources of pollution are widespread. Pollutants enter waterways over a wide area and are not easily attributed to a single source. In urban areas, rainfall run-off as stormwater is one of the major non-point sources of pollution impacting the water quality of waterways and bays. Stormwater from urban and street surfaces can be contaminated with car oil, dust, animal faeces, fertilisers, and soil and sediment run-off from construction sites, and in industrial areas can contains more toxicants and chemicals.

Townsville’s past management successes
(A- B grades) include:

  • 100% of biosolids from sewage treatment plants are recycled, including from Magnetic Island.
  • Council collaborates with a wide range of organisations and contributes to world-leading research on sewage discharge in the receiving environment.
  • Citizen Science monitoring programs and community groups are championed.
  • Litter reduction is a priority with numerous projects and campaigns underway.

Areas previously identified for improvement
(C-D grades) include:

  • Improve the operation and maintenance of sewage and stormwater infrastructure to help improve water quality in the receiving environment.
  • Improve erosion and sediment control compliance in new urban developments to minimise sediment inputs into waterways.
  • Improve collaboration within Council and with other land users to provide better whole of catchment solutions.