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Water Corporation’s Environmental Management System – Driving Improved Compliance

Rod Brooks1 and Chris Cutress2


The Water Corporation is responsible for compliance with over 2,500 individual environmental legal and other compliance obligations, including conditions imposed by licences, permits, works approvals, various Ministers for Environment (State and Federal), agreements and memoranda of understanding. A comprehensive compliance evaluation process is required to satisfy internal and external scrutiny. This includes the capture and recording of compliance obligations, assignment of responsibility for compliance, monitoring of compliance, and finally internal and external audit of compliance activities. The Water Corporation has developed a robust process to capture compliance obligations, and through a combination of effort from our Environment Branch, Regional operators and Project Managers, we ensure our environmental legal and other requirements are complied with and are audited at appropriate intervals. Non-compliance with environmental legal and other requirements is reported to our Executive, with serious breaches such as DEC notifiable incidents reported to the Economic Regulation Authority (ERA), which issues our operating licence. Our Corporate EMS drives this process, and ensures that non-compliance with environmental legal and other requirements is captured in a central repository, corrective and preventive actions assigned and appropriate follow-up undertaken.

Key Words

Environmental Management System; Compliance; Licence; Works Approval; Ministerial Condition; Non-compliance; Corrective and Preventive Actions.


The Water Corporation’s purpose is to provide sustainable water services to make Western Australia a great place to live and invest. We do this by providing world-class water and wastewater services to thousands of households, businesses and farms in towns and communities spread over 2.5 million square kilometres. We also maintain drainage and irrigation services for both residential and commercial properties (Water Corporation Annual Report, 2008).

This involves the management of 102 wastewater treatment plants, 259 water treatment plants, 60 recycled water schemes, 1,086 wastewater pump stations with 2,500 employees, in order to deliver 350 million litres of water, and convey and treat 148 million litres of wastewater each year.

To ensure that this occurs within the requirements of legislation, the state environmental regulator (Department of Environment and Conservation - DEC) has imposed 78 environmental operating licences and 25 sets of Ministerial conditions, adding up to more than 2,500 individual compliance obligations. In addition there are 43 items of environmental legislation that apply and a number of self-imposed environmental obligations to which the Corporation subscribes.

The Water Corporation has developed a Corporate Environmental Management System (Corporate EMS) that ensures environmental legal and other requirements are effectively captured and recorded, with responsibility for compliance clearly assigned, and monitoring activities undertaken according to schedule. Corrective and preventive actions resulting from non-conformances are addressed using a centralised system, with DEC notifiable non-compliances reported to senior management, the DEC and the ERA.


A multi-faceted approach is used in delivering improved environmental compliance, as follows:

Capture, record and communicate environmental compliance obligations;

Monitor environmental compliance obligations;

Internal audit of compliance obligations; and

Initiate corrective and preventive actions resulting from non-compliance.

Capturing, Recording and Communicating Environmental Compliance Obligations

The Water Corporation’s commitment to compliance with its environmental obligations is stated in its Environmental Policy which is communicated to every employee.

Our significant capital budget (over $1.1 billion for 2009/10), means that at any one time there are numerous infrastructure projects occurring throughout the State. Because of this, we are a major focus of the environmental regulators (DEC and EPA), as well as the community in general. Some of our projects have the potential to impact significant environmental values, and are therefore subject to formal assessment at State (and sometimes Federal) level. Various approvals issued from multiple regulators means there is a large number of compliance obligations.

Projects that involve constructing an asset that is a “prescribed premises” under Part V of the Environmental Protection Act 1986 require a works approval, and may include a large number of other approvals (e.g., vegetation clearing permits, dangerous goods licences, poisons permits, ‘bed and banks’ permits, etc). These are statutory obligations, and as such compliance with their conditions is mandatory. Non-compliance can lead to significant sanctions, including fines and imprisonment.

Sometimes the Water Corporation will commit to undertake actions above and beyond what is required to meet legislative requirements. An example is high-ratio offsetting to facilitate vegetation clearing in environmentally sensitive areas. These commitments or obligations also need to be captured, actioned and monitored.

Most statutory environmental approvals are obtained by our Environmental Approvals Section, whose procedural documentation outlines the process of entering approval conditions into our Regulatory Compliance Management System (RCMS).

RCMS is a SAP-based software tool that stores individual conditions of approval, and ensures that responsibility for each condition is assigned to an individual organisational position. This position has accountability for compliance with that condition, including the provision of objective evidence that compliance has occurred (e.g., checklists, reports, emails, photographs etc).

Additionally, Water Corporation maintains a database of various general environmental compliance obligations, which is made available through our intranet. We track regulatory changes to this legislation by subscribing to several legal update services (Lawlex, EnviroLaw and State Law Publisher), and these amendments are transferred into the database in accordance with procedures. New staff are made aware of our environmental obligations as part of the on-line environmental awareness training they receive during induction while all staff receive this training as a refresher each two years. Customised training for areas such as asset creation is currently being developed. As well, a general announcement is made to the organisation advising of the environmental regulatory changes, and the universal need to update impacted documentation and training materials.

Monitoring Environmental Compliance Obligations

The RCMS includes features which allow the Environment Branch to quickly and accurately monitor compliance against our numerous compliance obligations. This includes a “traffic light” indicator, on each condition, which signifies if a condition needs to be met in the near future (orange) or is overdue for action (red) (see Figure 1).

An orange condition will trigger our RCMS Officer to communicate with the “responsible officer”, requesting that the condition be complied with as soon as possible. A red condition triggers a non-compliance response, which includes putting in place corrective or preventive actions.

Figure 1 Traffic light view within the Regulatory Conditions Management System

The Water Corporation maintains a number of compliance performance indicators, which are reported by various operational groups, via the Environment Branch, then to Senior Management. This is achieved through our Business Performance Reporting system (BPR).

Figure 2 The Business Performance Reporting System monitors compliance with significant obligations.

Where non-compliance is identified, the BPR requires a narrative of the non-compliance including the corrective or preventive actions (see Figure 2).

Internal Audit of Compliance Obligations

Internal auditing of our compliance obligations is an integral part of the Water Corporation’s compliance program. Using a risk based approach, suitably qualified and experienced staff from our Environment Branch audit our 2,500 conditions at facilities and projects throughout the state to determine the level of compliance with obligations. Each audit report includes an audit table which summarises the conditions of approval together with the level of compliance.

Conformance with the internal audit schedule is monitored as a Corporate EMS performance indicator, and reported to the Environment Process Executive on a quarterly basis.

Corrective and Preventive Actions resulting from Non-Compliance

When a non-compliance with environmental compliance obligations occurs, details of the non-compliance are entered into our Corporate Improvement System (CIS). This application is available to all staff from our intranet, and enforces specific business rules for storing information. That is, once the non-compliance is entered, it must be ‘evaluated’ (including a ‘root cause analysis’), and then specific tasks must be assigned to action the non-compliance. The resulting record is then stored within the system, and can be referenced again in the future.

Close-out of corrective or preventive actions is reported from each business unit of the organisation as a Corporate EMS performance indicator. These performance indicators are reported to our Environment Process Executive on a quarterly basis and to our Corporate Executive on a half-yearly basis.


The Corporate EMS was implemented in 2007 and achieved certification to ISO 14001 in January 2008. Since implementation, we have maintained levels of between 85% and 100% compliance with our 78 environmental operating licences and 25 sets of Ministerial conditions. (See Figure 3).

Figure 3 Percentage compliance with Licence and Ministerial conditions July 2007 to June 2009

Analysis of our Corporate Improvement System shows that before 2008, identified non-compliances with licences and Ministerial conditions were not reported in this system (they were being stored in various spreadsheets throughout the organisation). Since implementation of the Corporate EMS all non-conformance with environmental compliance obligations are reported and actioned from the centralised CIS.

It is evident that due to greater scrutiny applied by the Corporate EMS, more non-compliances are being identified. What is important is that these non-compliances are now being handled using a consistent method, which is a result of implementing a certified Corporate EMS.


The Water Corporation’s compliance with environmental legal and other requirements is driven by the processes and rigour of the Corporate EMS. With so many compliance obligations to keep on top of, we have elected to automate some of the processes, including monitoring and reporting compliance. Our compliance processes rely on employees and contractors being responsible for conforming to environmental compliance obligations, with the Environmental Process Manager being accountable for environmental compliance. This requires that Environment Branch set compliance processes for the organisation, including capturing and recording compliance obligations, assignment of responsibility for compliance, monitoring of compliance, and finally internal and external audit of compliance activities. Where non-compliance is identified, corrective and preventive actions are initiated, which includes reporting to appropriate parties (internal and external), evaluation, action and follow up.


Water Corporation Annual Report 2008, Water Corporation.

Water Corporation Environmental Policy, 2008.

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