Smarter Cleaner Sydney Harbour

Sydney Coastal Councils Group (SCCG) and Parramatta River Catchment Group (PRCG) are partnering with CSIRO and the Sydney Olympic Park Authority (SOPA) on an innovative project that applies smart technology to help reduce stormwater pollution entering Sydney Harbour. Five councils are involved in this trial: Northern Beaches, Woollahra, Blacktown, City of Parramatta and Canterbury-Bankstown.

Channel 7 recently featured the Smarter Cleaner Sydney Harbour. Watch it here!

Issues with stormwater pollution and its management

Stormwater pollution is a significant problem for coastal waterways and the wider marine estate.  Pollutants such as litter and sediment are washed off urban areas during rainfall and conveyed via the stormwater drainage network to receiving waterways.  This pollution is not only unsightly but a threat to marine life and public health.

Trapped litter in Duck Creek, Granville (Source: SCCG)

A community survey conducted as part of the development of the NSW Marine Estate Management Strategy identified stormwater as the greatest threat to the marine estate.  Similarly, stormwater pollution was identified as the highest priority threat to Sydney Harbour as part of the scoping of the Greater Sydney Harbour Coastal Management Program.

This problem has long been acknowledged.  In response, local councils and other stormwater managers have for many decades installed gross pollutant traps (GPTs) on the stormwater network to trap pollutants before they reach the waterways.  There are several thousand GPTs now in operation across Sydney and more continue to be installed.

Trash rack style GPT (Source: Stormwater NSW (2020), Guidelines for the maintenance of stormwater treatment measures)

Stormwater treatment technology has evolved considerably in this time.  GPT maintenance practices, however, continue to rely on physical inspections and fixed schedules that determine when GPTs are cleaned, irrespective of how full the GPT actually is.  That is, cleaning may occur before the unit is full, leading to higher maintenance costs, or may occur after the unit is full, meaning pollution may have bypassed the GPT.

Cleaning of a below-ground GPT (Source: Stormwater NSW (2020), Guidelines for the maintenance of stormwater treatment measures)

Improving GPT maintenance practice through smart technology

There is now an opportunity to employ the use of smart technology such as smart sensors, internet of things, digital twins and artificial intelligence (AI), to improve GPT maintenance practices.

Specifically, CSIRO has developed smart, low-cost AI-connected sensors that can be installed inside GPTs to determine when GPTs are approaching capacity and require cleaning.  This will help optimize GPT maintenance regimes, reduce the risk of pollution bypassing the GPT and reduce work, health and safety risks associated with physical inspection.

Sensor attached to stormwater pit insert in the Clarence Plains Rivulet, Hobart (Source: CSIRO Marine Debris Team)

Camera attached to bridge in the Northern Beaches Council

In addition, AI-connected cameras can be installed over stormwater channels to monitor and estimate the amount of floating litter conveyed to receiving waterways.  This will assist in catchment-based stormwater planning by, for example, quantifying pollutant loads, identifying pollutant hotspots within the catchment and evaluating the effectiveness of existing GPTs.

A partnership approach

After a successful initial trial of smart technology in Hobart, CSIRO is partnering with SCCG and PRCG to conduct a larger trial of this technology in Sydney.  This involves the installation of up to about 80 sensors and cameras on GPTs and waterways across Sydney Olympic Park and seven local government areas within the Greater Sydney Harbour catchment, as well as the development of a web-based analysis, decision support and reporting tool.

The project is supported through the NSW Smart Places Acceleration Program with a $545,000 grant provided by the NSW Digital Restart Fund.  SOPA is acting as the NSW state agency co-partner on this project given Sydney Olympic Park has one of the highest concentrations of GPTs in Sydney and the use of smart technology to improve asset management and reduce environmental impact aligns well with SOPA’s strategic direction.

Rain in Sydney Olympic Park (Source: Flickr user Alexey licensed under CC by 2.0)

Project Update

The project commenced in December 2022 and is expected to be completed in early 2024.  The outcomes of the project will be considered in the preparation of the Greater Sydney Harbour Coastal Management Program as well as the implementation of the Greater Sydney Harbour Regional Litter Prevention Strategy.  If the trial is successful, opportunities will be explored for expanding the application of smart technologies to other councils within the Greater Sydney Harbour catchment, and beyond.

Greater Sydney Harbour Coastal Management Program

Watch our education video to find out more about the Greater Sydney Harbour Coastal Management Program (GSHCMP) and how it can help improve catchment and waterway health for our iconic Harbour.


Project Summary and Progress 

Twenty councils within the Greater Sydney Harbour catchment are collaborating with state agencies to develop a whole-of-system Coastal Management Program for Greater Sydney Harbour. The SCCG is project managing the delivery of this CMP.

Greater Sydney Harbour Coastal Management Program Stage 1 Scoping Study identified urban stormwater discharge and coastal inundation with sea level rise as high priority threats. The Sydney Harbour Water Quality Improvement Plan has also been completed and provides a strong base for the development of the GSHCMP.

To assess threats posed by stormwater and coastal inundation, a Stage 2 investigation was recently completed to determine risks across all catchments feeding the Harbour and steps needed to mitigate those risks. The aim is to provide for coordinated action by councils, in partnership with state agencies and the community, to facilitate integrated waterway health management for the entire Greater Sydney Harbour system.

The Stage 2 investigation comprised of the delivery of the following inter-related studies and reports:

  • Study 1 investigated the effectiveness of stormwater management practice and climate change planning across 20 councils in the Greater Sydney Harbour
  • Study 2 identified council needs and management options for addressing stormwater discharge, waterway health and coastal inundation
  • Study 3 reviewed options for establishing a governance and sustainable funding structure that would ensure the long-term sustainable health of the catchment
  • Delivery of a series of workshops with technical experts and councils on the topic of water quality, climate change and catchment initiatives. A copy of the technical report is available on request.

The next stage, Stage 3, involves the development and evaluation of potential management options that can address those issues identified in Stage 2 in an integrated and strategic manner.

This project is supported by the NSW Government’s Coastal and Estuary Grant Program – Planning Stream.

Picture of Prof. Bruce Thom (Chair) actively engaging with stakeholders and experts in Sydney (Photo credit: Sydney Water).


Purpose of a Coastal Management Program  

Under the Coastal Management Act 2016 (CM Act) councils may prepare Coastal Management Programs (CMPs) which set out the long-term strategy for the coordinated management of the coast, with a focus on achieving the objects and objectives of the CM Act.

CMPs identify coastal management issues in the area, the actions required to address these issues, and how and when those actions will be implemented. They detail costs and proposed cost-sharing arrangements and other viable funding mechanisms.

The CM Act (and other relevant legislation) establishes specific roles and responsibilities for relevant Ministers, the NSW Coastal Council, public authorities and local councils, as well as providing opportunities for communities to participate when preparing and implementing a CMP.

You can find out more detailed information about Catchment Management Programs here.


The importance of the Greater Sydney Harbour 

Greater Sydney Harbour is one of the world’s greatest harbours and as such is a state, national and global asset. It stretches from its upper tidal limits on the Parramatta River downstream to the ocean entrance between North and South Head. Its catchments are the home of 3.07 million people (projected to go to 4.35 million by 2041) and the region is responsible for around 25% of the nation’s GDP[1].

Greater Sydney Harbour is a magnet for tourists the world over and a source of great ecological diversity. Its waters are threatened by possible adverse impacts of population growth and development and potential impacts of climate change including sea-level rise and high magnitude catchment runoff.

Key features of the Greater Sydney Harbour catchment

At the centre of Australia’s largest city, the harbour is subject to intense human activity which presents coastal managers with many challenges. Understandably, developing and delivering a whole-of-catchment CMP will be a complex task with the project team currently working with 33 stakeholders to plan and deliver the GSHCMP. Buy-in and participation by all levels of government and the community is imperative to achieving a strategic and coordinated management framework for the Harbour.

The Sydney Coastal Councils Group is the project manager for the GSHCMP. It will be whole-of-catchment and encompass Sydney Harbour tidal waterways and its catchment lands.


Conceptual Model of Wet and Dry Weather Conditions 


To download, click here.

These conceptual models show the impacts of stormwater discharge into Greater Sydney Harbour under both wet and dry weather conditions. The models were developed by Sydney Water in partnership with the SCCG, PRCG and DPE project team.


The importance of working together

A single, whole-of-system Coastal Management Program is needed to facilitate coordinated and integrated management of Australia’s most iconic and important waterway.

Local councils have a central role in managing the coast. The Sydney Coastal Councils Group promotes collaboration between member councils on environmental issues relating to the urban coastal and estuarine environment. We represent nearly 1.3 million Sydneysiders with six councils adjacent to Sydney marine and estuarine environments and associated waterways.

There are a host of benefits to working together in a holistic and integrated way as part of the Sydney Coastal Councils Group – improved environmental outcomes, improved capacity to address strategic and harbour-wide issues and interest, better communication, advocacy and promotion and efficiency savings to name a few.

Please contact SCCG if you’d like to join the many benefits of being a member council.


GSH CMP Communiques

See the latest communiques circulated to partners


Sydney Harbour, Courtesy of Department of Planning and Environment

Summerama: Summer Activities Program

Summerama is a community activities program run every year during January, designed to enhance community awareness and increase the community’s interaction and connection with Sydney’s coast through fun, family orientated coastal activities.