The capital's clean drinking water has long been the envy of other Australians, but the resource most Canberrans take for granted could be under threat.
Climate change, burned out cars, feral animals and a "no man's land" of jurisdictions: these are the risks to Canberra's drinking water identified by a new report from Canberra's Environment Commissioner.
Coincidently, when commissioner Kate Auty handed her report to Environment Minister Mick Gentleman in November, it was the same day the 200-hectare Pierces Creek blaze started from a car fire in the backwoods of the capital, dangerously close to the Cotter catchment.
If the minister needed proof about the urgency of the report, which recommended quicker action on abandoned cars, there it was.
"It was that very afternoon, it was almost like somebody had said 'Enter stage left': here's this report and here's this fire," Professor Auty said.
The report has made five recommendations, which include a constant funding stream for managing the catchment, meeting the overdue recommendations made in a 2015 Auditor-General's report on the Cotter, and bringing in legislation to quickly remove abandoned cars in the catchment.
The commissioner warned the Cotter risked becoming unusable if the recommendations in the report, The Heroic and the Dammed, aren't met.
While bombed-out cars aren't the biggest problem in Professor Auty's report, they captured a lot of what it's aimed at: Who's in charge? How do you weigh up the benefit of public access with the need to protect our water? And who will monitor the recovery over the long term?
Another of the co-authors, Caitlin Roy, points out the fire that started at Pierces Creek was technically outside the jurisdiction of the park rangers who manage the Lower Cotter catchment.
"That is another issue on to itself, that is a whole patch of no-man's land adjacent to the water catchment," Ms Roy said.
The Cotter isn't Canberra's only drinking water supply. Icon Water has Googong, but Cotter is its first choice.
It's a vulnerable, recovering landscape that was once mostly commercial pine plantations before being devastated by the 2003 bushfires.
Ms Roy said plantation staff manage the remaining pine forests "within an inch of their life" but pine wilding are littered across the catchment, providing huge fuel for potential fires.
Professor Auty said the "heroic" in the report's title refers to the impossible task of restoring the Cotter to a completely native landscape.
But the federal government isn't coming to help, and neither is NSW, even though Queanbeyan relies on the Cotter catchment for its water too.
Co-author Kirilly Dickson said Queanbeyan pays for the Cotter's water.
"Just like any other citizen in Canberra, albeit a bulk water charge," Ms Dickson said.
Overall, the three authors of the report said the recommendations could be acted on between now and inside two years.
The report's recommendations include centralising the existing patchwork of data monitoring the lake and making sure everyone is working to one plan - the government's reserve management plan - overseen by one group.
"They've got all these actions [in the management plan] and there's no monitoring framework; there's no way to gauge whether there's been improvements or not," Ms Roy said.
The report recommends meeting the three outstanding recommendations from the auditor general's report on the catchment, handed to the government in 2015 and now two years overdue, which include having a potable water standard for the waterways that feed the reservoir.
Professor Auty points to another problem: when things go pear shaped in the Cotter, the resources are there but that's often too late and they dry up soon after any disaster.
"While [the catchment is] there and people are enjoying it and there's no fires and the water is alright, everybody thinks we don't need to do anything," Professor Auty said.
"We get complacent. I'm not saying government is or the community is, we all do it, it's a human condition.
"The ad hoc responsive reaction is not what's needed here."
Icon Water collects a surcharge, the Water Abstraction Charge, from every Canberran's water bill to help manage water supplies.
Professor Auty and her team found the revenue collected outnumbered what was spent on water projects.
They believe that charge could be the secure, long-term funding the catchment needs with the last ACT budget predicting it would raise the government more than $90 million over the next three years.
"The water abstraction charge has been around for a fair while and essentially it was introduced as a means of gathering money for the cost of managing land associated with water supply," Ms Dickson
Ms Roy said the charge just goes into consolidated government revenue.
"There's no trail of where it ends up being spent," Ms Roy.
The commissioner also wants to see laws introduced that would mean cars found abandoned in the catchment would have to be removed immediately before they can be set alight, plus laws banning cars from certain sections of the catchment.
But the commissioner said clamping down on public access is about weighing up allowing Canberrans to form a connection with the catchment and keeping Canberrans' drinking water secure.
"It differs in catchments across the country in that it does have recreational values," Professor Auty said.
"It's a really important part of people understanding the environment too. You wouldn't say to Canberrans that they'd have to stop."
Ms Roy said because the huge area of land that makes up the Cotter - including 300 kilometres of road - was monitored by limited parks staff, the community were the eyes and ears when it came to illegal activity.
Two of the more critical risks to the Cotter are climate change and feral animals.
"Apart from feral children burning out cars there's feral pigs and deer and there's a whole lot of issues about weeds and pests," Professor Auty said.
Ms Dickson said hard-hoofed animals - including horses - defecating, breeding and dying near the reservoir would increase the risk of contamination.
But what will make it all worse is climate change.
"As we go into a changed climate we're getting drier ground, less coverage so the impact of these animals in a water supply catchment is going to be increased," Ms Dickson said.
As Canberra's population grows - modelling suggests by more than half-a-million people inside the decade - the demand for clean water grows and the Cotter will be under increased pressure.
"It's not very sexy to talk to people about something that they see they just turn on the tap and water comes out," Professor Auty said.
"As long as we're taking it for granted we're not thinking about what we need to do to make sure the provision continues."