24 August 2011 – Global water issues, such as scarcity, maintaining quality, energy and nexus, and developing the nation’s water and sanitation cannot be combated without supporting global alliances, says Tom Mollenkopf, chief executive officer  of the Australian Water Association.

Speaking to The Fifth Estate after an Australian Business Forum in Singapore he had organised last month as part of International Water Week he said the 200 delegates at the forum were keen to capitalise on business opportunities in Australia.

“The delegates saw Australia as a nation with unique challenges and experience  from which they can learn.

“Similarly, Australia needs to continue to use these international forums to highlight our intellectual property and to further encourage international relationships,” he said.

The several thousand participants at International Water Week were testament to the fact that the world’s water woes are still uppermost in the minds of researchers, policy makers and practitioners.

“We need to maintain both our local and global focuses if we are to contribute to global solutions and maintain our capability to deliver solutions for our continuing water needs at home,” he said.

“Australia’s water competence is advanced by supporting ongoing research, ensuring we maintain and grow our expertise and continue to provide opportunities  to the Australian water sector. The Australian Water Association fulfils this role by working with industry and the Australian Government.” Mr Mollenkopf said.

Mr Mollenkopf said the attendance at the conference of the Australian Parliamentary Secretary for Sustainability and Urban Water, Don Farrell was an important step as it  demonstrated government’s support for, and confidence in, the Australian water sector.

Mr Farrell launched a new publication at the conference, developed by the AWA, called Australia’s Dynamic Water Industry https://www.austrade.gov.au/ArticleDocuments/1358/Water-Innovation-Booklet.pdf.aspx

The AWA signed a memorandum of understanding with the American Water Works Association to promote further cooperation between the two countries.

Copies of AWA’s two submissions to the Productivity Commission’s Inquiry into Urban Water and to other inquiries relevant to the built environment

The final PC report will be sent to the government by 31 August this year.

PC draft report findings

The PC draft report says there is a compelling case for reform, with conflicting objectives and unclear roles and responsibilities of institutions contributing to inefficient allocation of water resources, inefficient investment, undue reliance on water restrictions and costly water conservation programs.

It noted a public perception that water provision should be treated differently from other utility services (energy, telecommunications and mail) because water is “essential for life”.

Recently the urban water sector had faced unexpected severe low water availability, growing populations and ageing assets with governments largely responding with prolonged use of severe water restrictions and large investments in desalination capacity.

But the costs to consumers and the community have been high.

Nationally, evidence from a number of sources suggested that water restrictions are likely to have cost in excess of $1billion dollars a  year from the lost value of consumption alone, the report said.

Based on modelling for Melbourne and Perth, inefficient supply augmentation could cost consumers and the community of these two cities between $3.1 to $4.2 billion over 20 years, depending on modelling assumptions. These include:

  • Gains are likely to come initially from improving the performance of institutions with respect to governance, regulation and procurement of supply and pricing, rather than trying to create a competitive market as in the electricity sector.
  • Some reforms should be adopted across all jurisdictions and regions as a priority, with other (structural) reforms assessed and implemented on a case-by-case basis.

The universal (priority) reforms relate to:

  • Clarifying that the overarching objective for policy in the sector is the provision of water, wastewater and stormwater services that maximise net benefits to the community
  • Ensuring that procurement, pricing and regulatory frameworks are aligned with the overarching objective and assigned to the appropriate organisation
  • Putting in place best practice arrangements for policy making and regulatory agencies and water utilities
  • Performance monitoring of utilities and monitoring progress on reform
  • The circumstances of each jurisdiction and region differ and there is not a “one size fits all” solution to industry structure. In addition to the universal reforms, the commission has set out:

According to the Australian Water Association there are five key water management concepts:

  • Sustainability. Practically speaking in urban areas this means better integration of water sources. To protect human health utilities have historically sourced drinking water from a remote location, provided it to customers for use and then treated and disposed of wastewater to a remote site as distant as practical from the source of water supply. However, with modern technologies it is possible to supply different qualities of water for different purposes and to recycle water. Thus, wastewater can be treated and reused as an input to industrial processes, for open space watering and for second quality (outdoor and toilet flushing) purposes in the home, through a dual pipe network
  • Water sensitive urban design seeks to integrate water management within the urban environment. Rather than trying to remove stormwater as rapidly as possible from urban areas, the modern approach is to maintain or restore creeks and streams, to build detention basis that retard flow and which can have a dual purpose (e.g. playing fields), to build soakaway zones that enable stormwater to percolate into the groundwater table and to recreate or establish new, wetlands, lakes and so on for environmental, recreational, aesthetic and pollution control proposes.
  • Co-location. Extending the water sensitive urban design concept also involves the conscious design of urban areas so that water management becomes more effective, environmentally benign and more efficient. For example, co-locating industry so that the wastewater from one can be the feedwater for another, or reducing paved areas to allow rainwater to soak away
  • Urban metabolism. A further notion is that of the modelling of urban metabolism to identify the relationships between urban services. For example, there is a strong relationship between the way in which water is used and conveyed and energy use.
  • Water conservation. CSIRO demonstrated that in Sydney, the reduction in demand for water achieved through community education, pricing, water restrictions and other measures, also led to a reduction in energy consumption.  Because along with the reduction in water consumption overall was a reduction in water consumption. Indeed the energy saved through reduced water heating was at least equivalent to the total amount of energy used to convey water to homes in the first place.