Water Journal : Water Journal February 2015
water FEBRUARY 2015 44 Feature article customer demands for more efficient operation of networks and more effective demand response, and smarter infrastructure that monitors itself and reduces the risk of inefficient renewal. The outcome is more efficient assets, higher levels of service, reduced spend and more customer choice. The modern water utility will be very different in the future. There is already an enormous amount of untapped or underutilised technology that could be implemented now to improve outcomes. The challenge for asset owners and managers is in understanding what is available and how to best employ it. Private sector service providers have an important role to play in this area. Asset owners and operators who engage them well, with a willingness to invest in innovation and technology, will reap significant benefits in terms of better levels of service and more efficient operations. Most infrastructure planning is done asset type by asset type. This has been true, too, in the water sector. We generally plan for and manage our water supply, sewerage and drainage separately. The assets are on separate layers of the GIS, the hydraulic models are separate, and often the expertise of our professionals is specialised to one discipline. Yet the water cycle is interconnected. Stormwater and wastewater are increasingly important options in the supply portfolio and can be applied where there is economic, environmental, regulatory or customer benefit. There is still widespread policy limitation on how such water can be used, but this is gradually coming into sensible public debate. Water for greening neighbourhoods is increasingly recognised for its broader health and wellbeing impact, which is changing the cost-benefit equation. The concept of “blue-green” infrastructure, supporting the creation of liveable cities in the face of population growth, urbanisation, climate change and scarce resources, is becoming more mainstream – how water is effectively used to green cities, improving health, wellness, liveability and, ultimately, urban value. The work of the CRC for Liveable Cities is important in articulating and quantifying these cross-benefits, for example the impact of green vegetation in reducing surface temperatures, dust suppression and the associated community health benefits. Complex problems such as delivering water services for liveable, healthy cities in the future will require integrated and ‘big picture’ thinking to solve them. It will take vision, leadership and partnerships to drive the change supported by innovation in planning and technology, governance and community involvement. It cannot be done by working only within existing governance boundaries. Certainly the best solutions will not be developed by the government and public sector alone. The best solutions will come from integrated thinking across multiple relevant bodies/ disciplines/market segments that bring together the public and private sectors, the policy makers, the utilities, the large corporates and the public consumers. Rural water infrastructure requires a different approach again. Australia has a comparative advantage in agricultural production. The effectiveness and efficiency of how we manage water for irrigation, agribusiness and, indeed, to support the resources sector, will have a significant impact on future productivity and prosperity. the AustrAliAn infrAstructure AgendA And the role of the privAte sector Infrastructure in Australia is enjoying its moment in the sun. It has the attention of all levels of government, the investment markets – and our best comic satirists in the brilliantly close-to-the-bone Utopia. The attention is likely to continue. At the Infrastructure Partnership Australia (IPA) Conference last September, Jim Miller, Head of Infrastructure, Utilities and Renewables at Macquarie Capital noted: “This is not a short-term change. This is a long-term secular trend.” It is so for good reason. Good infrastructure is critical to national productivity, economic growth, national competitiveness, our standard of living and the protection of the environment in which we want to live. Infrastructure Australia has estimated the so-called ‘infrastructure deficit’ at more than $80 billion3 as a starting point, just based on the number of unfunded economic infrastructure submissions received by them so far. 3 Submission to the Productivity Commission Inquiry into Public Infrastructure, Office of the National Infrastructure Coordinator, December 2013. The enlargement of Canberra’s Cotter Dam reflects the “insurance policy” approach that governments and water utilities have taken to securing important capital city water supplies to meet long-term needs in the face of increasing climate variability.
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