Water Journal : Water Journal November 2015
WATER NOVEMBER 2015 40 Feature Article In the 1990s Australia was recovering from recession. Water utilities and government agencies had frozen graduate intakes and the supporting consulting industry was only starting to rebuild. State debt was a major issue, compounded in some states by the collapse of major nancial institutions. The 1990s also saw an increasing awareness of environmental impacts due to urbanisation and the need to invest in improving the quality of air, land, waterways and marine environments. In South Australia in particular, the 1990s saw the water industry, State Government and agricultural regions collaborate to develop water reuse and irrigation schemes, which have delivered great outcomes to the post-recession circumstances. The Virginia and Willunga Basin schemes strengthened two agricultural regions where water was a limiting factor to sustainable growth. The schemes increased regional productivity and export opportunities, while providing a land-based end-use for treated wastewater. Nutrients in treated wastewater were bene cial for agriculture, and their use deferred and/or removed the need for costly treatment/disposal infrastructure that would otherwise have been necessary to reduce nutrient load in the marine environment. The 1990s also saw the development of the Barossa Infrastructure project, supplying raw (not recycled) water to underpin the Barossa Valley wine region. All of these schemes were developed through partnering relationships and are now looking to expand, further increasing productivity and employment opportunities. In 2015, the infrastructure industry is still adjusting to the impact of the Global Financial Crisis, with the Australian share market still well below 2007 highs. Reduction in expenditure in the mining and, more recently, energy sectors has resulted in signi cant job losses in the consulting and contractor sectors. Cost ef ciency measures in the water industry to manage debt levels (exacerbated by response to the millennium drought) and adjust to state regulator and government pressure to minimise customer water bills has further impacted the water industry. The approaches in the 1990s to support agriculture, particularly through water reuse, are relevant today as water utilities and state governments look to manage debt/expenditure and expand revenue opportunities. Following 15 years of operation of these major reuse schemes, this article re ects on the drivers and outcomes, and explores how a similar approach today can have a major role in underpinning and growing opportunities in agriculture. The article also discusses how new schemes can support governments and utilities to manage future expenditure and environmental impacts. ESTABLISHING THE NEED FOR WATER According to Borvin Kracman, Project Director (SA Government) for the Virginia Pipeline Scheme, 1993--1999: "Sustainable water re-use schemes must be demand led. This seems obvious, but there are many examples of schemes being attempted and failing because they are promoted from the supply side with little, if any, consideration let alone acceptable resolution of the supply side risks." For a reuse scheme to be successful, it is important to identify either a bene cial use where there is an existing need, or a de nable opportunity that can only be realised with more water. This includes: • Constrained existing groundwater supplies; • Existing irrigation supplies that are subject to reduction or shut-off during drought; • Existing supply options that are cost prohibitive for future investment. One of the challenges of the 1990s schemes was to capture the needs of the existing growers and to understand the potential that water reuse could bring to the region. The key water need for growers in the Virginia horticulture region in the early 1990s was to nd a way past the limitations of its groundwater supply. The SA Government, in discussion with grower groups, had to determine the expected 'then-current' take-up of water and realistic future demand should they have access to a sustainable alternative supply. Borvin continued: "Risks such as supply variability, water quality variability and the regulatory regime all need to be identi ed and adequately managed by the supplier or co-managed by the supplier and users. Expecting growers alone to shoulder these risks as well as the many other risks that are inherent in the primary production of commodities is unlikely to lead to a successful water re-use project." The Willunga Basin scheme also capitalised on the proximity to a major wastewater treatment plant, signi cant constraints in the groundwater supply, and requirements for environmental improvement in ef uent discharge to the Gulf St Vincent. A 2013 study of the scheme by the Institute of Sustainable Futures discussed how the scheme was rst conceptualised in the mid- 1990s, when local irrigators sought an alternative to the increasingly regulated and scarce existing groundwater supply. Signi cantly, there was plenty of land to expand grape production, but the lack of a secure water supply was preventing regional investment. The Willunga Basin scheme was predominantly grower-led, but was able to leverage off much of the work of government WATER REUSE SUPPORTING AGRIBUSINESS: LEARNING FROM OUR SUCCESSES IN THE 1990S Approaches in the 1990s to support agriculture through water reuse are just as relevant today, writes Chris Hewitson from Inside Infrastructure. This article explores how a similar strategy today can underpin and grow a range of opportunities.
Water Journal September 2015
Current Feb 2016