Water Journal : Current May 2017
www.awa.asn.au 88 Water’s future IF YOU LOOK AT THE OCEAN AROUND AUSTRALIA AS AN IMPAIRED SOURCE OF WATER, THERE’S PLENTY THERE. WE HAVE PLENTY OF SUNSHINE, PLENTY OF COASTLINE... PUT ALL THOSE THINGS TOGETHER, AND YOU START TO SEE MASSIVE OPPORTUNITIES. NEIL PALMER NEIL PALMER CEO FUTURE WATER COOPERATIVE RESEARCH CENTRE Australia is a country surrounded by an impaired water source. So why aren’t we global leaders in recycled water and desalination technology? There is immense potential for the water industry, particularly as it relates to use of desalinated water. Two new projects spring to mind to illustrate this. One is the Northern Adelaide irrigation scheme, which would take brackish treated water from Bolivar, the biggest wastewater treatment plant in Adelaide. The proposal is to construct large, high-tech greenhouses and desalinate the water to use it. The scale is immense, but the opportunity is there with an export focus to our neighbours in Asia, India and the Middle East. What they want is a reliable supply and quality they can depend on. It’s a pretty secured market because people always have to eat. Projects like this also create a lot of opportunities for employment and economic development, and I think that’s the reward for investing in this area. Another is the Wellington Dam in Western Australia, which is WA’s second largest dam and one of the most productive in the southwest. But it’s brackish, so a private consortium is working with the WA government to prevent salt water from coming into the dam to improve the water quality and make it usable for high-value agriculture. These are just a couple of examples, but I think it fits into the whole spectrum of strategic planning for declining fresh water resources through climate change, coupled with increasing demand because of population growth and development. When you look 10, 15, 20 years ahead, the challenges that we face are only going to be multiplied. We’ve got to be on the front foot to have better water treatment methods to be able to produce fresh water out of salt water and other impaired sources such as recycled water. If you look at the ocean around Australia as an impaired source of water, there’s no shortage. We have plenty of sunshine, plenty of coastline ... put all those things together, and you start to see massive opportunities. We ought to be world leaders in these things, not following places like Singapore, the Netherlands and Canada. That’s part of our challenge – to increase our innovation, our effort and ability of local firms to become exporters of water technology, not just consumers of it. Australian water is state managed with some federal input, and therefore we have a staggered approach to water strategy and policy. If I’m being honest, it could be done a lot better. The duplication and inefficiency of state-based water management costs us lots of money. It’s a similar story with Australian water treatment technology. It’s a pity that we have cases of domestic companies developing really innovative products, but then an international group seizes the opportunity and buys them. There are signs this is changing, but I think we suffer from a branch office mentality – ‘We’re only Australia, people overseas are better at this kind of thing’. It’s going to take the government, private sector, and Australian entrepreneurs and venture capitalists working together to keep some of the ownership for innovations here, and allow us to enter international markets and implement water innovations, rather than the other way around. What do you think are water’s biggest issues? Join us at Ozwater’17 for a workshop hosted by the Association, WSAA and the Productivity Commission about the water resources inquiry (see page 128). Or head online and have your say on the Association’s Facebook or LinkedIn pages. What’s changing now is that the government sees it as important that Australia integrates into the Asian economy and that water is fundamental to developing economies. Through its aid program and the Australian Water Partnership, it is encouraging domestic companies and institutions to engage in those regions on water issues under the concept of aid-for-trade or economic diplomacy. We need to develop more programs that are specifically designed to facilitate that type of engagement. My future wish is that in 30 years’ time the Australian water industry and university sector will be a vibrant and innovative service industry to the Asia-Pacific region.
Current Feb 2017
Current August 2017