Water Journal : Water Journal December 2012
special report 46 DECEMBER 2012 water feature articles The 2012 State of the Water Sector Report, based on analysis of a survey of almost 2,000 water industry professionals, was released at the National Water Leadership Summit held in Canberra on 1 November, 2012. This is the second time AWA and its partner, Deloitte, have surveyed the industry to identify key issues facing the sector, and participants’ attitudes towards them. According to AWA Chief Executive, Tom Mollenkopf, and Michael Rath, national leader of Deloitte’s Energy and Water practices and lead partner of the Energy, Infrastructure and Utilities Consulting practice, the Survey has collected the views of those who best understand the sector. “These are the people who know if a system is well managed or not, is being maintained properly or is being allowed to run down, is performing to specifications or is at risk, is financially sound or is costing the community more than it should.” . In 2010, 1,164 individuals responded to the Survey – a significant sample set that provided robust data. This year, 1,944 responses were received – a 67% increase. Respondents included AWA members, government employees and Deloitte clients. Sector ‘Soundness’ In 2010, 62% of respondents thought the sector was ‘very sound’ or ‘quite sound’. The industry should be pleased that despite persistent drought in the west, catastrophic floods in many other areas, and controversy over rising prices and the value of desalination plants, in 2012 66% of respondents believe the sector is sound (Figure 1). Priority Issues Since 2010, there have been some significant changes in the circumstances surrounding the water sector. The most important of these is the drought-breaking rain that has been received over much of the country. However, the persistent dry conditions in most of Western Australia and parts of South Australia and the Northern Territory have also been significant. It is perhaps because water security concerns have been alleviated, particularly in the east, that respondents feel that it is now time to ‘stick to the knitting’. Whereas the problem of ageing infrastructure was considered the fourth most important issue facing the sector in 2010, in 2012 “Maintaining and improving infrastructure” is cited as the most important issue. It is also expected to be the second most important in five years’ time. While such a focus will be welcomed by many, it is of some concern that system maintenance is one of the issues respondents feel is being dealt with least effectively. Water supply security has not, however, disappeared from the list of major concerns. It is seen as the second most important issue nationally, with 36% of respondents describing it as a priority. It must be acknowledged, however, that this result is skewed by the very high priority given to water security by respondents in Western Australia, South Australia and the Northern Territory where drought has not broken; those in other states and territories that have experienced heavy rains ranked supply security significantly lower than maintaining and improving infrastructure. Respondents nevertheless clearly consider respite from drought to be only temporary, as the issue re-emerges as a priority nationwide in five years’ time. In 2010 ‘Sustainability’ was considered the most important issue. In the subsequent qualitative analysis undertaken through interviews with water sector leaders and reported in the AWA/ Deloitte report A View from the Top, released in November 2011, those interviewed wondered why respondents ranked sustainability so highly as an issue, but so poorly in terms of how well it was being dealt with. Consequently, the 2012 report broke ‘sustainability’ down into a number of separate, but related, issues. Accordingly, concern about the long-term environmental impact of the water industry (an aspect of sustainability) was ranked as only the seventh most important issue nationally, while ‘Managing Catchments Effectively’ – another aspect – is considered the third most important. Notwithstanding these results, 85% of respondents believe climate change poses a significant or moderate risk to the sustainable management of water. Encouragingly, 50% believe the sector is responding to the effects of climate change very well or quite well. This compares favourably to the results in 2010, when only 36% held this view. The three issues referred to above – maintaining and augmenting infrastructure, ensuring water supplies are secure, and managing catchments effectively – are followed closely by ‘reducing the skills shortage in the water sector’ and ‘responding to community concern over rising prices’. Addressing industry skills shortages rose from the sixth most cited issue in 2010 to the fourth in 2012. This is surprising in one way, as respondents don’t believe it is more difficult than it was two years ago to recruit staff. However, it may be explained by respondents’ views that the skills shortage is being addressed particularly poorly by the sector: only 9% said it is dealt with effectively in their state or territory. Respondents also expect the skills shortage to be a priority issue in five years’ time, ranking it as the fourth most important concern. There is a more significant gap between the priority afforded skills shortages and the degree to which respondents believe the issue is being dealt with effectively than there is with respect to any other issue. The issue of community concern over rising prices has arisen almost from nowhere over the past two years. The 2010 Survey asked only about water prices rather than community concern over price increases, with the issue not rating highly. In 2012, the issue was divided into ‘community concern’ and ‘setting prices at levels that fully cover costs’. The latter is still State of the Water Sector Survey 2012 Andrew Speers, National Manager – Programs and Policy, gives a rundown of some of the key insights from the latest State of the Water Sector Survey. 0% 10% 20% 30% 40% 50% 60% 70% 62% 59% 27% 31% 4% 3% 4% 4% 2012 2010 Very sound Not very sound Quite sound Not at all sound 3% 3% Not sure/don’t know Figure 1. How sound is the water sector in your state/territory?
Water Journal February 2013
Water Journal November 2012-1