Water Journal : Water Journal December 2012
conference reviews water DECEMBER 2012 49 Beginning with a dinner presentation by Chair of the Murray-Darling Basin Authority, Mr Craig Knowles, delegates were provided with insights into topics as diverse as the finalisation of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, critical issues facing urban utilities, financial and operational risk associated with major capital projects, and water trading and the future of water markets. Two keynote presentations by the new Chief Executive of Singapore Public Utilities, Mr Chew Men Leong and the Publisher of Global Water Intelligence, Mr Chris Gasson, provided, respectively, an update on developments in one of the world’s centres of water management, and an external perspective on the value of investments in desalination in Australia. Discussions were enthusiastic and the presentations lively, provocative and astute. At the breakfast session sponsored by the Cooperative Research Centre for Water Sensitive Cities, delegates heard from Professor Tony Wong, CEO of the CRC, about the integration of water into the form and function of urban areas. Explaining issues such as the benefits to be achieved in the form of reduction of urban ‘heat-island’ effects, making cities more liveable and aesthetically pleasing, restoring habitat, reducing energy consumption and integrating food and energy production into the fabric of cities, Professor Wong highlighted advantages available to all through investment in development of more sustainable urban environments. Professor Wong’s speech was complemented by an address by Senator Scott Ludlam, Senator for Western Australia and Greens’ spokesperson on sustainable cities. Senator Ludlam noted that 80 per cent of Australians live in cities, but planning and governance has long been fractured and market driven. He argued for better coordination and also spoke about issues related to recent investment in desalination. The Summit was then formally opened by Senator Don Farrell, Parliamentary Secretary for Urban Water and Sustainability. Aside from some wry comments about recent political shenanigans, Senator Farrell expressed his pleasure about the progress that had been made on the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, noting the effort that had gone into listening to the community and responding to concerns. He reminded delegates of the importance to Australia of effective water management – urban and rural – and urged all present to recommit themselves to delivering sustainable water services. The first session of the day provided three different state perspectives on key directions in urban water from the Chief Executive of the Water Corporation, Sue Murphy, the Managing Director of Yarra Valley Water, Tony Kelly, and the Managing Director of Sydney Water, Kevin Young. Sue Murphy began by focussing on the need for productivity improvements. Sue explained that the Water Corporation faced a number of challenges, not least of which are the effects of climate change and a more stringent regulatory environment. The role of dams in supplying water to Perth has declined significantly. In fact, the loss of available surface and groundwaters over the past decades has been almost equal to Perth’s entire water supply and the Corporation had invested significantly in supply diversification. Such large capital expenditures are, however, not sustainable, particularly given other commitments the Corporation must meet, including: • Securing supplies for the north-west of the state – an extremely arid environment but one whose economy is expanding rapidly; • Maintaining the integrity of existing infrastructure and the quality of water services; and • Meeting new regulatory requirements. These needs alone will drive a capital investment program of $1 billion. Against this background is the State Government commitment to maintaining its AAA credit rating, yet revenue – 70 per cent of which comes from mining – has been declining due to the dip in the commodities market. Cash is short and the Water Corporation accounts for one-third of the State’s debt. One response is to privatise. The Western Australian community is not, however, enthusiastic about privatisation of the reticulation network, although people might be more sanguine about selling off wastewater treatment plants. Future investments, privatisation and resource use efficiency are all part of the future strategy of the Water Corporation, but so too must productivity improve. Strategies such as the development of two ‘alliance contracts’ between the private sector and the Water Corporation – where both collaborate to develop strategies, mitigate and share risks and maximise and share returns – have been implemented. So too have a number of management steps including fostering the development of small teams with short control lines, ensuring that front-line personnel have the opportunity to stimulate improvements, and reducing costs. Tony Kelly also spoke of the challenges facing Yarra Valley Water, many of which were not dissimilar, albeit climate variability had produced different outcomes in Melbourne. Having suffered years of drought and responded by building the nation’s largest desalination plant, Melbourne is now effectively ‘drought-proofed’. Because of heavy rain, however, dams are now fuller than they have been for many years, meaning that 3rd Annual National Water Leadership Summit The 3rd Annual National Water Leadership Summit was held in Canberra from 30 October–1 November and once again brought together sector leaders from across the country to listen to, network with and debate some of the most influential people in the industry. Andrew Speers, AWA National Policy and Programs Manager, reports. Chair of MDBA, Mr Craig Knowles.
Water Journal February 2013
Water Journal November 2012-1