Water Journal : Water Journal August 2012
feature article feature articles 40 AUGUST 2012 water Water management into the future will require adaptability, flexibility and innovation in order to adapt quickly and efficiently to changes in climate and water supply, variations in demand, community attitudes to environment and health issues, pricing policy and advances in technology. Policies need to consider uncertainties and maintain resilience to external shocks in the longer term. Planning should be based on risk rather than probability and be robust over a wide range of possible outcomes including high-consequence catastrophic events, not just the 'most likely'. Where additional drinking water supplies are required, desalination -- as well as recycled wastewater and treated stormwater for potable use -- should all be considered based on their economic, environmental and social merits. A long- term participatory public awareness program to overcome entrenched negative community perceptions of recycled wastewater and treated stormwater would assist public acceptance of potable recycling. Economic efficiency Efficiency is impaired by cross-subsidies between sectors and incentives that distort price signals for consumers of water. Where subsidies exist, they should be recognised as such and transparently communicated to the community. Examples include urban and rural infrastructure upgrades, artificially low prices for recycled water and the purchase of subsidised renewable energy to offset energy use in desalination plants. Water--energy nexus The water and energy sectors are inextricably linked. For example, the provision of water and sewerage services involves significant energy consumption and most forms of energy generation require water use. Water and energy policy should recognise the interdependencies between these sectors. The provision of water and sewerage services involves significant energy consumption, which is purchased at market prices. In contrast, electricity generators and, potentially, carbon sequestration projects, are often provided with access to water below its true cost. National Water Initiative (NWI) Reforms in water management, led by COAG through the NWI, have made major inroads since 2004 into developing a nationally agreed, coherent set of principles and reform actions to achieve optimal economic, environmental and social outcomes. However, there is still much to be done, particularly in addressing the over-allocation of water, broadening sector coverage and eliminating policy barriers to efficient water markets. Restrictions on rural- urban water trading and potable use of recycled water, and the exclusion of sectors such as mining from water markets compromise the efficiency of water management. Adoption of reforms implicit in the states' and territories' commitment to the NWI, and more recently urged by the Productivity Commission, would go a long way to improving Australia's productivity and setting the path for a green growth economy in the water and related sectors. Social impact Efficient water markets require the clear transmission of price signals to all water users to reflect water availability. Water and energy pricing policy should not distort the transmission of price signals to all water users. Any adverse social impacts should be addressed through social policy. Support for R&D and adoption of new technologies The public good nature of water justifies government support for research and development (R&D), which drives innovation, increased efficiency and productivity. Many of Australia's existing R&D programs in the water sector are nearing the end of their terms, and there is a need for a coordinated national approach to plan the next generation of programs. These programs would benefit from greater coordination and long-term commitment to ensure a strategic research investment focus in priority areas. A national R&D strategy for water, recognising its multiple roles and importance across the Australian economy, should be developed and its components prioritised. Water is essential for all aspects of human activity and natural ecosystems. Technological innovation and scientific advances will play ever-increasing roles in increasing our understanding of the water cycle, especially in areas such as hydrological modelling and forecasting, increased efficiency of water use, improved environmental outcomes, and the ability to adapt rapidly to changes in climate, changing demand and shifts in population. Australia's long-term productivity and quality of life will be underpinned by improved understanding and management of water, and ensuring that economic goals are balanced by social prosperity and environmental outcomes. As a major food-exporting nation, Australia has an opportunity to use its water resources even more efficiently as a contribution to feeding the world. The full (166-page) ATSE report and 4-page summary can be downloaded from: www.atse.org.au/resource-centre/ ATSE-Reports/Water/ Brian Spies, FTSE, is Deputy Chair of the ATSE Water Forum. His career spans senior research and management roles in the resource and environmental sectors in Australia and the US, most recently as Principal Scientist at the Sydney Catchment Authority. Brian is currently a senior visiting fellow at the University of NSW. Investing in better weather forecasting technology may help reduce the impact of extreme climate events.
Water Journal September 2012-1
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