Water Journal : Water Journal April 2012
opinion regular features 62 APRIL 2012 water Doing More With Less By Cindy Wallis-Lage, President, Black & Veatch Global Water Business Productivity is the biggest issue facing Australia in 2012. Simply put, according to a recent Committee for Economic Development of Australia "Big Issues" survey, which aims to highlight issues of national importance for the business community, Australia needs to do more with less. This pressure to return more value from existing assets and resources is not new for the Australian water industry. The severe droughts in recent years forced everyone involved to consider and implement greater innovation than ever before. As the water dried up, the situation became more critical and solutions more urgent. In most states, the rains have returned. Yet the productivity challenge is real and greater than ever before, because in many respects it's not the water this time but the finance that is becoming scarcer. The water industry needs to embrace innovation and return greater value from our investments more than ever before. Unlocking Innovation Last year, I co-facilitated a series of roundtable discussions at the Singapore International Water Week where the focus was on innovation. The common theme that emerged from the 110 participants -- senior policy makers and water utility leaders, including a number from Australia -- was that innovation is beyond just technology. As an industry, we need to be unlocking innovation at every level of our operations to return the greatest value possible. This means enabling innovation in how policies and frameworks are created; how water portfolios are planned and how technologies are enabled; and how new types of financial models are viewed and explored; ultimately, in essence, how water projects are best delivered. Sometimes unlocking innovation can be realised by something as simple as changing the language. For example, no longer should the term "wastewater plants" be used. In our resource-constrained world little, if anything, inherent in wastewater should be considered a waste. Continued use of the term "wastewater plants" maintains the stigma of waste rather than promoting the resource opportunities -- not only for the utilities but for the surrounding communities. Potential "resource plants" provide plentiful opportunities to positively address the growing water, energy and nutrient needs associated with increasing urban populations in Australia and throughout the world. The innovation challenge rests in identifying how resource recovery can be implemented within existing facilities, making best use of asset investments and noting that local needs and market conditions will dictate the priority of which resources can be effectively recovered. For example, when the water level in Wivenhoe Dam was dropping significantly in Queensland and the long-term water supply appeared to be less than 18 months, the driving force was finding an additional water supply. Under enormous pressure to secure supply, the decision was made to develop three advanced water treatment plants using MF/RO/AO. These plants guaranteed that Brisbane's water supply could be rapidly augmented should the drought continue. In such circumstances a concomitant increase in power requirements was a small price to pay for water security. The urgency of the situation prevented full consideration of nutrient recovery at the time, which clearly illustrates the way in which local needs determine how competing objectives are met. If the way we look at the functionality of assets has to change, we equally need to re-examine how all of our assets function together as an entire water portfolio. Making Better Use of Resources There is now a further expectation that the water industry will make better use of the range of water resources at its disposal, both to serve a growing customer base and to meet environmental outcomes. In addition to traditional freshwater reservoirs, water portfolio options now include stormwater, recycled sewage and desalinated water. The growing diversity of water sources presents the industry with a new level of complexity in optimising water flows. Establishing the best economic use of these products in a financially constrained environment presents the industry with novel challenges in determining the life cycle costing for a range of new infrastructure. The question of when and how to use water from different sources needs serious consideration, similar to how base and peak providers are used in the energy sector. We also need to be innovative in how we plan for and implement proven water efficiency technologies, such as water reuse. How does the Australian water industry overcome the barriers that exist for integrating water reuse as part of the water portfolio? Initial successes have been made in establishing important organisations such as the Australian Water Recycling Centre of Excellence, and with non-potable reuse by industry and at golf courses, for example. However, a significant opportunity remains to find innovative ways of gaining public and political acceptance of recycled water for potable use as well as more extensive non-potable use. Sometimes unlocking innovation is about asking the right questions. A delegate at the Innovation session in Singapore put it succinctly: "Innovation isn't an end in itself. We don't want to innovate just for the sake of innovating; we need to innovate because we have problems to solve. We're not always very good at defining what the problems are." We need to have the right people asking those questions, too. This is a particular challenge for the water industry in Australia. The resources boom is aggressively attracting talent out of the water sector, and we need to compete to retain this talent, to ensure our potential for innovation is not lost. Bundamba advanced water treatment plant in Queensland was built to supplement existing water supply.
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