Water Journal : Water Journal May 2011
feature article water MAY 2011 51 The Commission therefore recommends the adoption by COAG of an agreed set of national objectives for the urban water sector. A successful Australian urban water sector will, in the Commission's view, provide secure, safe, healthy and reliable water-related services to urban communities in an economically efficient and sustainable manner. More specifically, the sector should: 1. Understand and meet the long-term interests of all water consumers in the price, quality, safety, reliability and security of supply of fit-for-purpose water and wastewater services through the efficient use of, and investment in, systems, assets and resources. 2. Protect public health and the environment by ensuring that the impacts of the sector's operations and investments are managed cost-effectively in accordance with society's expectations and clearly defined obligations. 3. Enhance its effective contribution to more liveable, sustainable and economically prosperous cities in circumstances where broader social, public health and environmental benefits and costs are clearly defined and assessed, or where customers or other parties are willing or explicitly obliged to pay for the outcomes. These three objectives address customer service needs, the management of the impacts of the sector on public health and the environment, and the potential for the sector to play a positive role in shaping the future of urban areas. Recommendations The NWC is convinced there are opportunities to improve urban water outcomes and there is a national interest in doing better. In making our recommendations, the Commission is focused on ensuring the sector is placed to meet future challenges. Figure 1 (opposite page) provides a road map to the report Urban water in Australia: future directions, identifying the key points in the Commission's analysis. The Commission's recommendations include: • Creating clarity about the objectives of the urban water sector; • Clearly defining institutional roles, accountabilities and performance measures; • Maximising opportunities to empower customers and deliver better services to meet their needs; • Enabling the sector to contribute to creating liveable cities under clear mandates and with transparent funding; • Refining the mix of market, planning and regulatory settings. While reform requires effort from governments, regulators and water service providers, they will also obtain major benefits: • Governments will have greater confidence and certainty that supply security and other planned outcomes are being achieved and that risks are being managed; • Governments and water businesses will be able to demonstrate performance achievements to customers and the community. Decisions will be made with greater confidence and certainty due to improved information, tools and processes; • The sector as a whole will be more diverse and open to change, and be better prepared to deal with known and unknown risks and future challenges; • Regulators will be able to perform their enforcement roles with greater clarity and confidence; • Water businesses will have greater flexibility and incentives to meet customer needs in the most cost-effective manner. Conclusion An important lesson from the earlier reform era is that significant change takes time. Given the heightened community and political debate about urban water, there is a need for governments, regulators and water service providers to prioritise and adequately resource a fresh cycle of policy and institutional reform with long-term benefits in mind. There is no doubt that the industry's impressive knowledge base provides a foundation for the sector to drive the necessary reforms for the benefit of customers, water service providers, regulators and governments. The future for the urban water sector in Australia is not yet written. Now is the time for safeguarding that future by building a robust, dynamic and flexible sector that focuses on a customer-driven approach. One of the new sedimentation tanks at North Head WWTP in Sydney, which recently underwent $150 improvement works.
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