Call for national water focus amid climate change

Image is a screenshot of the 2019 Urban Water Update

The water industry has called for a revised National Water Initiative which focuses on urban water and recognises the challenges of climate change, the ongoing drought, and meeting the water security needs of Australia’s growing population.

The Water Services Association of Australia (WSAA) Urban Water Update 2019: Drought, Growth and Liveability said as the constraints were the same across the country, joint national action was more effective than ad hoc approaches.

The association’s members include more than 20 local councils, which along with water utilities and engineering firms provide water and sewage services to more than 20 million people in Australia and New Zealand.

“A new National Water Initiative should recognise the future challenges of climate change and extreme events, urban growth (including population growth) and liveability of our cities and regions across the urban water cycle,” the update said.

City Deals have provided cut through to secure the future prosperity and liveability of our cities. Seven deals have been agreed to date. An updated National Water Initiative would provide the template to incorporate urban water outcomes in future deals.”

The association’s revised water initiative contains six components including national leadership, stormwater and drainage, collaboration, and improved data and transparency.

“The National Water Initiative should also be updated to reflect the role stormwater management can play in the overall urban water cycle and in creating and maintaining liveable cities and communities,” the update said.

“This can be through harvesting, reuse or use in creating green spaces in Australian cities.”

Collaboration can be improved between Federal, State and Local Government agencies, water utilities and other parties for long-term security planning that includes the latest science for climate change.

The industry’s update complements Infrastructure Australia’s Audit 2019 which was released in August and warned that water infrastructure faced the greatest potential risks and costs from climate change.

“The water sector relies heavily on rainfall to replenish storages, streams and groundwater, and on vibrant ecosystems to support a reliable water cycle,” the Audit said.

“Higher temperatures can also increase the volume of water in storage lost through evapotranspiration.

“Extreme weather events such as floods, cyclones and bushfires, as well as rising sea levels and increased coastal inundation, can also damage assets or disrupt wastewater treatment processes.

“These bring heightened risks for the health of our waterways, management of wet weather flows and contaminants in residential areas.”

Meeting growing demand for water was a major challenge for reasons including the cost of augmenting water supply near major cities and the condition of many water, storm water and wastewater assets, Infrastructure Australia added.

The WSAA, meanwhile, said all supply options including desalination, dams and purified recycled water for drinking – used by 35 cities worldwide including Singapore and parts of Europe – need to be considered to ensure Australia’s water security.

“With predicted decreases in rainfall and an increasing population, collaboration and integration with other sectors will be important to ensuring our communities remain liveable and our economy remains productive,” the update said.

“Collaboration between all levels of government, potentially coordinated nationally, may be important to ensuring all water supply options are on the table.”

Separately, association member, Goulburn Valley Water, said it will install 16 solar power systems  comprising nearly 5,000 panels across 10 sites in the next year to help reduce its greenhouse gas emissions.