The ongoing threat of water scarcity in Australia is an issue that can no longer be ignored, but it can be addressed by a commitment to strategic planning and a collegiate approach by councils and government in conjunction with strong community advocacy, writes Karen Pither.
The nation’s varying rainfall, intensity and frequency, coupled with the hard reality that natural water reservoirs are being depleted, means a sweeping landscape of aridity.
Populations scattered across the country that rely on the availability of produce supplied from agriculture and land-based businesses have not been adequately supported by innovative solutions in addressing these complexities.
The hard truth right now is that there aren’t any options that significantly address the issues of freshwater creation at the levels our communities will consume in the future – advances in technology and broader commitments to environmental sustainability will certainly contribute significantly, but until we have a national agenda, each consumer has a role to play in our natural asset management, and possibly the most critically important asset to be managed in addressing this in the near-term, is recycled water.
Focusing efforts on the effective use of recycled water and the types of activities it could be used for could reduce regulatory burden and shape greatly enhanced natural asset management strategies that are more agile and resilient.
During my work with councils and water businesses, I have noticed and understand the perceived regulatory burden for progressing innovative recycled water projects. I often see these types of opportunities get pushed down the list of priorities or end up in the ‘too hard’ basket. It is well known that many councils and water businesses have competing priorities and recycled water projects are often opportunistic and ad hoc, rather than strategically planned.
Our best strategies reside in understanding the types of water at our disposal and agreeing to a set of principles on how each water type can be used most effectively across the different types of commercial and consumer activities.
My advice to the future-focussed councils, governments, water providers and consumers is that you can make a notable impact if strategies are designed in consultation with each other…And without sounding flippant on the magnitude of the work, this mapping can be done simply and could also equate to significant financial, reputational, and environmental gains.
After obtaining organisational commitment to a strategic recycled water direction, a clear set of staged activities should be undertaken:
- Identify and engage regulatory stakeholders including environment and health authorities
- Identify and engage your consumer stakeholders including landowners
- Develop options based on current and potential operational performance, as well as the potential for demand for recycled water
- Initiate feasibility assessment with a water specialist who will assess the practicalities of the options
- Identify suitable water uses and any additional requirements to make recycled water use more viable.
- Include the options for recycled water innovation in demand management plans, integrated water cycle management plans and master plans.
The approach is simple when followed, and under the guidance of a specialist water expert at the initial scoping stages cost savings and efficiencies can be maximised, within regulatory frameworks, over the lifecycle of the scheme.
Understanding the systems, processes and regulatory frameworks in designing reliable sources of recycled water is well worth the investment.
Once stakeholders have confidence in the framework and understand what’s required of them in accessing water supplies, implementing procedures for managing recycled water can become business as usual.
Some examples of innovation and strategic planning for recycled water include:
The Lennox Head Recycled Water Master Plan (under Ballina Shire Council) has committed to re-using 80 per cent recycled water by 2050 and limiting the amount of nutrient and effluent that is discharged into the oceans. They further propose to deliver recycled water to 7,200 residential blocks over 30 years, and for wider use across parks, open spaces and revegetation projects.
The Western Corridor Recycled Water Scheme is a climate-resilient source of water that will help provide water security to South East Queensland in times of need. The scheme is not currently producing water but can be restarted when required as drought response measures assist long-term water security for the region. The scheme also has the additional benefit of reducing element discharge to Moreton Bay.
Karen Pither is a senior consultant at Viridis Counsultants
Comment below to have your say on this story.
If you have a news story or tip-off, get in touch at email@example.com.
Sign up to the Government News newsletter