Meaning behind water use key to sensitive water cities

Creating and sustaining water-sensitive cities requires a closer look at the people that inhabit them, according to the winner of the Best Paper Award at the Young Water Professional Conference.

Monash University PhD candidate Paul Satur presented his study into social inequality and water use practices at the Australian Water Association event last week, taking the accolade for the best research paper presented at the conference.

“The resources that we have in our daily life, that is our material, economic, social and cultural resources, have a big influence in shaping our daily water-use practices,” Satur said.

“Our [daily water-use] practices are embedded in things like our systems and infrastructures, our domestic contexts and technologies, and these sorts of things mutually influence one another to shape the way we experience our water resources and the way we use them on a daily basis.”

“Essentially, what I sought to design a model that will help to understand this interrelating dynamic,” he added.

Satur tested his model in Perth and Melbourne, taking into consideration the diverse biophysical and socio-technical context of these cities, interviewing people from different communities with varying levels of social advantage.

“One of the biggest findings that came out of this research very early on was the influence of the lived experience in shaping the meanings that people place behind their water use,” Satur said.

“Through this lived experience there were two really clear themes in terms of the meanings people were placing on water, based on the social-advantage context.

“For the socially advantaged, a lot of these meanings had an emphasis on water use for leisure and luxury items, while for those from disadvantaged communities we saw a greater emphasis on water for basic quality of life.”

Satur said that in order for developments into water sensitive design and infrastructure to be truly effective, they will need to take these differences in attitude towards water consumption into consideration.

“There is a real need to consider the intricacies of these different communities and develop technologies and innovations accordingly if we are to successfully engage communities,” Satur said.

“Sustainable, liveable and resilient water sensitive cities should not just be for those with the capacity, the understanding or the dollars to be able to access, they should be for everyone.”