C Furlong, RMIT University Melbourne; S De Silva, RMIT University Melbourne; L Guthrie, RMIT University Melbourne
Publication Date (Web): 23 March 2016
DOI: https://doi.org/10.21139/wej.2016.016

Over the past three years the authors have investigated the international evolution of Integrated Urban Water Management (IUWM) and its implementation within Melbourne. Research findings have shown that there may be a practical disconnect between the objectives of IUWM, and its associated methods. The authors decided to investigate this finding in more detail by further exploring what the most commonly associated methods and objectives of IUWM are. In order to assess this, a survey was conducted that received responses from 34 industry experts. The survey asked four questions:

1. What does IUWM mean?
2. What specific steps/methods/actions does IUWM involve?
3. What are its objectives?
4. How relevant is IUWM as an ideology now, and in the future?

Survey responses showed a wide variety of industry perspectives on IUWM, ranging from specific processes such as “option identification” and “risk assessment” methods, to broad all-encompassing and vague descriptions such as “using a systems approach”, “managing water holistically”, and “big picture thinking”.

According to the results, the specific methods most commonly associated with IUWM are: stakeholder engagement; coordinated planning of different water services at various scales; holistic option assessment (such as non-market cost benefit analysis); and integrated modelling. The objectives most commonly associated with IUWM are: diversification of water sources; environmental improvements; reduced cost; and improved liveability outcomes.

The survey results, and the industry consultation that the authors have conducted over the past three years, have made it clear that IUWM means different things to different people. For some, integrated water management means getting everyone in the room and making people talk and communicate better. To other people, integrated water management is a large-scale, top-down scientific planning process, where you look at all the options and value them all in dollar terms. Then you pick the best option, and attempt to implement it.

When asked about the relevance of IUWM to the water sector, 59% of experts said it was very or extremely relevant at present, while 82% said it will be very or extremely relevant in the future. Considering that IUWM is perceived in this way, it is important to critically assess the success of its implementation thus far, because without this scrutiny IUWM remains an ideology, or belief system.

The authors then conducted preliminary examination of the current state of these methods and objectives in Melbourne, which has shown that, so far, not all of the methods are resulting in achievement of the IUWM objectives. For example, non-market cost benefit analysis, coordinated planning of water services at a large scale, and integrated modelling, have not achieved a lot of success in Melbourne. The value of IUWM appears to be in promoting communication between organisations and well-structured stakeholder engagement, rather than large scale and highly detailed “integrated” plans, or complex option assessment methods.

We propose that the water sector re-evaluate its perception of IUWM, mentally separating its meaning into a variety of methods and objectives that can then be independently scrutinised.

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