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How Sydney Water is planning for the future

Sydney Water has developed a new framework to ensure its infrastructure is up to the task of providing for a rapidly growing population.

The utility currently services about 5 million people across Sydney, the Illawarra and the Blue Mountains. This is set to more than double over the next 80 years, which will put additional strain on its water and wastewater networks.

In order to ensure it can cope with this growth and other future challenges, Sydney Water is focusing on building resilience into its critical infrastructure.

“This is about making sure we have water supply systems that are able to resist the shocks and stresses of threats to safe and secure supply in the future,” Sydney Water Operational Planner Matt Schnelle said.

“It means making sure that we design, build and operate our systems in a resilient way to reduce the vulnerability of customers to water supply outages.”

To do this, Schnelle’s team at Sydney Water has developed an infrastructure resilience framework made up of five components. 

It all starts with reliability, which Schnelle said is about making sure Sydney Water can supply the right type of water in the right amounts at the right time: when customers need it.

“So potable water for drinking water needs and potentially lower grades of water for irrigation and other uses,” he said.

“The second part of the framework is resistance … ensuring our water supply system is adaptable, flexible and resistant to short-term shocks, like power outages and algal blooms, and longer-term stresses such as variable surface water inflows and increasing climate volatility.”

Next is redundancy – making sure the system has enough water, power and other resources –  followed by response. 

“We need to ensure our system is resilient enough to respond to demand,” Schnelle said.

“Being able to meet changing usage patterns, like higher peak loads during heatwaves, and reducing demand on the system in times of drought.”

Recovery is the final piece of the puzzle, and means ensuring Sydney Water can rapidly recover essential water services in the event of a system failure.

Together, Schenelle said these components can be used to assess future infrastructure investment not just based on cost, but based on the resilience of the system to threats that have been identified.

For other organisations that want to ensure the resiliency of their infrastructure, he said it’s important to look at the system from catchment to customer.

“A lot of threats could impact multiple parts of the delivery model that gets water to your customers, so it’s important to approach it from a system-wide perspective,” Schnelle said.

“Identify the threats, and then identify how you can increase your resilience in a holistic way.”