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Reimagining our water future

Last week at Ozwater’21 in Adelaide with the support of GHD, we brought together 120 of the water sector’s leaders with a goal to “Reimagine our water future”. 

This session was off the back of a digital workshop with five major hubs across Australia in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Canberra, and Adelaide, which brought together 40+ leaders to develop key themes to explore as we reimagine our water future. The themes developed were: 

  • The value of water 
  • The rise of circular economy and sustainable outcomes 
  • Diverse and proactive investment and new funding models 
  • Real time monitoring for better predictive action 
  • Democratised open data and intellectual property 
  • Bi-partisan approach to water 
  • Shared decision making, leadership and empowerment. 

To set the scene at Ozwater’21, Dr Jane Doolan, Commissioner for the National Water Reform, started by progress made under the National Water Initiative – the benefits and shortcomings. She outlined that in the short term, we need to keep doing what we are doing well and adapt in the long term. The National Water Initiative is 17 years old and needs renewal. It is going to be a challenging future, but I am certain the water sector is up to it!” she said.   

Dr Doolan highlighted that Australia has a drier future, and we need to adapt to it. There are going to be more people, which means greater demand. While on the supply side there is going to be more uncertainty and less water. Serious investment is what is needed in water, wastewater, and stormwater assets, which would have a flow-on to pricing. Dr Doolan also highlighted that community engagement and working with closely Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders people would be essential for future success 

We also need to look at water efficiencies in cities and communities. The urban sector has done particularly well in this regard, but we need State and Federal Governments to also be working together. We need to take a long-term view of our water future and remove any barriers” she said. 

Dr Doolan gave the following advice to the water sector in her address: 

  • Be outward looking 
  • Have a shared vision across the sector 
  • Develop policy nous 
  • Breakdown barriers through diplomacy and collaboration 
  • Be lean and efficient. 

The Water Leaders Forum participants then went to work on considering these areas to reimagine our water future. From this we could see several major themes emerge: 

  1. Community empowerment, capturing hearts and minds for community driven change. Managing water is an inclusive collaborative environment where the needs of all our community is understood. Community as an advocate influences regulators, policy and direction. Water literacy in the community is high.  
  2. Deliver on the long-term interests of our customers and communities. Communities including youth and Traditional Owners are engaged and involved in decision making about water resources and management with a long-term view. Whole of government and whole of community approach is taken to ensure sustainable water management for future generations. 
  3. The value of water is appreciated.We really understand how valuable water is and thatAll Water Is Equal. We acknowledge the true value of water, economically, culturally, socially, and environmentally. There is visibility on national accounts and water’s input to the economy is known.
  4. Bi-partisan approach to water. Shared decision-making means more empowerment of all parties involved. It would be easier for local communities to adopt sustainable practises and create change. Tracking trends in usages, working with local leadership, and creating a community challenge would lead to greater adoption of new and greater integration. We would advocate for long term policy changes, which would drive a more sustainable and consistent water policy. As well as learning from challenges and opportunities with the COVID-19 response, for example a ‘National Water Cabinet’. 
  5. Open-source data analysis driven by stakeholders needs and aspirations. Enabled by a data framework and environment where new thinking and optimised approaches provide gains for society. Data empowers everyone. It empowers the community to monitor their own water usage. It empowers service providers to develop products and offerings that are both sustainable and resilient. Data is democratised and open data sources fuel the development of better technology products in the market and better outcomes for communities

 To find out more, see the Water Leaders Forum pack.