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Why NSW has to do water differently

Creating a sustainable water future doesn’t just mean building infrastructure – it also requires changing community attitudes to water.

This is according to New South Wales (NSW) Department of Planning, Industry and Environment CEO – Water Jim Bentley, who spoke at the Australian Water Association’s NSW Industry Breakfast recently.

“My message is that we have to do water very differently in the future,” Bentley told the audience.

“This isn’t just about government or just about utilities – it’s about the whole sector building robustness and adaptive capacity.”

Bentley, who was previously Managing Director of Hunter Water, said the water industry needs to “work on both sides of the equation”.

“We don’t just want to go out and build toys … We also have to change the way we view and value water,” he said.

NSW Water CEO Jim Bentley speaking at the AWA NSW Industry Breakfast.

“We’re all going to have to learn to change our behaviour if we’re going to create a more sustainable future.”

When Bentley started at Hunter Water in mid-2016, the utility’s leakage was high compared to the rest of Australia, and getting higher.

But the problem wasn’t being addressed because the organisation was more focused on building infrastructure.

Hunter Water has since brought down the amount of water it loses by starting a leak detection program and investing in projects such as relining the Black Hill Reservoir. 

Bentley said this not only saved water but also sent a message to its customers about the value of this important resource.

“Doing more leakage work, working with the community and dealing with efficiency issues can also buy us a small number of years in the decision-making process,” Bentley said.

“This means we’re not making rushed decisions … We need to build kit, but if we don’t get serious about leakage we will end up building kit too big or too quickly.”

Statewide drought requires coordinated response

The department Bentley’s role sits within was recently established to form the 'engine room' of the state economy, from agriculture to resources and industry, and Water Minister Melinda Pavey said the new cluster is an important change for the state. 

“The different departments will be working together to resolve issues instead of acting as silos,” Pavey said at the AWA event.

“It has been difficult to establish … but it’s going to change outcomes and make us better and more efficient in delivery.

NSW Water Minister Melinda Pavey.

“We want to ensure we have the best-quality services across the board: the best hospitals, water services and public transport so our communities can have the lifestyle and quality of life they deserve.”

Pavey said the drought currently affecting 96% of NSW requires the State Government to partner with local councils and the private sector to find the most effective way of delivering relief.

“We have to partner up and show leadership to help local councils deliver projects in an innovative way,” she said.

“I need [the water sector’s] help and suggestions … to deliver water projects more efficiently in partnership with local communities.

“We will ensure we get through this drought. But to get through, we also have to start planning and building and doing better in our delivery of infrastructure.”

For more information on Australian Water Association events in your state, click here.