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Citizen jury investigates Barwon Water future

Barwon Water is working with the community, stakeholders and regional leaders to gather ideas and develop a community vision for the region's water future.

The Geelong-based utility has taken its Water for our Future engagement process online to get a broad range of perspectives.

One participant in the "citizen jury" workshops was Stuart Khan, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of New South Wales. He told WaterSource that climate change is presenting utilities with many uncertainties that require forward planning.

“One thing we have come to expect with climate change is an increased frequency and severity of extreme weather events, and this likely includes longer and more intense periods of drought,” he said.

“Increasing temperatures are also impacting traditional water catchments by increased drying of soils, which leads to reduced runoff to waterways when it rains. Putting all these factors together, the overall expectation is for likely increased water demand, coupled with decreased water supply. That combination, obviously, increases the risk of future water shortages.”

Khan said that his fellow workshop participants were interested in a wide variety of topics.

“We discussed advanced water treatment capabilities, such as the treatment processes that are used to produce purified recycled water from wastewater,” he said.

“Participants were keen to know about the performance of these processes, as well as the reliability, costs and energy requirements. Receiving those types of questions is great, because it shows that people are focusing on the important criteria for selecting water supply strategies, rather than preemptively ruling any strategy in or out.”

Khan said it was the first citizen jury process that he has participated in, and he found the concept a valuable experience.

“I loved that Barwon Water assembled a diverse range of views for the jury to ask questions of, or to interrogate. I only wish I could have listened directly to what they learned from some of the other experts,” he said.

“I might be getting a bit fixated on the idea of this being a jury, but I’d love to see it done in a more face-to-face environment, where the experts are presented as witnesses for questioning.

“In the end, the proof of the process will be in the outcomes. The vision that they have produced for Water for Our Future is, I think, highly appropriate and expressed in an original way. The community participation in developing this vision makes it an authentic expression of the community’s collective view, rather than just another hollow corporate slogan.”

Over the next month, Barwon Water will bring the community panel back together to consider the results of the technical assessment and all views from the wider engagement. The panel will weigh up options and make recommendations on ideas and options that meet criteria and can deliver the vision.