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What will water service provision look like in 2050?

By 2050 Australia’s population will have increased by 50%, reaching 36 million. Thea Cowie takes a closer look at what is being done to address the pressure this will place on our most precious resource.

With the population set to double in the next 30 years, the resources today consumed by 24 million
Australians will need to be shared much further.

Additionally, as our climate continues to change, there’s likely to be fewer resources to go around. For many, this prospect is hard to imagine. But for the water sector, it’s a strong motivation for advancing the sustainability of water provision and waste management services.

Providing for a bigger Australia

Well-managed cities will be integral to Australia’s ability to cope with projected population growth, said Executive Chairman of the Cooperative Research Centre for Water Sensitive Cities' (CRCWSC) Water Sensitive Cities Institute and 2018 IWA Global Water Award laureate Professor Tony Wong.


View the infographic: 8 habits of highly effective water utilities of the future


“The way we manage our water resources and urban water systems is increasingly shaping the economic performance, liveability, sustainability and resilience of our cities,” he said.

“The majority of new residents (80% or more) will choose to live in capital cities and 70% of them will be accommodated through urban densification through urban renewal.”

Innovations in urban water management cannot be separated from innovations in urban planning, design
and architecture.

Wong said he believes the key to successful innovations in urban water management is having hybrid centralised/decentralised infrastructure, and hybrid green/grey solutions.

“The importance of hybrid centralised/decentralised infrastructure has to do with enabling piece-wise infrastructure investment and avoiding or deferring major augmentation of trunk (centralised) infrastructure,” he said.

“While the importance of hybrid green/grey infrastructure has to do with the need to meet multiple water management objectives related to urban water services and urban liveability.”

Already, the Australian water sector is pioneering efforts in these spaces.

Housing: innovation and reduced demand

Green Square

The City of Sydney is building a new town centre in Green Square, including a decentralised stormwater recycling system to contribute to the city’s water-sensitive city targets. Green Square.

In Sydney, the $8 billion public/private Green Square Town Centre development is set to become the site of Australia’s biggest stormwater harvesting and recycling scheme.

“Instead of letting 900,000 litres of polluted stormwater flow out to sea each day, residents can use it to flush toilets, wash clothes and irrigate gardens,” the City of Sydney’s website states.

Stormwater harvested throughout the 278-hectare redevelopment area will be piped to the Green Infrastructure Centre where it will be filtered, chlorinated and stored for non-potable uses.

Sustainable water utility Flow Systems is helping deliver this project and many others around the country (including Sydney’s Central Park Water, which is set to be the biggest Membrane Bioreactor recycled water facility in the world). Late last year Flow Systems went into voluntary administration but came out of this in April and has been operating without issue this year.

“The CRC is very interested in understanding what were the conditions that made its business case financially non-viable, because technically it’s the way of the future,” Wong said.

Aquarevo

South East Water's Aquarevo House. South East Water's Aquarevo House.

In Melbourne’s south-east growth corridor, the Aquarevo housing development is taking shape.

Thanks to a unique partnership between Villawood Properties and South East Water, homes within the Aquarevo development will be plumbed with three types of water: drinking water, recycled water and rainwater.

Homes will also be fitted with South East Water’s OneBox device to control the water technology in each home, remotely monitor the pressure sewer, and read each home’s water and energy use. It’s hoped the combined approach will reduce mains drinking water demand by up to 70%.

Villawood Properties Executive Director Rory Costelloe said the development was encouraging dozens of the nation’s builders to adopt sustainable solutions.

“Aquarevo is a blueprint for  sustainable urban development that could be replicated across Australia,” Costelloe said.

“Australia’s premier builders have also embraced Aquarevo’s vision and have collectively delivered nearly 40 innovative home designs that are tailored to include its water and energy efficient features.”

Meanwhile, South East Water is also working on the Fisherman’s Bend project in the heart of Melbourne.

Fisherman’s Bend

Fishermans Bend. Image: Lensaloft Photography.

By mid-century, 80,000 people are expected to live in Fisherman’s Bend – each of them using less than 100 litres of potable water per day.

The 480-hectare urban renewable project also aims to have reduced net sewage discharge by 50% by 2050.

“It’s an exciting opportunity to deliver a water-sensitive city using integrated water solutions that maximises locally available water; minimises water and sewage loads; reduces flooding; and transforms urban amenity,” said South East Water’s Future Water Strategy General Manager Phil Johnson.

Initiatives to help achieve these ambitious goals include buildings designed to capture rainwater, a sewer mining plant, and utilising recycled water and rainwater for non-potable uses in buildings and public spaces.

“The system will utilise smart grid technology to maximise the capture of rainwater for reuse in buildings, while maintaining enhanced flood mitigation to the area,” according to the Fisherman’s Bend Sustainability Strategy.

“The system will also utilise digital meters to monitor and control the network to measure water and control quality.”

Wong said the project is another example of how the future of urban water services and infrastructure is going to be decentralised.

“But always coupled with the existing infrastructure to basically enable infrastructure to do more with less," he said.

“These scenarios will lend themselves to potentially greater private sector co-investments.”

Spotless

Spotless Integrated Facilities Services’ Government Operations Manager Michael Leggett said: “While desalination, groundwater and recycling are all growing in importance, our individual actions to conserve and use less water are key”.

As such, the provider of maintenance works and services to over 22,000 existing social-housing properties in Western Australia has been trialing its own water saving initiative.

Spotless implemented an innovative Internet of Things (IoT) sensor solution – using small mobile sensors
that capture water-consumption data remotely and in real time – in a sample of properties.

With promising results, the provider is looking to expand the trial.

“The sample properties showed an average water consumption of 2572 L per day prior to the trial,” Leggett said.

“This was reduced to 1757 L per day on trial completion, representing a 30% reduction achieved through actionable intervention, as well as annual savings of approximately $558 per household.

“If similar results were applied to 10% of the social-housing portfolio, the Housing Authority of Western Australia could make potential savings of more than $1.2 million and over 654M litres of water each year.”

Service provision in 2050

With water provision to increasingly involve decentralised, site-specific, precinct-scale solutions in future, what role will water utilities need to play?

Wong said that water utilities will need to first take a much more engaged role in delivering liveability to the community.

“It’s no longer provision of water supply and sanitation services – they actually need to think about how their services will also influence liveability,” he said.

“Secondly, the utilities of the future will really need to think about the whole circular economy – the nexus between water and energy, the nexus between water and food, and the nexus between water and health.”

And finally, the water utilities of the future will need to harness the potential of the digital economy.

“Harness that information and real-time control to operate the assets much more efficiently,” Wong said.

Water utilities of the future really need to get involved in that broader agenda, rather than simply providing water and sanitation services.”

First published as ‘Back to the future’ in Current magazine April 2019.