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Utility launches water leadership plan with focus on reshaping the water cycle

As the deadline for achieving net zero by the 2032 Olympic Games hovers just one decade away for South East Queensland, one water utility has launched its plan to help meet this goal while also creating a secure water future – a plan that leans heavily into engendering a more circular water cycle.

Urban Utilities’ water leadership plan, called Our Water Way, outlines the role the utility and its customers will play in ensuring a plentiful, affordable and diverse water supply for the future, along with the steps the utility will take to establish itself as a leader in environmental stewardship.

Urban Utilities Executive Leader of Integrated Solutions Chris Bulloch said the new plan is keenly focused on achieving and protecting liveability for South East Queensland communities, and making sure the utility continues to enrich people's lives through its services.

“Water is at the heart of our much-loved lifestyle in South East Queensland. Our quality of life – our jobs, businesses and our communities – depend on it. Water security is about having enough water for everyone including homes, business, industry and agriculture now, and into the future,” he said.

“We can’t take water for granted. Although we’re no longer in drought, our population is expected to grow by two million people over the next 25 years and our climate is changing, which will mean more and longer droughts in the future.

“At Urban Utilities, we’re planning well ahead to ensure water security for our region for generations to come. We’ve developed our water leadership plan, Our Water Way, which will ensure a safe, reliable and sustainable water future for the communities in our service region.

“It harnesses the opportunities and challenges before us, so we have the water we need to maintain the lifestyle we love. And we want to make sure that we can provide plentiful water that’s also affordable.

“Our plan also outlines our environmental leadership responsibilities and that’s something we take very seriously.”

Water, now and tomorrow

Bulloch said the utility’s water leadership plan has two overarching focuses, including caring for water we have today and creating the water we need for the future.

“We all have a role to play in caring for the water we have today, and I think about all the great work that Queenslanders have already done. We've retained many of the water-wise behaviours we learned during the Millennium Drought and as a community we've reduced our water usage significantly,” he said.

“This work has put us in a great position as we go forward. We are already quite used to conserving water, which is all about caring for this precious, finite resource. But there are plenty of avenues for taking this further, including supporting our customers further in their water-wise journey.”

When talking about creating the water needed for the future, Bulloch said it would mean increasing water reuse and looking to other more resilient sources of water to help supplement drinking water supplies.

As part of this approach, Urban Utilities is focused on increasing its use of recycled water for industry, agriculture and irrigation.  

“We’re already supplying recycled to water customers right across our region, including one of Australia’s most iconic race tracks, the Kilcoy Race Track. The recycled water ensures the track is lush all year round, whatever the weather. It’s a place that connects people and increases the economy of the town,” he said.

“Circular and sustainable water solutions are good for everybody involved. By supplying recycled water for industry, agriculture and irrigation, we’re easing pressure on our drinking water supplies, reducing nutrients to waterways and delivering benefits for our customers and communities.” 

Across the region, Bulloch said creating the water needed for the future was about ensuring a diverse mix of water sources to provide water security.  

“We know that dams will continue to be a major drinking water source in South East Queensland, but dams can only store water if it rains when and where we need it. But climate change means we’re more likely to have more and longer droughts into the future, periods of low rainfall and low inflows into our dams, and less water available in our dams, due to factors including increased evaporation,” he said.

“We need other options in addition to rainfall and water storage in our dams – it’s important we have climate-independent water sources such as desalination and purified recycled water for a secure water supply in the future

“South East Queensland already has access to the climate-independent infrastructure built during the Millennium Drought, including Seqwater’s Gold Coast desalination plant and the Western Corridor Recycled Water Scheme. This infrastructure will help safeguard our water supply when we can’t rely on the rain. Diversifying our water sources will be key to becoming more resilient, and the more options we have the better.”

Reshaping the water cycle

As part of its focus on creating the water we need for the future, Urban Utilities also aims to reshape the water cycle from the traditional ‘catchment to sea model’ of water use, to a more circular model that manages water more sustainably.  

Bulloch said the traditional catchment-to-sea water model relies on rain falling over catchments and then using long pipes to move water around our service region.

“This model has served us well in the past, but new advanced technologies, as well as challenges such as climate change, means there is a better approach going forward,” he said.

“The cost of installing and owning these pipelines is one of the big drivers of the cost of water. These pipelines also require ongoing maintenance and eventual replacement. We’re aiming to reshape the water cycle to a more circular model that manages water more responsibly and uses it more than once.   

“At Urban Utilities, we call this ‘keeping our water closer to home’. This means treating and managing our water closer to where we use it, reducing the need for these long pipelines to move water around our region.  

“We’re already exploring opportunities to design and build innovative and sustainable water and wastewater infrastructure for key Olympic and Paralympic precincts that will form part of our network to support activities such as cooling and greening.

“I'm very conscious that we will be on the world stage in 2032 during the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

“We want to do the most we possibly can to contribute to breathable and green buildings and cityscapes, and make sure we have plenty of urban cooling and green spaces in and around our region.”

Bulloch said, a more circular approach to water management is also a boon for the environment, one of the most important focus areas of the utility moving forward.

“Our waterways connect us to the sea, joining waters in our creeks and streams to the ecosystems of Moreton Bay and the Pacific Ocean. Our environmental leadership focus connects with our overarching strategy around reshaping the water cycle,” he said.

“We are focused on how we impact our waterways and the health of our waterways. But we are also focused on devising new and innovative ways of helping to keep our environments healthy and happy.

“Urban water runoff is a big contributor to sediment and nutrient loads in our bays. We plan to work more with our communities and our partners on developing stream bank rehabilitation. And we already have a great digital twin model that we use to monitor our waterways.”

Bulloch said environmental protection is a very important piece of the water leadership plan: “We want to be leaders in environmental stewardship. We intend to achieve net zero, but we also intend to contribute proactively to creating a healthier environment, too”.

WaterTalk

One restoration project – an innovative nature-based solution being planned to help manage the impact of wet weather overflows while improving the health of the neighbouring Cannery Creek – showcases the utility’s dedication to working alongside the community to find the right solutions, Bulloch said.

“When we get our community involved in co-design with us, we get a great outcome. Cannery Creek is something I'm really proud of,” he said. 

“The project involved our communities and is an example of how we intend to find solutions together with our customers moving forward.”

Bulloch said that while Urban Utilities has an excellent team of dedicated water professionals, there’s nothing quite like the diversity of perspective that comes from listening into what customers want, and that the utility intends to do a lot more co-design moving forward.

“At Urban Utilities, we’ve got a lot of great people. We've got people that are really interested to hear from our communities,” he said.

“And what we're able to do is talk about some of these options that we have available – options like purified recycled water, or integrated catchment planning, integrated zone planning in and around our cities, and the avenues we can take to solve problems.

“By engaging our communities in those conversations, we benefit greatly from the diversity of thought among our customers. It’s that diversity of thought makes a solution truly unique and effective, because it's a direct reflection of the customers that we serve.”

Bulloch said Urban Utilities was proud to have recently launched its new online community hub, WaterTalk, to further encourage customer input and engagement on a wide range of important topics, projects, plans and services, such as water security, essential services, green infrastructure solutions and resource recovery.

“WaterTalk is a place where our communities can engage with us and each other – it offers many ways to help shape the future of our services or tell us what matters most to you,” he said.

“Community members can stay updated on projects and plans, have their say on discussion forums and community panels, give feedback using maps, polls and surveys, and register for online and in-person events.”