How good is Australia at integrated water management?
As Australians when we look at ourselves we tend to look at the crisis we’re in and feel we haven’t been managing the resource in an integrated way. We’re certainly not perfect at it, however, we are managing water with our eye on the whole-of-water cycle, in not only the biophysical dimension, but also in the human, social, cultural, economic and environmental dimensions.
If we were to compare ourselves to the rest of the world we’re not bad (not necessarily good, but not bad). In various jurisdictions in the country we’ve started to think in some of those dimensions. Many of our water utilities, for example, are developing KPIs which consider the triple bottom line (financial, environmental, social).
Strategies for integrated water management
Other examples of how we’re thinking integration is that there are strategies around water-sensitive urban design. Melbourne Water has developed innovative approaches in water sensitive urban design, as has the Brisbane City Council, and these are leading some of the thinking in the world about incorporating water sensitive design explicitly in the urban water cycle.
The South East Queensland (SEQ) Healthy Waterways Partnership is an example of a unique integrated approach to waterways management whereby scientific research, community participation, and policy/strategy development are done in parallel with each other.
Ozwater10 in Brisbane recently held a two-day discussion on future cities, embracing professionals from outside what we normally tend to think of as the core water industry. This shows that we’re thinking in a more ‘joined up’ kind of way about managing water.
In Australia we have reformed our water utilities sector between 1995 and today. We have achieved great gains in water efficiency because of this.
Australia, and SEQ in particular, has recognised that nutrients entering waterways were limiting our ability to protect our waterways for future generations. We’ve adopted technologies for nutrient removal in wastewater treatment because of this.
This is tied to the Healthy Waterways Partnership which looks at issues impacting on the water environment at a regional scale. We’ve engaged with stakeholders in the community as we seek to understand the social as well as the environmental factors affecting them.
What do we learn from others?
We learn from extremes – countries with extreme water situations, e.g. Israel with its arid environment, Sweden with lots of water, etc. Australia is a leader also because of our harsh environment – droughts and flooding rains. We had to learn to be strategic about water management.
Where we’ve been driven strategically by our geology and climate, the Dutch have always had to manage water because they live ‘under water’. Because they live beneath sea level, they’ve developed strong expertise in hydrology and engineering. More recently we can learn from the way they engage with the community.
The future of water
It was to further the vision and the reality of integrated water management in Australia and world-wide that our member universities and partners came together to form the International WaterCentre five years ago. Many good things are being done, and many more can be done, and if we all work together towards managing our water resources in more innovative and sustainable ways, we'll see quite a different future for water in the world.