Water supplies under threat down under, say experts

BRISBANE, Australia, March 12, 2010 -- Australia's capacity to secure hi-quality water supplies for cities, towns and remote communities is under threat for the first time in 60 years...

BRISBANE, Australia, March 12, 2010 -- Australia's capacity to secure hi-quality water supplies for cities, towns and remote communities is under threat for the first time in 60 years.

The country will need to spend A$30 billion on urban water infrastructure over the next five to ten years and the challenge will be to deal with short-term political cycles when long-term planning is needed.

These comments were made at the Black & Veatch media forum held this week in Brisbane where Eamonn Kelly, vice president and managing director of South Asia Pacific for the company said: “We need to spot signposts of change as early as possible and give policy makers and politicians expert guidance so that they can react quickly with an understanding of both short term and long-term consequences. We must build flexibility into systems."

Peter Binney, vice president and director of Sustainable Water Planning, said: “In Australia and the United States, we are wrestling with the larger issue of sustainable infrastructure and how it is funded, permitted and delivered."

Binney added: "Achieving changes in water demand patterns in a community requires education, an appeal to civic mindedness and pricing. Because water is often undervalued, it’s important to reflect full-cost pricing in real dollars to help the public understand its true value,” he said. “The challenge is to ensure the public understands that it’s not just about cost and price but about value.”

The director said a "portfolio approach" would enable water utilities to select from a range of options to expand, improve and maintain water infrastructure.

Discussions at the forum looked at desalination, water conservation, energy management and water recycling.

The latter was highlighted by the Australian Water Association (AWA) as being a fundamental part of the country's development.

Tom Mollenkopf, chief executive of the AWA said Australian governments are jeopardising future drinking water supplies by refusing to consider recycled drinking water as a solution to Australia’s water demands.

Speaking ahead of the Ozwater conference held earlier this week, he urged governments to stop "shying away" from indirect potable reuse (IPR) and seriously consider it as a viable drinking water source for the future.

Mollenkopf said: “Desalination and other initiatives have bought our cities some time but these projects will be pushed to the limit as Australia’s population grows from 21 million to an estimated 35 million by 2050. In 20-30 years many cities will be looking for the next solution to increasing water needs. There is no doubt that dams, desalination and sustainable water management practices will remain important to securing our water supplies, but let’s not wait until the next crisis before any further action is taken."

He added: “Governments must be more innovative in their thinking but importantly, they must be prepared to take on difficult conversations that will deliver long term benefits to our growing population. Governments should be examining other alternatives now and that includes adding purified water to our drinking water supply.”

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