Urban Water Planning Below Par

Posted 5 October 2007

There are serious gaps in water supply planning in some parts of Australia that must be addressed if water supplies are to be adequately maintained in the face of uncertainties about future water availability and demand.

There is a variance between the quality of water planning in the different states and territories, with significant aspects of one or both of two key elements of water supply planning - institutional support and technical rigour - largely absent in some states and territories.

These are key findings of a study by the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering (ATSE) which reviewed water supply planning by Australia ’s non-metropolitan urban water utilities. The study report provides a snapshot of the status of long-term urban water supply planning by these water utilities.

The Urban Water study report, URBAN WATER: Review of water supply planning for Australia’s non-metropolitan urban water utilities, was launched in Sydney on Friday 5 October by Hon Malcolm Turnbull, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources.

The report notes that maintaining a reliable urban water supply to more than six million residents outside of Australia's capital cities is important for the ongoing success and livelihood of those communities. The review emerged from concerns about the ability of water utilities in some regional urban centres to undertake adequate planning in the context of highly variable and changing supply and demand conditions.

The study obtained an example long-term urban water supply plan in areas outside of capital cities in every state or territory except Tasmania, where no formal plan was able to be located amongst the dozen utilities operating there - although it anticipates a Tasmanian example plan in late 2007.

It notes there is no formal requirement or government financial incentive for water utilities in South Australia, Tasmania, Western Australia and the Northern Territory to undertake long-term urban water supply planning and recommends greater regulatory drivers for water utilities in these states and territories to prepare their water supply plans.

The report highlights stark contrasts in the quality and extent of water supply planning across Australia . It questions the efficacy of water utility institutional models operating in some states and highlights those operating effectively to achieve water supply planning outcomes, such as in Victoria.

It notes no monitoring of progress by water utilities towards development of their long-term water supply plans takes place in Queensland , while less than one-third of water utilities in New South Wales had commenced preparation of their water supply plan some two years after guidance had been made available to them by the State government. NSW has a target of June 2008 for completion of its long-term water supply plans.

The report says the regulatory approach opted in Victoria to ensure completion of water supply plans in accordance with state guidelines was found to be more effective than the financial incentives offered in New South Wales and Queensland.

It notes that water supply planning should be linked with energy and land use planning decisions in an integrated manner and points out that Australian states and territories typically do not give adequate consideration to uncertainty in their water supply planning.

"Most notably there was no quantification of the effect of climate change in example water supply plans in Queensland, New South Wales, the Northern Territory and Tasmania", the report says. "Given recent climate conditions and global warming trends, this oversight is of concern".

The report makes a number of commendations related to water supply planning in various states and territories, calls for a more uniform approach to ensure optimum water supply planning and continuing review of the process.

The authors of the report were Mr Brad Neal CPEng MIEAust, water resources planning Practice Leader with Sinclair Knight Merz ( SKM ); Dr John Radcliffe AM FTSE, an agricultural scientist and a Commissioner of the National Water Commission and former Deputy Chief Executive of CSIRO, and earlier Director-General of Agriculture in South Australia and a Murray Darling Basin Commissioner; Professor Emeritus Tom McMahon FTSE, who is recognised nationally and internationally for his work in hydrology; and Dr Rory Nathan CPEng MIEAust, Practice Leader for hydrology with SKM and winner of the 2000 national Civil Engineer of the Year.

The project was funded by the Australian Research Council under the Linkage Learned Academies Special Projects program.

Source: ATSE

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