Recently XPV Partners based in Canada organised a Digital Innovation Forum bringing together not just water industry leaders but leaders in healthcare, robotics, energy and analytics. Some incredible technology was on display, including videos of recently developed robots walking like humans through snow, and when pushed over, the robots could get up and start walking again within seconds. Anybody seen ‘Rise of the Machines’? It feels like it’s here now. Are we as an industry going to embrace the digital economy and other reforms or are we going to kick the can down the road and see what happens?
Talking of kicking the can down the road, when the Productivity Commission last took a major look at urban water in 2011, despite some excellent recommendations, the whole urban water reform program was indeed kicked down the road. Well, here we are again with another opportunity. With the closure of the National Water Commission a couple of years behind us, the Triennial Assessment of the National Water Initiative (NWI) is being undertaken by the Productivity Commission and provides a once in a decade opportunity to start a process of reform.
Commissioners and a Terms of Reference were recently announced by the Federal Treasurer and provide interesting reading for those of us who have been calling for renewing and updating of the NWI. The inquiry by the Productivity Commission is being referred to as an ‘inquiry into the reform of Australia’s water resources sector’. Importantly the Treasurer has announced the scope will be broader than what is specifically required by legislation and will of course stretch to the urban water industry. Any day now we expect the PC to release its Issues Paper which will provide context and many questions on the minds of the Commissioners.
With the water industry collecting so much data, never before have we had such a strong opportunity to drive information rich, robust and evidenced based policy. Through the National Performance Report (due to be released mid-March) the urban water industry has a degree of transparency not seen in other sectors and, let’s be honest, probably not utilised to its fullest to engage with customers, the community and our stakeholders. There are always reasons to complain about the report (given the nature of the lag indicators and that it’s almost 2 years after the data was collected) but we should be proud and eager to exploit the robust longitudinal data set that’s been collected. In the UK, the discoverwater.co.uk website marks the start of a strong push to create meaningful and accessible information from the millions of data points collected daily by utilities.
There are many opportunities to improve the NWI – to set that ‘light on the hill’ that has been absent for some time now. Let’s take the opportunity to finally include stormwater in the total urban water environment, let’s recognise Indigenous cultural and spiritual values of waterways, let’s formally include the impacts of climate change and population growth in our heavily urbanised environment into our long term goals, let’s ensure we have resilient systems with a focus on creating value for our customers and the community. I can only encourage you, for all of us, to speak up and ‘seize the day’ during the formal reform processes underway this year. Working together as professionals, companies, associations and research organisations, we can set that light on the hill that will resonate for all Australians.
Over at least the past five years, WSAA has advocated that while the industry is well trusted by the community, and has a direct and significant impact on economic performance, societal well-being and environment, there is still room for improvement to ensure safe, efficient and reliable services for future generations. Let’s not kick that can again – let's pick it up and create a new narrative of enriching life for all Australians.