This week a few separate themes in urban water strategy have come together in my mind.
Hot on the heels of the 100 Resilient Cities report for Sydney, the Greater Sydney Commission has just released Towards our Greater Sydney 2056. Its plan for Greater Sydney and a vision for strategic planning with the goal of Sydney becoming a more productive, liveable and sustainable city. The Plan is motivated by “the once in a generation opportunity” to create three cities in Greater Sydney while unlocking assets and connections for the benefit of current and future populations. Towards our Greater Sydney identifies a goal of ‘minimise and mitigate environmental impacts through the efficient use of energy and resources, recycling of water and materials together with the development of renewable energy sources’. A very distinct flavour – which I thoroughly support – of the circular economy don’t you think?
While the debate will continue around the three proposed cities for Sydney (Eastern City, Central City and Western City) it is the draft West District Plan where urban water offers the greatest opportunities and challenges.
Water is canvassed in relation to improved water quality and waterway health and falls under “sustainable” actions. While there is acknowledgement that “major waterways would benefit from clear strategic plans in place to help guide how the waterway is protected, enhanced and enjoyed”, I see a need to switch the focus on the value and role of water more towards liveability. The plan states that a goal of infrastructure delivery should be: ‘staging infrastructure delivery using interim solutions including packaged wastewater treatment systems and temporary intersection improvements.’ The Commission should be congratulated for looking at things differently and presenting innovative models for delivering smart cities – the challenge for the urban water industry is partnering and collaborating with other sectors and utilising the digital economy to develop those innovative solutions.
Speaking of innovative solutions, I think our friends in Melbourne are really laying down the gauntlet. On display last week was the launch of the ground-breaking Aquarevo residential development in south-east Melbourne. A unique collaboration between South East Water and Villawood Properties, the 460 lot estate will employ a range of innovative water solutions – cutting water consumption significantly with the use of Iota technology. The estate will also be the first in Australia to track and monitor all energy and water use in near real-time. Bundled utility solutions at both infrastructure and retails levels are here right now and will only grow.
South East Water are not the only water business creating firsts. This week Yarra Valley Water released its Integrated Profit and Loss Report as it works towards its desire to understand the full value it delivers to society. It goes some way to answering questions such as ‘what could we do as a business to add greatest value?’ and ‘how do we contribute towards liveability?’ The scope of the work cantered on the positive and negative impacts of Yarra Valley Water’s direct operations in all four capitals: natural capital, social capital, human capital and financial capital. The report measures impacts across all of the ‘capitals’, not just financial capital, and across all categories of stakeholders affected – including employees, customers and society at large. I thoroughly recommend you take some time to take a read.
But not everything is on a clear trajectory. The seemingly esoteric inquiry by the NSW Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal into wholesale pricing continues in NSW. It is really about setting prices for new entrants to the water industry. Public hearings begin on 28 November and are being eagerly watched by new and existing players in urban water. Getting the right price signals and incentives to the market is critical to allowing innovative new players and servicing option to flourish, while protecting existing customers. Postage stamp pricing is front and centre of the debate but it goes to the heart of how greenfield areas will be serviced into the future – the ripple effect across the country can’t be discounted.
In short these recent developments show that city planning, innovation and efficient pricing all need to come together to deliver the smart, productive and liveable cities that we all want to live in. This reinforces my view that we must all act together as an industry on a broad range of fronts to ensure the right outcomes for customers and community. Critical to this is both what we can do as water businesses and how we engage with our wider stakeholders.