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Sustainable Water Cycle Management – balancing conflicting demands for water services

IWRA 2021 Online Conference One Water, One Health
Theme 4: What are the synergies or trade-offs between ecosystem health and human health?
Author(s): Dr Charles Essery - Sustainable Water Solutions

Dr Charles Essery - Sustainable Water Solutions

Keyword(s): Sustainable Water Cycle Management, Confliction Resolution, Performance Outcomes, Regulatory and Policy mis-alignments


The world is increasingly urbanized. Yet the catchments and receiving waters these growth centres rely upon, are often ignored. Urban water supplies are essential services which must operate within an increasingly complex mesh of regulatory, environmental and community constraints. In planning for increased water demand, planners rarely consider the needs of upstream/downstream communities and resource users. Instead, they tend focus on the immediate urban need and then find ways of avoiding restrictions that non-urban jurisdictions and regulatory constraints will have on the execution/implementation of their planning activities.

This produces conflict, inefficiencies, and sub-optimal outcomes. A Sustainable Water Cycle Management (SWCM) approach has been and can be used to address these issues. Through 20 years of implementation of this approach, the authors suggest that conflicts can be avoided. SWCM can instead offer “win-win-win” solutions for social, environmental, and economic stakeholders. After 30 years of developing and delivering an integrated approach to resolving conflicting demands for water supply and sewerage services, this presentation highlights the successes, failings, and future developments of this approach.

The paper covers 25+ regional water utilities (25,000-100,000 population) studies and examines the results of the implementation of plans, activities, and subsequent infrastructure investments. Examples of scoping SWCM studies for Australia capital cities are discussed, showing the approach’s adaptability to large scale metropolitan utilities (100,000-5,000,000+population). The completed studies/projects clearly illustrate that a lack of
alignment between regulators (health, resource, environment, treasury/finance), government policy and resource users are still major factors in limiting the potential to meet sustainable community and environmental needs. The SWCM approach demonstrates how the application of sound communication strategies can lead the way using cadastral information, scenario planning, modelling and scientific datasets. The SWCM approach continues to improve with every study, and it continues to evolve and adapt to those “wrestling” with future water resource needs for urban communities. SWCM provides a sound, robust and proven methodology that can be applied to small, regional and metropolitan utilities alike. It offers outcomes that reduce conflict between catchment, urban and receiving water communities. It also demonstrates how so-called demand/supply conflicts can be resolved permanently, despite increasing population, regulatory constraints, and climate variability.

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