As Integrated Water Management specialists, we are continually searching for better ways to manage, deliver and treat water and wastewater. How do we drive innovation for urban water management in developed countries in ways that provide environmental protection, resilience, adaptability, cost-effectiveness, efficiencies and involve all stakeholders?
Innovation in Australia’s Water Sector
While Australia has set precedents for water reform through legislation, such as the COAG and National Water Initiative, it is also one of just a handful of countries that has a water recycling framework. Given that many countries look to Australia for lessons in water management, especially during times of climate extremes, and the global growth of water recycling as a strategy, this piece highlights a water policy that is unique to Australia and possibly the world. Further, as the world is increasingly accepting recycled water as an alternate source, this policy could potentially help drive water recycling innovation.
The Water Industry Competition Act (2006)
The New South Wales Water Industry Competition Act (2006) was formed “as part of a strategy for a sustainable water future to harness innovation and investment potential of the private sector in the water and wastewater industries.” It provides a licensing process for third party access (private utilities) within the state that is governed by the Minister for Water and the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal (IPART).
The legislation is unique in the world, as it explicitly promotes and encourages competition and water recycling. The policy enables a path of entry for private utilities to provide solutions for local developments, whilst also working with public entities, such as SydneyWater, for connecting to the main system.
WIC Act as a model for Private-Public Partnership for Water Management
There has long-been a debate regarding public and private roles for water management, but the WIC Act may coincide with growing proof that a combination of the two (public and private, centralised and decentralised, small and large scale) may prove beneficial. The Act may also provide a model where public-private partnerships, with effective government oversight, can work in ways to drive innovation for urban water management. For example, developers are able to work with private and public utilities through the WIC Act licensing regime, to provide local solutions for new suburbs and build upon those as the development grows, rather than having to build out for expected capacity for 20 years down the road. This may allow for implementation of more adaptable, timely technologies, but the Act does not necessarily guarantee smaller-scale projects. The size and scope of such licenses provided through the Act include a range such as Central Park Sydney and Rosehill Recycling project.
Through the WIC Act, cost savings and energy efficienies may be found with on-site water reuse infrastructure, and licensees have the potential to provide local alternate water sources (such as recycled wastewater and stormwater). Also, wastewater and stormwater that is reused for non-potable uses (such as gardens and toilets), can ease demand on central systems, protect waterways, and reduce the demand of treated drinking water for non-potable uses (thereby, protecting environmental flows). With effective oversight and transparency, these types of innovations can provide holistic, adaptable solutions to help mitigate climate change and provide alternate water sources. Those sites that also capture stormwater, along with wastewater, further such alternate resources.
Further application of the Act
Currently, the Act is being amended to improve efficiencies and clarifications, such as licensing application procedures and requirements and operator of last resort. While there may be gaps further found through academic and policy papers, it may be worthwhile to examine how the WIC Act promotes competition and water recycling to address urban water management in developed country contexts.
Could the WIC Act, especially with its amendments underway, set another Australian precedent that the world will look at for ways to stimulate innovation for meeting pressing and ever-changing urban water needs?
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What are your thoughts on this policy? On dual reticulation? Private utilities in Australia?
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