20-20 Vision: A Positive View of Urban Water Services in 2043

20-20 Vision: A Positive View of Urban Water Services in 2043

20-20 Vision: A Positive View of Urban Water Services in 2043
Date: 21-Dec-2023

We wrap up our 20th anniversary year with a positive vision for the water sector twenty years from now.

It’s the year 2043 and a panel discussion at the qldwater Annual Forum reflects on the positive changes over the past 20 years that have led to the Directorate achieving its vision for safe, secure and sustainable water services for all Queenslanders.

In 2024 the sector went through an unprecedented period where our steady advocacy over the previous decade sparked a convergence of changemakers across all levels of government to work together to solve the wicked problems the sector was experiencing. This was supported by the Urban Water Risk Assessment, a government initiative of the time.

This refreshing change became evident at the local and state elections in 2024, when the terrible atrocities of multiple wars and extreme weather events across the globe shook the world to its core, and a decision was made to put essential services and essential human rights at the top of the agenda.

This was a turning point in the history of urban water services, changing the path from a possible future where clean water and sanitation was unavailable to many Queenslanders, towards an era of water equity where water is properly valued, efficiently used and reused, and forms part of thriving ecosystems. The era also saw positive reforms on how critical infrastructure investment was considered.

The panel members reflected on the confluence of changes that led to increased collaboration, better planning, and ultimately a series of reforms around water rights to include the ecological values of ecosystems into our economic systems.

Regional Water Reforms

In 2024 we welcomed the tenth and final QWRAP region when the Torres Cape Indigenous Councils received the benefits that the other regions were reaping through better collaboration. Since then, all the QWRAP regions have matured their collaboration models further to manage urban water services across the regions, providing the efficiencies of scale and productivity initiatives required to deliver efficient water and sewerage services.

Data Management

The Statewide Water Information Management System (SWIM) and swimlocal, already used by all water service providers in Queensland by 2023, has grown to become a powerful tool for reporting and benchmarking purposes and is now used to support a variety of local government functions including in the management of the professional development of those working in the sector.

Water Security

In 2023, the Queensland Government introduced its Urban Water Risk Assessment project which laid bare the drinking water and water security risks across our remote and regional communities. The project brought together the Department of Regional Development, Manufacturing and Water, Queensland Health, the Department of Environment and Science and the Department of State Development, Infrastructure, Local Government and Planning, to prioritise future needs.

The project pulled together the threads of reliability (water security) and resilience, which allowed the regions to manage their existing risks and better cope with future challenges. The lack of sustainable water sources sparked a series of demand management campaigns and new businesses popped up to manufacture innovative water efficient products and services.

Catchment Management and Ecosystems Health

The criticality of good catchment management to water security and water quality is now well understood. Working with local catchment groups and other stakeholders including River Trusts and Catchment Action Groups, galvanised through the QWRAP Stakeholder Engagements, we have healthier catchments, improving biodiversity outcomes. These highly effective partnerships also assist in the attraction of those passionate about the environment to the urban water sector workforce.

Rethinking Water Supply

As the continuous cycles of drought and flooding swept through our communities, the ‘’yuck’’ factor was consigned to history as people embraced the concept of recycled water and the Western Corridor Treatment Plant was reactivated and became a model for other grids across the State.

Tackling Contaminants at Source

The issues around contaminants of emerging concern led to a series of reforms and a source control strategy to effectively regulate and eliminate CECs from new and imported products which eventually saw their limits reduce in wastewater networks. However, this proved to be a slow and costly transition.

Embracing The Path to Net Zero

The industry nailed the path to net zero by embracing the opportunities presented by the change away from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources. Most sewerage treatment plants now generate more power than they use, capturing emissions and destroying harmful contaminants in the process. And the organic products produced further contribute to positive environmental outcomes.

This post first appeared as the feature article in the Queensland Water Newsletter December 2023 edition.

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