- Reseach project
- – Western Pacific
Read the latest updates about the International WaterCentre, as well as contemporary water sector insights, water management news, and conversations with researchers, practitioners and students, from both Australia and abroad.
By Dr Lachlan Guthrie and Thomas Pitts, In support of the Australian Government’s Partnerships for Recovery policy, the Australian Water Partnership (AWP) has launched the COVID-19 Water Security Risk Index, developed by Griffith University researchers. The index enables governments, communities, and development organisations to identify risks and prioritise water-related responses in the Indo-Pacific. Supported by the AWP, researchers at Griffith University’s International Water Centre and the School of Medicine have collaborated to develop the innovative Index, drawing on readily available global datasets. Building on the Asian Development Bank’s Asian Water Development Outlook approach, as well as public health risk frameworks, it considers factors that influence a country’s vulnerability to respond to COVID-19 risks from a water security perspective. “The index enables us to identify the points of concern for each country and prioritise the most appropriate water-based interventions to reduce a country’s risk of COVID-19 impacts in the short-term and build long-term resilience,” said Dr Lachlan Guthrie, International Water Centre project leader. He said while the ability of people to wash their hands is vitally important, it was only one of many important water-related factors that influence risk. “We’ve been able to show that water can play a major role in the response to and recovery from COVID-19, not just hygiene which is obviously very important. “In the majority of Pacific countries, for example, they are recording a relatively low number of cases which reflects their ability to delay a COVID-19 outbreak from ‘sparking’. However, when their borders reopen they would be at extremely high risk due to poor access to water and sanitation, and having the highest rates of mortality risk factors in the Asia-Pacific.” Associate Professor Anne Roiko, from the School of Medicine, who led the public health angle of the project said their work on the index highlighted the critical role of water in understanding and dealing with the pandemic. “In our framing of the COVID-19 Water Security Risk Index, we integrated elements of environmental and public health, biomedical science, economics, engineering, and water, sanitation and hygiene.” Dr Guthrie said their work was a great starting point. “What is exciting, is the potential to collaborate with other researchers and stakeholders and address specific and equally important challenges as we learn more about the SARS-CoV-2 virus and what strategies minimise its impacts.” AWP CEO, Professor Nick Schofield, emphasised Australia’s role in helping its neighbours. “This index is supporting COVID-19 preparedness, response and recovery activities across the Indo-Pacific to secure our region’s health, wellbeing and stability in these challenging times.” NOTE: This article was previously posted on Griffith News.
Water industry challenges and solutions will take centre stage at the inaugural Australian “Innovate 4 Water” marketplace in Brisbane and online on Aug 5-7. Held by Waterpreneurs in 7 cities since 2017, “Innovate 4 Water” is a multi-stakeholder, curated and outcome-oriented marketplace event. Over two days the event will bring together representatives from water utilities, water assets, industry solution providers and vendors, investment financiers, accelerating the process of matchmaking real industry challenges with actionable, investment-ready ideas. Andrew Best, Innovation Development Lead (Asia Pacific) at International WaterCentre said "In Australia many technologies have looked overseas to access equity funding or have simply been unable to get traction because there are fewer opportunities here in a conservative market." “International WaterCentre are very excited to bring this model into Australia for the first time together with Waterpreneurs. Outcomes from hosted events have made a lasting impact on the water nexus in those regions from increased visibility of solutions for communities and end users, and partnerships that create stronger networks in the ecosystem,” says Best. Best says the event fills a massive gap in the water innovation marketplace by making investment-ready solutions more accessible. “Our participants come with a practical and solution driven approach. We have a robust process in the lead-up to help them be prepared with a need or solution to be presented in the marketplace. We are focussed on impactful local solutions that can be implemented effectively.” Nicolas Lorne, Waterpreneurs President and Co-founder, said the idea for the event is to activate meaningful connections and facilitate trust within the local water sector. Each “Innovate 4 Water” marketplace is co-organised with local organisations to ensure that it has the most impact within the region it is held. “The idea behind the marketplace is to navigate through silos in the water ecosystem, build bridges between the private sector and industry stakeholders, and scale existing solutions,” said Lorne. “By holding these events locally, we can activate local connections and accelerate projects. We have seen that local participants very quickly progress the discussions about the project, financing and next steps which usually happens at a much slower pace from larger conventions or general networking events,” he said. ‘Innovate 4 Water’ was originally planned as an in-person marketplace but now, adapting to Covid-19 restrictions, it will be a hybrid of live-streamed and in-person. The marketplace is strongly supported by Trade and Investment Queensland and Office of the Queensland Chief Entrepreneur, as well as many other organisations including GHD, BHP, Water for Women, Australian Water Partnership, Australian Aid, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), Water Utilities Australia and WaterStart. For more information or to register for the event, go to https://innovate4water.net/brisbane-2020 or contact Andrew Best on +61 408 862 076 or [email protected]
“The sector needs leaders with the right critical thinking skills, contemporary knowledge and understanding of its complexities and linkages across our cities and catchments.’’ Mark says one of the biggest obstacles to making positive change in the water sector is that it falls within the public goods space and is almost entirely publicly funded.
The revelations of the drinking water crisis in the city of Flint, Michigan in the United States shocked the world in 2014. But new data, legislation and forms of pollution mean that the water crisis runs much deeper than those findings. The findings of Flint and recent, widespread reports on water shortages in other states like California and New Mexico due to water pollution have been alarming. But rural America is really feeling the pinch of pollutants in aquifers, with the regulation of waste and pollutants and ageing infrastructure leaving many in small-town America without access to clean water. Groundwater reliance is leaving small-town America with no clean water Groundwater is crucial for rural communities, with about 40 per cent of United States residents relying on it for drinking water and another 39 per cent requiring it for agricultural purposes, according to the United States Geological Survey. And a combination of lead from corroding infrastructure and pollutants like nitrates from farming operations are compromising these groundwater sources. Madison Condon is a fellow at New York University School of Law and she highlighted the dangers in her report Rural America's Drinking Water Crisis. “Water supplies in farming communities often have harmfully high levels of nitrates, which seep into the groundwater from fertilizer and manure,” she said. “Yet, 85 per cent of the communities with nitrate violations have no treatment systems for removing the chemical. “The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that updating rural America’s water infrastructure … would require $190 billion of investment in the coming decades. “Where this funding will come from has been left unanswered.” Legislation rollback means more pollution could be tipped into United States waterways The United States Government introduced legislation called the Waters of the United States rule in 2015 that aimed at reducing fossil-fuel pollution from coal-fired power plants as well as cars and methane emissions. In November, 2019, the Government repealed this legislation which means that these power plants and other polluters no longer require a permit to dump hazardous waste into waterways. Farmers have welcomed the repeal after many railed against the Government telling them what they could do on their own properties. But environmental groups have warned this repeal could lead to more pollution hitting rural American groundwater supplies. The rise of PFAS and PFOA chemicals in America drinking water Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and Perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFAS) are two large-scale pollutants impacting United States waterways. These dangerous chemicals are dubbed “forever chemicals” because of their ability to persist in the environment and resistance to water treatment – even the latest technologies. According to major news outlet Bloomberg, waste from over 180 industrial estates across 39 states is polluting American waterways with PFAS. And these chemicals can remain present in groundwater supplies in rural America for as long as 15 years. This has led the charge from many water safety activists to call for greater government intervention. “In the end, a massive influx of government funding is needed to make sure that millions of Americans are not left exposed to health-harming pollutants put in their drinking water by under-regulated industries,” Madison Condon said.
Since the millennium drought in the mid 2000s, Brisbane has built new major infrastructure, including a water grid, desalination plant, and a now-decommissioned recycled water scheme. The city has also promoted widespread adoption of water-sensitive urban design (WSUD) measures including rainwater tanks, permeable pavements, and stormwater harvesting. But value for money in urban water security requires more than just providing water supply to households and businesses at the lowest cost per megalitre—we need to consider the environmental impacts of water security measures as well. NCEconomics resource and environmental economic practitioner Jim Binney says that when it comes to increasing water supply versus improving water use efficiency, there tends to be cycles. “A lot of analysis was done from 2007 to 2011. We found that when it comes to water savings or availability and their costs, you can’t just choose one option, you have to establish a portfolio of measures, which is why we ended up building a dam as well as desalination and promoting rainwater tanks and water use efficiency,” he says. Binney notes that cyclical thinking can be a planning challenge. This often happens when once the large infrastructure is built, the issues falls onto the backburner. This can be detrimental to the consideration of smaller / incremental supply options such as stormwater harvesting. “Water supply planning and waterway management should be a continuous process, not just something that is front of mind during a drought”. When it comes to determining the bang for your buck when it comes to different urban water security measures, Binney says that it is important to try and match growth in water demand with the best options to meet that demand. “This might mean choosing options with higher unit costs such as stormwater harvesting. These options can be cheaper in the long run as you don’t have significant excess capacity for decades, which often happens with large dam developments,” he says. “One interesting thing that we’ve also found when considering alternative supply options is that with climate change, we’re observing that rainfall up the catchments is often declining but rainfall in coastal zones—where most people live—is often being affected to a lesser degree. This changes the relative efficiency (and costs) of options such as dams vs. smaller options in coastal zones. It will be fascinating to see how this plays out as the impacts of climate change become more pronounced.” Binney believes that some options need to be taken into account more when it comes to effective water management planning. “Typically, we have measured costs in terms of lifecycle financial costs of delivering a particular volume of water. But that only works if only objective is only to supply water,” he says. “We know that initiatives such as harvesting stormwater and recycling have benefits beyond direct water supply such as reducing diffuse pollutant loads into waterways. We need to move from traditional dollars per kilolitre measures to inform investment decisions and move to a broader cost-benefit framework that considers all the benefits and costs of each option.” There is a movement underway within the water management industry to consider cost-benefit analysis, which is already commonplace when looking at flood risk assessments and thresholds for pollutants in water. For Binney, Brisbane is still not placing enough value on WSUD measures, which will prevent nutrients and sentiments flowing into creeks, rivers, and the ocean. “Often the building industry says the cost burden is too high,” he says. “We’re talking $2,800-$4,000 for WSUD per detached house. Putting WSUD into perspective of the total cost of building a new house, it is the equivalent cost of less than 3 m2 of the building footprint, or some fancy benchtops. Given the fact that new builds are now much larger, and for fewer residents on average, the tradeoff between a few square metres on a McMansion and sustainable water management is a trade off well worth making”.