A ground-breaking study into future scenarios for urban water management launched at a Committee for Sydney 2054 workshop will help cities in Australia and across the world address key pressures that pose challenges to safe, secure and sustainable supply of water.

The study, led by global design and engineering firm Arup, and Sydney Water, draws on a range of future scenarios in mapping how water supply in Sydney and other major cities could look in 25 years, with regard to population growth, increasing scarcity of water and continued budget pressures.

The Future of Urban Water: Scenarios for Urban Water Utilities in 2040 report highlights over 100 social, economic, environmental, political, and technology trends, outlining four key scenarios which will guide the long term planning of Sydney Water.

Each scenario sees the industry move in a new direction with various opportunities for customers, infrastructure, and governance. Some incorporate modest changes, such as the introduction of products and services using smart-water metering, real time monitoring, smart phone apps, and related technology.

Overall, water bills could become lower as customers are more empowered to reduce consumption.

Others suggest more extensive changes, including self-management of water supply by local communities, a greater role for private industry in building and operating site-specific water systems, and differentiated customer billing.

Arup’s Australasia Water Leader, Daniel Lambert, said the joint planning study was one of the most imaginative and forward-looking of its type undertaken by any water utility, and would help Australian water utilities to plan for and effect change on a local and global scale.

“Australia is the driest populated continent, and due to the challenges of our climate Sydney Water has successfully undertaken water efficiency and conservation programs to manage demand. As our largest city and one facing unique challenges however, it is imperative that Sydney continues to remain at the forefront of innovative thinking as to what the future of water supply may look like. This thinking should consider demand, operating models and adoption of technological innovation to ensure value is able to be realised by the community.”

“Jointly with Sydney Water, Arup has been able to consider and assess scenarios that could transform the operating model for water utilities. Arup believes our population will be best served if water authorities migrate towards a hybrid model which incorporates greater decentralisation and autonomous management of water supply, greater participation of additional service providers and smarter management of the water grid.”

“There is a key role for Sydney Water and their peers in driving this evolution and overseeing the more complex water delivery systems that are on the horizon,” he said.

While the scenarios and trends identified in the Arup/Sydney Water study offer a glimpse into the hybrid model of water management that could take shape in Sydney in the face of demographic and economic pressures, they also offer the potential for wider application. Additionally, they touch on the broader opportunities presented by water utilities in the generation of energy and the recovery of resources from wastes.

According to Arup, the expertise and technology that Sydney Water and other Australian water utilities will develop in making the transition to new models in the future represents intellectual property that could support new domestic and export revenue streams.

Sydney Water Manager Liveable City Programs, Kaia Hodge, said the planned study underscored Sydney Water’s determination to be at the forefront of planning for and driving water management solutions for large urban centres.

“Water underpins the liveability of our city. It is not just about plumbing our houses. It is also about how water realises the look and feel of our city, and supports its future prosperity. We recognise that there are big changes ahead for the industry and that it is vital for us to take a leadership role that is proactive in responding to change and planning for the future. We are excited by emerging opportunities to do things differently and be at the forefront of creative solutions that respond the full range of customer needs. This Arup study is an exciting step towards securing innovative and efficient management of our water resources for the next several decades,” said Ms Hodge.

The Committee for Sydney workshop at which the report was launched is part of a series of workshops feeding into their Sydney 2054 initiative, which aims to shape a vision for Sydney at half century and to inform policy between now and then. 

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