Qwater14 has come and gone with some great discussions, presentations and networking. Many of the issues raised during the conference are trends that are relevant to the industry as a whole. My view of these trends and issues include the following.
- Collaborations need to be led by industry and not be a political directive
- Innovation is about cultural change and not a system or new product
- Utilities will have an increased level of investment from the private sector
- Regulatory harmonisation will lead to improved industry productivity
- Being Asia’s food bowl will drive private investment in new Australian dams
- AWA needs to develop a new industry based leadership model for the water industry
- The water industry needs to have a low carbon future
- Operational benchmarking is allowing identification of high and poor performers
- The community does not understand the value or cost of water
- Water management needs a broad toolbox
Collaboration – Our industry is collaborating at an increasing rate. We need to determine what we are good at and what areas we should join with others. There is an increase in the use of supplier panels and partnerships with research and academia. The industry needs to lead these arrangements to ensure that the benefit are realised, risks managed and utilities are not forced into “arranged marriages”.
Innovation – Innovation is about cultural change and not a system or new product. Innovation is currently a buzz word, but just to have forums, workshops, committees or suggestions boxes will not result in the ongoing change we desire. It is just not a step change or continuous improvement. It is about giving permission to staff to challenge and change the way we do things. The change needs to happen from the bottom and be supported by the top.
Utility ownership – Capital recycling opportunities and pressures on balance sheets will see a significant change in the ownership model of the water industry in Australia. It is unlikely that any of our utilities will be privatised but other investment models will see the release of large funds from these utilities. Leases, long term operating contracts and the increase in private investment in new projects will increase and become the norm over the next few years.
Regulatory reform – The need for regulatory reform has been recognised in all jurisdictions with significant achievements having been made in red and green tape initiatives. The next significant improvement needs to be through the harmonisation of regulation across jurisdictions. Economic, health and environmental regulation needs to be harmonised across all states to act as a catalyst for improved industry productivity.
New infrastructure – Currently some 27 dams are proposed to expand agricultural regions in the north of the country. These are not associated with flood or drought mitigation. This will be the only significant infrastructure spend in the foreseeable future. The financing of these will be provided by the private sector, likely in association with Australia’s desire to be the food bowl for Asia.
Leadership of the industry – The demise of the National Water Commission needs to be used as the stepping stone to a new industry leadership model. It is our chance to develop a National Water Strategy, reduce the number of players in the industry and present a united face to the government, business community and our communities. This will increase our ability to sell our industry both locally and overseas.
Low carbon industry – Climate variability and electricity prices have had serious effect on how we operate our industry. Energy recovery on all assets, alternative energy and benchmarking tools are now standard tools across the industry.
Efficiency of operations –The water industry has not been good at demonstrating our level of performance. Recently several benchmarking tools and surveys have been developed including those for sewerage treatment plants, sewerage pumping stations, electrical and mechanical services. The increased use of these operational level benchmarking will improve the performance and efficiency of our operations. Increased benchmarking will help identify and focus on the industry poor performers.
Customer expectation – We need to close the gap between the expertise of water industry and communities knowledge of our capability. Water is off the public agenda after the awareness developed during the drought. The industry needs to continue to converse with the community as to the value of water to them and the overall economy eg – for $2 a day we walk 50 miles and carry water to your family, for $3 a day we take away your families waste and bury it away from our communities.
Integrated water management – The importance of having many options for the supply of water and disposal of effluent is as essential as ever. The nomination of contingency sources of water is increasing with desalination and recycling important components for management of risk during times of scarcity. Costs need to include all externalities including things such as system insurance and protection of catchments.
These are my views of the conference and may not reflect the views of AWA or my employer MidCoast Water.