29/08/2016 - 15:18

Planning, efficient use vital for water

29/08/2016 - 15:18

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ANALYSIS: Changing water-use habits is essential if WA’s lifestyle is to be maintained over the long term, irrespective of who owns the assets.


Planning, efficient use vital for water
LAVISH: Perth residents use more water per person than any other capital city in the country. Photos: Stockphoto.com

ANALYSIS: Changing water-use habits is essential if WA’s lifestyle is to be maintained over the long term, irrespective of who owns the assets.

Tim Treadgold’s column in Business News on August 15 (‘Water pressure highlights competing priorities’) was a thought-provoking view on private sector involvement in the water industry in Western Australia.

Our conditioning leads us to believe we should be able to have as much of anything as we can afford to pay for. However, the issue is more complex than one would first think.

It’s entirely possible that a private sector proposal to supply desalinated water has a place in the Water Corporation’s extensive and diverse program to secure the state’s water future. But the real issue is whether every Western

Australian would be ready to pay for an unlimited supply of water. No matter who owns the assets, the customers end up paying for them.

If we build more and more desalination plants to allow lavish water use, we also have to build much bigger networks of pipes and pumps; that all costs money and those costs are generally shared across all users – so the cost of water would increase for everyone.

Private sector involvement in the water industry is nothing new in WA. Water Corporation has been working with the private sector through strong alliances for more than 20 years to provide operations, maintenance, and asset management.

We also use a range of different contracting strategies to build new assets, including standard construction contracts, construction alliances and public private partnerships.

The tricky thing about privately owned water sources is that your competitor is rain. To date, we have not found the private sector keen to take on climate risk, and a take-or-pay contract does not help the state’s balance sheet. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter who owns the asset – a return on investment must be made.

Unfortunately, Mr Treadgold’s recent column ignores the realities of our drying environment. It suggests that unlimited water is a right, whether it rains or not, and that we’re punishing our customers for the lack of it.

Over the past decade, Water Corporation has constantly developed new sources and brought them online when needed. These have kept supply ahead of demand. We haven’t excessively developed new water sources before they are needed, which would have diverted investment away from other community priorities such as hospitals and schools.

With just a few days left of winter, we are only now starting to see stream-flows into Perth’s drinking water dams. The stream-flow is welcomed, however, the 13.8 billion litres received so far this winter is a tiny fraction of the long-term average inflows of more than 300 billion litres.

It is naïve to think we can buy our way out of a drying climate. As a community, I believe we can get by on a lot less water without affecting our lifestyles. We have a Mediterranean climate and clear blue skies 70 per cent of the year, yet we have gardens that look more like something out of Downton Abbey than Athens.

We use more water per person in Perth than any other capital city in the country. The corporation’s mantra is that waste is unacceptable; this is not about driving a ‘sackcloth and ashes’ mentality, but simply making a few tweaks to our daily behaviours.

We want Perth green with an outdoor amenity second to none, but we can do this in ways that use a fraction of the water we once poured on to our sandy gardens. We need to embrace our unique WA flora, not rip it out.

As an organisation we are not unique in encouraging our customers to use less of our product. Other businesses do this, too; for example health insurers promote wellness because they know that a healthy customer means fewer hospital visits and lower premiums.

I believe that we can both supply water and encourage its efficient use.

With continued good planning from the Water Corporation and a smart approach to water use by individuals, community and business, there’s good reason for confidence about our water future. Water forever – whatever the weather.

Sue Murphy is Water Corporation’s CEO.


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