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Collaborate and Integrate or Evaporate! A Work in Progress from Melbourne, Australia on Creating a Water Smart City

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Melbourne, like many cities around the world is experiencing growing pains while adapting to a rapidly changing climate. Indeed, Australia is expected to experience a disproportionate impact resulting from climate change in a country already notorious for floods, fires and droughts.

Melbourne is forecast to grow from about 3.8 million people now to 5.6 million people over the next 30 years. This growth is forecast in the context of escalating uncertainty concerning water security from rivers and dams, which currently supply almost 90% of water for the city. Rainfall appears to have undergone a step reduction in Melbourne with average annual inflows into Melbourne's reservoirs for the period 1997-2008 about 40% below the previous long-term average. Inflows over the past six months were second only to those experienced in 2008 as the lowest ever recorded.

Another significant challenge and threat to traditional water sources is the increasing incidence of extreme wildfires. In February this year, “Black Saturday” saw Australia experience the worse wildfire fatalities over the past century with around 200 people losing their lives. The devastating wildfires occurred on the fringes of the Melbourne and burnt about 30% of the water supply catchments for the city. Preliminary estimates by the Melbourne Water Corporation suggest that there may be a 20–30% reduction in stream flows from the affected Melbourne water supply catchment areas in approximately 30 years time, with these areas not expected to recover fully for another 70–100 years.

In response to these challenges Melbourne is implementing a number of major augmentation projects in the short term, which include a 150 gigalitre desalination plant and a connection to larger river systems in adjacent catchments. These responses are important but it is recognised that there is no single solution for these challenges; an integrated approach is the only way to effectively work towards addressing these challenges to ensure the city is sustainable into the future. As a water utility, Melbourne Water's focus is on integrating water management into the concept of a liveable city with a sustainable future. This involves joint water and urban planning and integration of the various water sources. It also includes consideration of the energy water nexus.

Integrated water management is not new. In fact, integrated water planning is becoming increasingly common, but the challenge is how to implement it.

– How to effectively and expediently convert the lofty notions of integrated water management into practical plans that can be implemented in sync with broader integrated city management?

– How do we change the paradigm that has been developed over a long period of time to deliver traditional water infrastructure services at least cost to the present generation of the community without due regard and understanding of the true costs for future generations?

– How do we harness the existing enthusiasm and continue to build on this enthusiasm while governance structures and organisational responsibilities are playing catch up to community expectations?

Clearly, when we talk about integrated water planning, it will cut across disciplines and inter and intra-organisational boundaries of responsibility. A collaborative approach is required. What is the best way to meet the challenges we are now facing and cater for the collaborative integrated approaches now required to meet these challenges? These are the questions that we have been grappling with. Our response is outlined in this paper.

In Melbourne, from a water perspective, we have identified four key areas that need to be addressed to move us further down the path toward a city of the future:

– Improved level of public participation and impact particularly in an increasingly decentralised water future; we need to move from having an informed, consulted and involved community, towards a collaborative and empowered community

– Greater involvement of water planning with urban planning; we need to move from having limited input, mostly identifying constraints to urban development, towards a more co-ordinated integrated approach where the role of water in the urban landscape is a key urban design consideration

– A more integrated approach that involves locally-specific solutions and considers all water sources to address potable demand reduction, and reducing the impact of urban runoff on receiving water bodies, and other roles for water in the urban landscape is required.

– Improved methods of analysis to identify energy considerations of future water resource options

There are several key initiatives and programs that are being undertaken in Melbourne to address the water challenges we are facing in an integrated way. Firstly, the Melbourne Water Corporation, together with other industry, government and academic partners recognise the need to collaborate with a much broader range of partners that the water industry has not traditionally worked with including leading architects, planners, transport designers, businesses, community and opinion leaders. As a result, an alliance is being formed. The aim of this Water Smart City Alliance in Melbourne is to support the growing momentum around integrated water management. The Alliance will assist in identifying gaps, building awareness and technical capacity and play a linking and supporting role in creating a water smart city. The intention of establishing the Alliance is not to create a water industry-lead, branded and fully funded model but rather an open collaboration of relevant organisations working together and acknowledging different types of contributions needed to meet the broader sustainable city objectives.

A second initiative is the completion of a Melbourne Water Supply Demand Strategy. This is a joint strategy between Melbourne metropolitan retail water authorities that aims to provide a collective map of how to cater for Melbourne's growth in a sustainable way over the next 50 years. All water sources will be considered, and evaluation will include triple bottom line principles and value flexibility and preserving options into the future.

Finally, urban planning strategies for sustainable growth include Melbourne 2030, Planning for Melbourne and Delivering Melbourne's newest sustainable communities. These strategies are about planning for sustainable growth and aim to direct growth to where resources and infrastructure can be most efficiently used.

This paper will outline the key programs in Melbourne that are designed to deliver a Water Smart city and analyse aspects that have been successful and any aspects that have failed to meet expectations. In particular the formation of the Water Smart City Alliance will be discussed.
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Keywords: Drought; climate change; water smart city

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2010-01-01

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