Water utilities have been toying with the idea of Integrated Water Cycle Management (IWCM) for over a decade. IWCM calls for integrating the objectives of providing water, wastewater and stormwater services rather than treating them as separate and mutually exclusive services. For example, by meeting some of the water demands, especially non-potable ones, by capturing and cleaning wastewater and stormwater to required water quality, and not looking upon them as waste flows to be simply drained and discharged to the waterways.
Some utilities have built recycled water schemes as a way to avoid nutrient discharge into the waterways and the associated hefty pollution charges. Some others consider IWCM approach as a response to drought but without doing much about it and finding it much easier to resort to water restrictions which lead to the killing of community green open spaces and parks as well as green yards of the households.
Development of water treatment technologies like membrane filtration, ultra-filtration and reverse osmosis that enable turning urban stormwater and wastewater streams into cleaner waters along with the interest of utilities in IWCM have fuelled a lot of policy research on the costs and benefits of IWCM. Researchers and academics have spent millions of dollars of grant funding to develop umpteen frameworks and research outputs to help us understand the concept and to articulate the social, environmental and other benefits and costs of IWCM. A recent outcome of these researches has been the launching of a website and a centre of excellence (https://waterpartnership.org.au/ Australian Water Recycling Centre of Excellence) dedicated to research on the subject of water recycling. Literature is littered with hundreds of research publications and case studies of water recycling at building scale to community scale.
More recently, local municipalities and councils in Australia have evolved stormwater harvesting schemes using federal grant funding, even though they do not have the responsibility for water supply. These cities were driven to take a lead on these initiatives because of the value they perceived IWCM to provide for the community and environment - caring for which is their responsibility. The city of Sydney's https://www.cityofsydney.nsw.gov.au/__data/ assets/pdf_file/0005/122873/Final-Decentralised- Water-Master-Plan.pdf was another example of local councils taking such an initiative despite being restricted and constrained in their water responsibilities.
Despite such intense interest shown by the community, not much progress seems to have been made in practical terms in terms of integrated water services being considered and incorporated as part of the water utility business. Despite the vast amount of knowledge gained on its costs and benefits, IWCM remains an elusive topic amongst the planners in urban water utilities.
The discussion amongst water utility planners on the topic invariably ends up with the question "who is going to pay for it?" or a dismissive statement that "integrated water services are not financially viable". Projects that consider IWCM get rejected because they don't make a business case or are not financially viable or are too risky.
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July - September 2019