Climate Change Driving Water Efficiency

It is a good time to check-in on the consideration of climate risks and resilience as part of water supply planning, asset management and operations including the implementation of water efficiency measures.

26 October 2021

Water Management

As we close off on another National Water Week in Australia and anticipate COP 26 in the UK starting in early November, it is a good time to check-in on the consideration of climate risks and resilience as part of water supply planning, asset management and operations including the implementation of water efficiency measures.

Water Utilities and Climate Adaptation

Transition risk and decarbonisation remains a key focus of the industry and should rightly dominate planning considerations as we move as a nation toward a net zero emissions target.  However, on the resilience and adaptation side of climate risk, the level of action and investment by water utilities is much less certain.

Some of the key risks to water utilities from a changing climate and more extreme weather events include:

  • yield reliability and security;

  • the ability to respond effectively to more extreme weather events and natural disasters;

  • increased frequency of water quality incidents;

  • damage and increasing maintenance with respect to built assets from acute (storm-related damage) and chronic impacts (such as sea level rise and heat);

  • increased exposure and safety risks to staff and contractors; and

  • gaps and uncertainty in knowledge of climate projections, the timing of impacts and how they will affect operations.

While significant in their own right, these climate complications must also be considered in the broader context of the challenges to meet water demand over time as demographics change. 

In recognition of the importance of climate change and its effect on long term planning and operations, governments are imposing new requirements for corporations to disclose climate risk.  This includes, most notably, using guidance frameworks like the Taskforce on Climate Related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) to assess how climate change can affect key areas of governance, strategy, risk assessment and treatment and the development of metrics and indicators for tracking progress by an organisation.  While the current focus of the TCFD is on the financial, investment and insurance sectors, it is clear that Government Owned Corporations will also be strongly encouraged to follow this guidance based on recent State government audit office policies and guidance.[1]      

While there are a plethora of documentation now available to assist the water sector, the Water Services Association of Australia’s (WSAA) Guidelines on Climate Change Adaptation Guidelines (2016)[2] – developed with and by the industry - remains an excellent resource and blueprint for how to consider and address climate change adaptation by water utilities. 

Recognising that organisations across the country are at different stages of implementation, the Guidelines are designed to help water utilities with all stages of the adaptation process, from initial appreciation and awareness of the issues, through to the implementation, monitoring and improvement of response actions.    

The guidance and steps within the WSAA Guideline remain a useful starting point for addressing the broader risk assessment that will be required by TCFD.

Water Efficiency

Water efficiency plans and measures should sit at the centre of any climate change strategy for water utilities both in terms of the ability to reduce energy consumption (and carbon emissions) and to deal with uncertain water supply and weather extremes. 

While the challenges of this predicted ‘La Nina’ summer are likely to be in the margins of too much water in some locations, Australia is still the driest inhabited continent on earth so we need to keep up our reputation as being internationally renowned for our water management practices that make every drop count - and for keeping water as affordable as possible into the future.

This is especially the case in areas impacted by population growth and water scarcity that must now look to increasingly expensive water source options. 

While many water utilities may have traditionally been content to sell as much water as possible in the 'good times' and rely on urgent restrictions to scrape through drought periods, it seems likely that the coming years (and increasingly, customers) will demand more sophisticated and strategic management of vital resources. Unnecessary water demands continually undercut the resilience of our storages and our infrastructure - creating an ongoing cost burden to our communities and industries as well as amplifying the risk of catastrophic water system failure.

As an industry we need to be sure that we have a clear picture of what our water is doing and confidence that we're not wasting it anywhere.

Interested in any of this content? Speak to one of our experts today listed below.

[1] See https://www.qao.qld.gov.au/blog/are-climate-related-risks-impacting-your-financial-statements; https://www.audit.nsw.gov.au/our-work/reports/managing-climate-risks-to-assets-and-services

[2] Access via https://www.wsaa.asn.au/publication/climate-change-adaptation-guidelines

Meet the experts

Learn more about our industry leading experts.

Dr David Rissik

Climate Change Adaptation

Dr David Rissik

Climate Change Adaptation

David has significant experience in climate change risk assessments and adaptation
planning, coastal zone management, coastal ecology and water quality. David has contributed to the development of guidelines to support resilience and adaptation planning in a variety of sectors including the NRM sector, the investor sector and the coastal sector. In addition to his work at BMT, David has led large projects at Griffith University (NCCARF) and for the Queensland and NSW state governments. He has been a member of several National expert groups and has experience delivering training courses and stakeholder engagement activities.

David is an Adjunct Professor at Griffith University, and is strongly involved in the Blue Economy CRC, as a member of the Scientific Advisory Committee, leading a project and participating in several others. He is a member of the Australian Ocean Energy Systems Working Group, and is active in the Australian Ocean Energy Group. David is a Non-Executive Director of Green Cross Australia which focusses on community resilience and sustainability. David is a Graduate of the Australian Institute of Company Directors.

Adam Jones

Water Efficiency

Adam Jones

Water Efficiency

Adam’s many years of detailed waterefficiency analysis and auditing has provided him with industry leading skills and experience in how water is used across a range of sectors - and a track record of identifying large efficiency improvements with strong return on investment. He has completed hundreds of water efficiency audits throughout Australia, developed and managed industry-leading research into water use, managed strategic water use planning for large organisations and regularly provides training and education to resource efficiency specialists in the commercial and government sectors.

Adam is considered a key industry expert in water use across a wide range of water using facilities, spanning the industrial, defence, utility, residential, strata, commercial, wastewater, council, health, retail and government sectors.

Greg Fisk

Global Lead Climate Risk and Resilience

Greg Fisk

Global Lead Climate Risk and Resilience

Greg is a Senior Associate at BMT and leads the firm’s global campaign related to climate risk and resilience. Based in Brisbane, Australia, Greg has over 25 years of experience in natural hazard and climate change planning and adaptation studies with planning, transport, and conservation authorities.

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