26 October 2021
As we close off on another National Water Week in Australia and anticipate COP 26 in the UK starting in early November, it is an excellent 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.
Transition risk and decarbonisation remain critical focuses 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 critical 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 concerning 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 the 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, which includes, most notably, using guidance frameworks like the Taskforce on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) to assess how climate change can affect critical 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 current audit office policies and guidance.
While there is 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) – 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 to the performance, monitoring and improvement of response actions.
The guidance and steps within the WSAA Guideline remain a helpful starting point for addressing the broader risk assessment that TCFD will require.
Water efficiency plans and measures should sit at the centre of any climate change strategy for water utilities in terms of reducing energy consumption (and carbon emissions) and dealing with an uncertain water supply and weather extremes.
While the challenges of this predicted 'La Nina' summer is 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, which 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 storage and infrastructure - creating an ongoing cost burden to our communities and industries and 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.
Are you interested in any of this content? Please speak to one of our experts today listed below.
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.
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.
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