The future of urban water

By Daniel Lambert

Australasia Water Leader, Arup

Our study, The Future of Urban Water, outlines four different scenarios for how water authorities will manage the resource and how consumers will access and pay for it. Each is very different, with very different outcomes, but the one thing they all have in common is that technology will have a huge impact on the way we use and manage water, both for individual households and for water authorities. While the study was undertaken in collaboration with Sydney Water* and considers how water will be used in 25 years’ time, it’s a good starting point to think about how all cities will manage their water resources in the future. Water authorities need to understand what some of the future scenarios could look like so they can plan for them and make their own water systems resilient and adaptable, because if they’re not looking ahead, they’ll face challenges down the track. The four scenarios we identified are:

  • Incremental Improvements

    A focus on customer services that are user-centric, providing greater personal choice and control over service levels and pricing. Needs increased cooperation between water, energy
    and telecommunication companies with a focus on integrated planning and maintenance.

  • Better Together

    Creating a seamless customer experience across multiple integrated utilities, including shared billing, pricing and customer services. Better cooperation between urban utilities through collaborative planning, integrated asset management, shared protocols and open data will be needed.

  • Autonomous Communities

    Services that enable customers to manage and maintain autonomous water systems at building, community or cluster level. Autonomous systems and small scale water networks governance through cooperatives, virtual networks and community platforms.

  • Survival of the Fittest

    Providing customers with real-time data and information about water consumption, availability and pricing. Implementing a differential water pricing and services according to availability of supply, service plans and customer behaviour.

How these scenarios play out will depend on wide range of social, technological, economic, environmental and political trends, but personally, I don’t believe the future is likely to look like any one of these extreme scenarios. It may lean in one direction but it’s probably going to be a combination of a couple of them. Different scenarios might be prevalent in different parts of the city, depending on where the water is available and how open the local council is to collaboration.

Challenges for water utilities in Australia include; meeting future demand for water in a changing climate, managing diverse sources of supply, ensuring the health of waterways and ecological systems, maintaining the affordability of water services and reducing the carbon footprint of urban water supply and use. When considering this and the possible future scenarios in the report findings, one thing is certain, the implementation of digital and technological solutions will have a huge impact on the way we use and manage water. The study underscores Sydney Water’s determination to be at the forefront of planning for and driving water management solutions for large urban centres.

“We recognise that there are big changes ahead for the industry and that it is vital for us to take a leadership role that is proactive in responding to change and planning for the future. We are excited by emerging opportunities to do things differently and be at the forefront of creative solutions that respond the full range of customer needs. This Arup study is an exciting step towards securing innovative and efficient management of our water resources for the next several decades.”

* (While Arup conducted the study in conjunction with Sydney Water the results do not specifically reflect future of Sydney Water.)

Biography – Daniel Lambert

Daniel is Arup’s Australasia Water and Urban Renewal Business Leader. He is passionate about developing and implementing smart and innovative solutions in the water sector. Daniel has successfully delivered projects in Australia, New Zealand, Asia, South America and Africa. He is a Fellow of Engineers Australia and a member of the National Urban Water Reform Steering Committee and the Infrastructure Partnerships Australia Water Taskforce.

Daniel was recently selected for and completed the prestigious Aquarius Water Global Leaders Programme and  is a member of Arup’s Global Water Executive. He is a recognised leader in the water industry with awards including the International Water Centre Water Leader Scholarship, the Consult Australia Future Leader’s Award, the Association of Consulting Engineers Singapore Professional Engineers Award and the Engineers Australia Presidents Award for Excellence.

Daniel has a Masters of Business and Technology and a Masters of Engineering Science from the University of New South Wales and a Bachelor of Engineering (Civil, 1st Class Honours) and a Bachelor of Science from Monash University.