Tag Archives: water management

Professor Chiaro Neto

Australian University Science Issue 2: Water Futures

As an increasingly dry continent, Australia faces immense water challenges. Australian universities play a critical role in undertaking research and development to assist in the identification of water management problems, the achievement of water security, and the creation of innovative solutions.

Universities engage at each stage of the innovation cycle to help water managers deliver water security to communities, industries, agriculture and the environment.

The stories within this issue highlight university science contribution to enterprise, education and agriculture in Australia.

In the Foreword to the latest edition of Australian University Science, Professor Rob Vertessy, Enterprise Professor (Water Resources), University of Melbourne looks at the big picture issues in water management.

End-to-end solutions

From catalysing new science to ‘pull’ water out of the air using smart, fundamental chemistry to testing research and development (R&D) directly with end users, universities engage at each stage of the innovation cycle to deliver water security to communities, industries, agriculture and the environment.

Australia’s comparative success in addressing our water challenges has much to do with the fact we have had a strong water research and teaching community that functions as an early warning system for emerging problems, and as a training ground for the advanced technical capability that is entrained in the water sector. This knowledge transfer is needed today more than ever before to contribute expertise to the ‘wicked’ problem of equitable sharing of water as a highly contested resource. Achieving water security is one of the great global challenges of our times.

Related: Water sensitivity can be achieved in Australia

Through ideas and people working within and with Australian university science, we create world-leading expertise in water management problem identification and remediation. We still have many serious water security issues to surmount, as evidenced by the recent crisis in the Murray-Darling Basin. Advances will require a national architecture for identifying and funding research priorities. It will also require the ingenuity, tools and people that can bring together research knowledge with fast, effective delivery of solutions.

Consulting with the university science community, the Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering (ATSE) and the Australian Academy of Science (AAS) are working to prepare a strategic vision for Australian water research in 2020. That vision will require collaboration between university science, national agencies, industry, researchers, education and end users. Australian universities have a vital role to play in shaping this strategy and promoting it to government.

University science has the facilities, space and expertise to test R&D in the environment in which it will be used, and the remit to train people to address these challenges. Our resilience to a changing climate and water system will rely on this inbuilt capacity and ingenuity.

Professor Rob Vertessy

Enterprise Professor (Water Resources), University of Melbourne

This article appears in Australian University Science issue 2.

Water for country

Bradley Moggridge is a Kamilaroi water scientist, a Fellow of the Peter Cullen Water and Environment Trust and a recent Young Tall Poppy Scientist of the Year in the ACT. Managing the aquifers, water catchments and rivers that span Australia’s arid lands lies deep in his blood. “My people have been interested in water for more than 65,000 years,” he says.

Moggridge is a hydrogeologist who recently led Australia’s only Aboriginal water unit at the NSW Department of Primary Industries.

His Master’s thesis, in 2005, at the University of Technology Sydney explored how Aboriginal knowledge was used to understand and access groundwater. “The flexibility that allows exploratory research through university science gave me the opportunity to connect the dots between hydrogeology, hydrogeochemistry and Aboriginal science,” he says.

Moggridge is now completing his PhD at the University of Canberra, where his research links western science with traditional knowledge to develop best-practice methodologies for water planning and management tailored to specific landscapes.

He says that his own heritage, as a Murri man from the Kamilaroi Nation of north-western New South Wales, deeply informs his work.

Australia has been home to thousands of generations of its First Peoples despite its arid landscapes. Traditional knowledge about how to find water sites has been integral to the survival of Aboriginal people, says Moggridge.

“Move away from the coastal regions and the river lands, and your dependence on surface water diminishes. In a dry landscape, knowing when, where and how to find water, where groundwater is the only source of water, that is how our people survived,” he says.

“Aboriginal ways of thinking and managing country involve scientific processes and generations of observation — why there’s a stand of gum trees here, why birds go to a certain place — but it has been regarded as myth and legend.”

Rangers in the Great Sandy Desert cite stories about one dryland location that had previously been a river. “Hydrogeologists drilling there found evidence of a paleo channel,” says Moggridge. “This is old, old knowledge.

Related: Tracing Change: Past Australian Environments

“Our stories hold the key to managing water on this continent. It’s a knowledge system that has survived changes in climate for millennia. Protecting water remains a cultural obligation.

“The support of university science will let me continue my work, applying an Indigenous methodology to the way we manage water.”

Fran Molloy

PATH

>> Bachelor of Environmental Science, Australian Catholic University

>> Master of Science, Hydrogeology and Groundwater management, University of Technology Sydney 

>> Team Leader, Aboriginal Water Initiative, NSW Department of Primary Industries

>> Special Advisor, First Peoples Water, Water Stewardship Australia

>> Indigenous Water Research Specialist, CSIRO

>> Environmental Officer, Camden Council

This article appears in Australian University Science issue 2.

water sensitivity

Water sensitivity can be achieved in Australia

Featured image above: Achieving greater water sensitivity in Australia is possible if the community is engaged in water management strategies, says a recent report.

Has pursuit of the Australian dream – house and garden on the quarter-acre block – led to unsustainable water consumption? While our population grows and climate change renders rainfall less reliable, millions of backyards in our sprawling cities continue to drink thirstily from increasingly scarce water resources.

But it is possible to adapt our suburbs to become more water sensitive, argues Associate Professor Seamus O’Hanlon, co-author of ‘Water, history and the Australian city: Urbanism, suburbanism and water in a dry continent, 1788–2015’. This new report by the Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) for Water Sensitive Cities is part of research output for Understanding social processes to achieve water sensitive futures (Project A2.1).

The engaging historical account of white settlement and water management in Brisbane, Melbourne, and Perth suggests how such adaptation might be achieved. Arguing that good public policy must be historically informed so that lessons of the past influence practice in the future, the report demonstrates the effectiveness of simple and relatively inexpensive strategies to reduce cities’ water consumption, and makes recommendations for how these measures may be employed as part of an overall strategy toward a more water sensitive future.

Historical context crucial to creating water sensitivity

So can the Aussie dream survive in a water sensitive age? In fact, we have no choice, argues Seamus. “We simply cannot go back to year zero and start again. Rather, we must work with suburban communities to adapt to hydrological constraints.”

A central concept in the report is “path-dependency”, meaning that decisions made in the past constrain contemporary practices and policy options. For example, since the early nineteenth century, Australians have displayed a preference for low-density detached housing with gardens, despite the high per-capita cost of supplying services and infrastructure. That, argues Seamus, is not likely to change significantly.

Traditionally, water shortages in Australian cities have been overcome by increasing supply. Governments and water managers have focused on big engineering solutions, such as more and bigger dams (and, more recently, desalination plants) to “drought-proof” growing cities. Increasing water security during the post-war decades encouraged Australians to develop profligate water-use habits, such as frequent showering, growing lush gardens, and hosing driveways.

It was not until the 1980s that thinking began to turn from increasing supply to fostering more efficient usage. In some cities, residential water use had not even been monitored; and charging residents for its use was unthinkable.

Pricing and public education

The report shows that, while Australians have been extravagant with water, they have always shown a remarkable willingness to adapt water habits and usage (notably for gardens) during times of crisis. In practice, two important but administratively simple and cheap policy changes have had enormous impact on residential water use: water pricing and public education campaigns.

This offers a valuable clue about how we can make our thirsty cities more water sensitive. Our adaptability to changed water conditions demonstrates how attitudes – of both government and the public – can change significantly towards.

“Trusting in people to modify behaviour and having a price mechanism are big, big ways of making changes.”

However, the report points out how quickly lessons of water sensitivity are let go in times of plenty. It argues that we can no longer afford to forget: “In a climate-change influenced, water-constrained future, public education campaigns about the importance of water sensitivity should become a permanent component of public policy.”

Working with people

Working with people is pivotal, Seamus insists. “We need behaviour change, but we have to accept that people want to live in a certain way. So let’s adapt our policies to address that – the obvious one is rainwater tanks. The detached house allows you to capture water, which is not so easy to do in multi-storey blocks and apartments.”

Jean Brennan, Coordinator Water and Catchments at Sydney’s Inner West Council, has had considerable success in delivering water sensitive outcomes through sub-catchment programs in Marrickville that work at the neighbourhood level and involve extensive engagement with local communities and stakeholders. “Every activity we do – from involving whole communities, to individuals and local government staff – is, in effect, public education,” she says.

“This report is a fascinating read and particularly useful for advancing the third pillar of water sensitive cities: cities comprising water sensitive communities,” says Jean. “It brings to light the importance of water professionals needing to understand the full history and context before embarking on plans and decisions around water management.”

Decision makers with historical understanding and support for community participation will develop appropriate, context-specific plans that are broadly supported and likely to be implemented, Jean argues. “This report will support practitioners to do that,” she says.

– Nicola Dunnicliff-Wells

This article was first published by Cooperative Research Centre for Water Sensitive Cities on 26 July 2016. Read the original article here.