Water management options for urban and rural Australia
Building water sensitive cities: From socio-technical path-dependency to adaptive governance.
Tuesday 2 February 2010
Associate Professor Rebekah Brown
School of Geography and Environmental Science, Monash University
Director, National Urban Water Governance Program
Foundation Director, Centre for Water Sensitive Cities
As a social scientist and civil engineer, Rebekah has dedicated the last 10 years to developing new socio-technical understandings of urban water governance. Her research in this emerging trans-disciplinary field has led to new understandings of socio-technical transition management processes in cities. This includes a new approach for assessing urban water development trajectories and benchmarking characteristics of sustainable urban water management regimes globally.
Rebekah leads a unique team of research scholars and students with training in both the physical and social sciences. Their goal is to advance new socio-technical science that will enable the realisation of water sensitive cities.
Building water sensitive cities: From socio-technical path-dependency to adaptive governance
I feel incredibly honoured to be invited to give a public lecture. This doesn't happen to academics very often. It is a little bit intimidating but at the same time really thrilling.
I started my career as a design water engineer. I worked on major infrastructure projects like the Channel Tunnel Rail Link (I did the drainage scheme for that) and the Yannawa Bangkok Wastewater Scheme. I was always an advocate for more sustainable technologies and practices – practices that were meaningful to communities.
What I couldn't get over, as someone trained fundamentally as a civil engineer, was how all that infrastructure was just so ugly. People were always saying, 'Oh, communities aren't interested'. I thought, well, if you want communities to be interested make it attractive. Look at what the Romans used to do.
I was taught to design things that weren't particularly appealing and also had really adverse environmental outcomes. That inspired me to do a PhD in the social sciences. I thought I've got to work out how we can change this system, how we can better work with communities, and how we can bring about more environmental outcomes, more positive environmental outcomes for our cities. That's my motivation and that's how I wound up in academia.
[SLIDE: Climatic Extremes and Denser Urban Environments]
Cities around Australia and around the world are facing enormous extremes, not just flooding and droughts. Our urban waterways are highly degraded. Over 70 per cent of waterways in most cities are highly degraded and have histories of eutrophic conditions.
We also have urban heat island phenomena. That means with climate change and with our cities being so dense and concrete-orientated and lacking in green space, they get very hot. This is super-imposed on top of the regional effects of climate change.
Indeed, in Melbourne last year in February we had a period of the hottest weather on record. We had increased deaths in people over the age of 64; a substantially statistically significant increase in a major public health issue.
So there are many, many pressures facing our cities.
[SLIDE: Co-Evolution of Technology and Society]
If we think about how our cities have co-evolved with society, particularly if we think about Australian cities over the last 200 years since European colonisation, it is interesting to see how our technology and our infrastructure have actually led to these sorts of outcomes, even though they were originally designed to address really important issues of water supply security, public health protection and flood protection.
[SLIDE: Big Pipes Approach]
When Australian cities were first established focus was on the ‘water supply city’. Many of our first cities had private water suppliers. It wasn't long before communities became unhappy with this arrangement and the water supply was taken over by municipalities. We imported quite a lot of our hydraulic knowledge from elsewhere, particularly from the UK. So we brought out engineers with their understanding of rainfall patterns based on UK conditions.
It was during the time of the cholera and typhoid epidemics in the UK and France that a sanitary commission was set up. The commission came up with the concept of the ‘sewered city’. There were unsuccessful submissions made in the early to mid1800s to the UK government to do wastewater recycling. So wastewater recycling is not a new concept, it is just that it was rejected at the time.
So we started implementing these sewerage scheme models in Australia at around the same time they were being implemented in many parts of Europe and the US. We eventually implemented a separate scheme in Australia, a separate sewerage and a separate stormwater scheme. In Europe most of those schemes, the stormwater and wastewater, are in the same pipe while here they are separated. There are some parts of Woolloomooloo in Sydney that are still combined and Launceston in Tasmania, I discovered recently, has a combined system.
Then the next major city state we moved into was the ‘drained city’. In Australia the move took about a hundred years from the mid-1800s to just after the Second World War.
Our urban footprint was expanding so much during that time. We were building houses, roads and suburbs. There were lots of hard surfaces and lots of run-off; run-off from rainfall entering our waterways, scouring out our waterways and causing environmental degradation.
We protected communities from flooding with drainage schemes but those waterways weren't valued like they are today.
[SLIDE: Picture of a drain]
This slide shows what we turned them into. We straightened them up. We took out all their biological and aquatic ecological features. Quite often they became waste dumping grounds. In the central parts of cities around Australia you will notice that houses that haven't gone through a renewal cycle yet are facing away from waterways, because they weren't valued back then. Now they are prime property real estate and communities value these waterways.
[SLIDE: Evolving urban water hydro-social contract]
Since the 1960s up until today there has been a major transformation in terms of community values and political drivers that have affected the water environment. As you can see on this slide, in the city state which I have called the ‘waterways city', we have had two major drivers. One is about social amenity and the other is about environmental protection. We have had the rise of modern environmentalism, where there has been a broad global awakening around the need to protect the environment. That manifested itself in Australia with lots of 'friends of' groups, and municipalities getting together and being very active about protecting waterways and advocating for them. And the rise of some of the more recent disciplines, like environmental science and aquatic ecology, are now starting to collect really good scientific information about the health of these waterways.
At the same time we had a co-existing social movement around social amenity. As we were building these sprawling cities, people were becoming more disconnected from natural space and being further disconnected from natural waterways. People were demanding more open space and were demanding to be connected to waterways. So we were seeing developers build a lot of artificial wetlands, artificial waterways and a lot more green and open space into developments.
But the response from this social shift was interesting, because it affected the way the science, engineering and practice of water management was taking place.
So we started challenging the conventional thinking of supplying a lot of water through big pipes, and protecting cities from public health concerns by collecting wastewater in big pipes and sending it out to sea. As well as the way we channelised and straightened our waterways and turned them into drains, making them more efficient and protecting the city from flooding.
This challenge was – and still is – compounded by concerns with both point and diffuse sources of pollution entering waterways. We had a lot of industrial effluent entering into our rivers, polluted stormwater run-off and wastewater overflows.
We have done really well around Australia, indeed globally in developed cities, in terms of dealing with point source. Point source plug flows from industry and wastewater have been collected and directed into the sewerage system. What is really tricky, and all Australian cities are still struggling with this, is dealing with diffuse pollution from rainfall run-off entering waterways.
This is a big area of research for major universities around the country. It is a big practical problem because there isn't actually one governance regime in the world today that can deal with diffuse issues. We are very good at centralised pipe issues, point source issues, but when it comes to diffuse sources of pollution, whether it is water or something else, it is very, very difficult to think about what are the governance systems you need to deal with that.
[SLIDE: Warning raw sewage sign]
We used to have signs around the country saying, 'Don't swim here’. You could get really sick. Danger around our waterways. These were the messages that were sent into communities.
[SLIDE: Growing social activism around waterways]
In Victoria, the Age newspaper had a campaign called ‘Give the Yarra a go’. It held the former Metropolitan Board of Works publicly to account and said, 'They are not drains. They are our community waterways'.
[SLIDE: Visual impacts of trapping Gross Pollutants]
Then communities started to get really involved in the issue of littering. We had the 'Clean Up Australia' campaign and now 'Clean Up the World', which started with collecting litter from Sydney Harbour and surrounding waterways that were transported through the stormwater drainage network.
[SLIDE: Technology development]
This led to a whole lot of new science and technology developments around rain gardens and wetlands and biofiltration systems. Passive ways, low energy ways of capturing that stormwater, treating it, cleaning it and then letting it go back into the environment. But of course now we are interested to know, after cleaning it, can we capture it and use it?
[SLIDE: Urban Retrofit Demonstration Projects]
There are lots of demonstration projects all around the country where there are wetlands and biofiltration systems integrated into the urban landscape. Architects and landscape designers are now starting to think about how they can integrate these. But it is not mainstream practice, even after 20 years of solid research and guideline development. There are national and state guidelines about these sorts of technologies but it is still not mainstream practice.
[SLIDE: Development of Design, Management and Planning Guidelines]
[SLIDE: Transitioning: Drained City to Waterway City]
The idea is that we could envision a city, a more ‘water sensitive city’ that could look like this picture on the slide, where we start to introduce a level of greenness, a passive recreation amenity, the cleaning of our water run-off. These would be very valuable assets – the kidneys and the lungs of our cities, as they used to be.
[SLIDE: Professional perceptions of political views]
We did a survey two years ago of over 1000 urban water practitioners around the country. We said, 'How important is this waterway health and environmental stormwater management to you?' They said of course it is very important to them. Psychology 101 tells you that people always self-report their feelings to be a bit higher than their organisations. That is okay. What was interesting is that they said they didn't think the issue was sexy for politicians, implying that protecting waterway health and environmental protection is not interesting for them.
[SLIDE: Legislative Change and Market-Offsets System]
We followed that up. One city in Melbourne started to mainstream these technologies. There has been legislative change passed ('2007' on the slide is incorrect, it should be '2009') where for all new residential developments – not industrial or commercial, and only some brown infill – these stormwater guidelines have to be met to reduce nitrogen, phosphorus and heavy metals running off the site. These are now starting to be mandated. That is in one city.
The lesson here is that this is 40 years of a transition. It is only just starting to occur in some parts of some cities in terms of legislation.
[SLIDE: Evolving Urban Water Hydro-Social Contact]
Current practice across Australia in terms of where we are in terms of our transitioning to a ‘water sensitive city’ is somewhere between the ‘drained city’ and the ‘waterways city’. Many cities are still at the ‘drained city’. There are a number of cities moving towards the ‘waterway city’.
[SLIDE: Water Cycle City: Diverse Water Supply Approach]
In the ‘water cycle cities’, we have seen incredible socio-political drivers over the last 10 years because of extreme water scarcity. We have very high urban populations. A population of up to 35 million people for Australia has been predicted, mainly concentrated in our cities. So there are limits on our natural resources. Many of our water supply sources are already over-allocated or inappropriately allocated, and I think that is really starting to drive some of the conversations we are seeing in scientific circles.
What is shown on this slide is not mainstream practice today. There are some ad hoc demonstration projects. This is what the scientific community and the leaders of industry are arguing is the best way to respond to these challenges.
They are arguing that we need a diverse portfolio of water sources. No longer should we just think about the history of water, whether it comes from a natural catchment outside of our city and hasn't supposedly been through anyone's tummy yet. We should think about this diverse portfolio of different sources (stormwater, wastewater, greywater, seawater, natural catchment water, groundwater) that we generate and can collect within and just outside the boundaries of the city. And we should be using it in a fit-for-purpose framework.
So what that means, in simple terms, is that we wouldn't be putting highly energy treated potable water down the toilet. We wouldn't be using that for our garden watering. We would be using fit-for-purpose water systems and they would be efficient. And when we choose what water source we want to use, we would be thinking about what it means for waterway health.
We would be choosing sources that are very sensitive to demand, very sensitive to efficiency, and very sensitive to ecological protection. So that is really quite a radical change to our mainstream delivery of water today. That's why we have called it the ‘water cycle city'.
[SLIDE: Prime Minister Science Engineering and Innovation Council Working Group …]
The former prime minister, John Howard, set up a science and engineering advisory board on this. They came up with the definition shown on the previous slide. ‘Think about it like a share portfolio; a flexible and cost effective access to diverse water sources’.
I think the most important point, which is often missed, is that they said that access needs to be underpinned by a diversity of centralised and decentralised infrastructure. That means local infrastructure, local community infrastructure and the more conventional centralised infrastructure.
There was some rationale for that. The purple line in this slide shows the amount of water the cities of Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne import. Water brought in from outside their footprint to their communities. The red line is the amount of wastewater these cities generate. The green line is the amount of stormwater these cities generate. If you add those two sources of water, that is quite a substantial volume of water that is not being harvested.
Even if we only harvested 20 or 30 per cent of it, it is a real missed opportunity. But the way our infrastructure is currently framed, together with government systems around those infrastructures, it is very difficult to set up an incentive process to support the development of these other sources.
[SLIDE: Survey Results of 1041 Urban Water Experts]
This slide is just an aggregate of all the data from the survey of water experts in Brisbane, Perth and Melbourne. We have all the detailed statistical analysis on our website. Forty per cent of our experts said that rainwater, greywater, stormwater and sewage are the alternative sources that need to be developed. Not many people like the idea of developing new dams or seawater and groundwater, and water trading is somewhere in the middle. I think it is interesting if we look nationally at where the bulk of our public money has been invested, given that our experts are suggesting it should be invested in other ways.
It perhaps says something about the political aptitude and the connectedness of the urban water profession to the political and policy process; it says they need to do more work.
[SLIDE: Queensland Water Commission]
So some of the responses we have had – there hasn't been the lead-in time, and these have been much needed responses, such as the $9 billion water grid. This here is in south-east Queensland. It has a seawater desalination plant and a large wastewater recycling scheme that was designed to go into the supply dam to be re-used. But the most recent political decision with regards to the use of this recycled water scheme has been changed. So it will be used when the dam gets below 40 per cent, and so forth.
This is a big investment into one sort of future, which is a water scarce future. But of course we know we are going to have water abundant futures, water scarce futures and complete flooded futures so we need to have flexible infrastructure that can capture and harness all of those scenarios and give us some resilience.
[SLIDE: Extreme Water Scarcity Responses]
We have invested in desalination technology around the country. That's another alternative water source.
There is a big water trading pipeline around the country – a very large one in Victoria. These are the sorts of investments that our governments have made in response to the extreme water scarcity which our industry professionals weren't ready to envisage.
[SLIDE: Water tank slide]
At the same time, though, there have been a lot of rebates for decentralised technologies such as rainwater tanks. This slide shows an extremely interesting rainwater tank – it is a modular fence that goes around someone's property. We have these centralised and decentralised technologies.
[SLIDE: Contest within the Urban Water Sector:]
This slide shows the outcome of a qualitative, sociological study of over 200 urban water executives and senior managers around the country. The outcome of that study was that culturally, as a group of professionals, they were really split between what I call the ‘water supply city’ and large centralised solutions through to the ‘water cycle city’ and a mix of decentralised and centralised solutions.
For example, we had some state government people saying, 'We need grids. We need desalination. It's the only thing we need'. Then we had developers saying, 'No, we need localised solutions and if we had done that first we wouldn't have needed desalination'. Regulators saying, 'We are stuck in the old paradigm and we can't support decentralised technologies because we don't know what it means in terms of our regulation and what it means to risk’, and hence what it means to the economy and insurance and so forth.
Then local government people, being very concerned, don't know the risks and don't know how to manage these decentralised solutions. There is a whole lot of debate out there as to what is appropriate. That debate is actually hampering really good process in this area towards ‘water sensitive cities’ because it is not being made explicit.
[SLIDE: Professional receptivity:]
Just to explain this table to you: these are the three cities that we focused on in our study. ‘Rain’: rainwater tanks; ‘3PG’: third-pipe greenfield systems; ‘IPR’: an indirect potable re-use (when highly treated sewage is discharged upstream of the existing water supply source, ie, to a river or groundwater system, often allowing for additional water quality treatment as it flows towards the existing supply augmentation point).
Across the three cities people thought community perceptions were mixed. There were certainly drivers (D) for rainwater tanks. In terms of environmental outcome the professions felt they were real drivers – all of them were great for the environment. But when we asked them, ‘What do you think, in terms of public health outcomes?’, they all thought they were barriers (B). People were fundamentally concerned with protecting public health. A lot of our design guidelines and a lot of our institutional systems and regulations are set up to support the ‘sewered city’. And the ‘sewered city’ is that traditional centralised infrastructure.
So there are a lot of perceived risks and there are a lot of concerns that the professionals, who feel they are working on behalf of the public, have in maintaining public health.
This is a particular barrier to enabling experimentation and learning and trialling of alternatives.
[SLIDE: Non-potable re-use]
This is a piece of research we did last year. We asked these professionals, 'What do you think the community thinks in terms of re-using wastewater for non-potable purposes?' Across our three focus cities – we use these three cities because they are institutionally quite diverse and they are spread across the country, so we thought they were fairly representative – if we did an average, 29 per cent said they thought 29 per cent of the community would be open to this.
Then we did a meta analysis across all the studies we could find. I am showing here just over 10 studies where other social scientists have asked the community how receptive they would be to using recycled water for non-potable purposes (from CSIRO through to well-known academics in this area). As you can see, there is a very high level of receptivity. It is much lower – it halves when it comes to potable use – for a fit-for-purpose application.
So this was another thing on which our profession and our industry are significantly underestimating the receptivity of the community. There is a real disconnection. These professions see themselves as working on behalf of the community and advising government in water managing solutions. Communities are the recipients of these not particularly attractive solutions or solutions that are often invisible to the community because they are underground and you can't see them. So we have the water experts not connected to the communities, as evidenced by the slide.
[SLIDE: Royal Park Wetland (Melbourne) ...]
This is the Commonwealth Games village in Melbourne. The original brief for this project was to collect all the stormwater running off this road and part of the CBD.
This water was going to be used as re-use for the Commonwealth Games village. It got to a point where the regulators, both health and environment, for a whole range of reasons, could not approve this project. So this project is now used to irrigate the adjacent fields.
These are the sorts of missed opportunities, these great ideas, these great projects, that in the end, because of liability and so forth, end up not getting turned on. There are a number of these examples across the country. There is certainly passion in the industry; but we don't have a really resilient and robust institutional and governance environment to support the co-evolution of these sorts of solutions into our ongoing everyday practice.
[SLIDE: Intra-Organisational Dynamics ...]
These are some other studies we have done. This is looking at local government capacity for implementation of water innovations. In the majority of the 38 municipalities we have studied across the country, there is enormous conflict between the environment area and the engineering area, and quite low levels of awareness and priority at the executive level for these issues. Quite often, when there is low executive support, it is seen as a state responsibility and 'don't put the responsibility on us'.
[SLIDE: High performing municipalities]
But there are a handful of organisations around the country that are absolutely leading practice. They are culturally and organisationally working in really different ways. They have got strong leaders and champions in their organisations and high-level commitment and awareness at that executive level. They don’t need a high level of knowledge because they have got experts in their organisations to help them.
Organisational capacity for this sort of practice is another systemic issue.
[SLIDE: A problem of environmental governance?]
My colleague, Dr Megan Farrelly, and I reviewed 43 studies from around the world about trying to implement broadly integrated water management practices in cities. All of them found barriers. This is generally what they all said: There was lack of a common vision; institutional fragmentation; undefined organisational responsibilities; limited political incentives; lots of technological path dependency.
So even with a champion and a will and a desire, together with historical, political and economic investments and traditional solutions, it is just so difficult to break with technological path dependency and poor community capacity to meaningfully participate. And this is particularly so if we want to have mixed scale solutions and alternative water sources. What that means is there is a new role for communities. There is a new role in co-designing, co-managing, and what we academics call co-governance – new forms of governance.
[SLIDE: Traditional hierarchical governance approach:]
Now I will do a little bit of theory from the social sciences. In the water field this has been the traditional way we have thought about water managing. This is just a standard policy cycle. It is not real. It is not really how policy is done, but academics like models. This is a model.
[SLIDE: Marketised Governance Approach]
So we have our goals. The goals are supply security, public health protection and flood control. Then we assess our alternative solutions. We already know the big pipes approach is what we want. It is just how big or how small those pipes are going to be. We assess them economically. What we want to do is control environmental variation so we rely on past rainfall records and reservoir yields to design the size of this infrastructure. The problem is, of course, today we can't rely on those records any more. With climate change how reliable are they? We are going into a much more dynamic future. It is not static any more, which is a fundamental engineering design principle. It is certainly what I was trained in when I was trained as an engineer.
The policy tools are fairly standard: regulation, planning controls, legislation, and sometimes a little bit of education, but not much.
Monitoring. We didn't monitor because we didn't need to because we knew we had the right solution. So we don't invest in monitoring. That's the traditional governance approach.
What has happened in the last 20 years is that we had those big water utility organisations, and there was a massive critique across the era of Thatcherism, and they call it new public management or economic rationalism. There was a big critique of that style of traditional governance. They said it wasn't transparent. You have got these big clunky organisations making decisions and it is not transparent as to how they are spending their money. They are inefficient. They have been spending all this money on this large infrastructure, all this public money, and we think it is inefficient; it is not using good business principles. There is no public participation and that is not good enough.
The other issue that is not spoken about publicly, but it is in all the social science academic literature, is that the technocrats are more powerful than the politicians, and they didn't like that. So we really needed to think about changing the governance approach.
The governance approach that you will be familiar with – we are all part of this now – is moving to this whole marketisation governance agenda. In Australia we corporatised the water sector. In the UK they privatised the water sector. So a lot of their water companies are owned by big banks, global banks and entities like that.
The problem was we had to address efficiency. Efficiency was the problem. So the goals are the same: supply, security, public health protection, drainage. We moved that part of the cycle away from government. We set up corporatised government business units as implementers and making water managing more efficient but not questioning the goals. No questioning of the problem, and the idea is that the issue is about making it more efficient.
And we still didn't do any monitoring. Not in a serious and transparent way.
So what have been the major problems of this approach? The people on the corporatised end only optimise part of the water cycle. That was the water supply and sewerage. So waterway health, stormwater, rainwater and drainage were left with local government, some advocacy groups and maybe an environment regulator. But a whole economy and a whole profession and a whole investment was built around just two water streams.
The implementers, who are meant to be regulated by government and just implement, could offer their staff more money, more training, more exciting work from some interviewees perspectives, and they started getting a lot of strategists and started developing their own policies. What is happening is that quite a lot of the corporate entities are working directly with their water ministers. The minister’s attention in some ways is being fought for by the government department and the corporatised entity in water and environment and planning and so forth.
The other issue is: should they share their information and how much information should they share? They are a business unit now. When the water agencies were first corporatised in the mid-1990s there wasn't a lot of sharing. I have to say, though, there has been a lot more sharing between organisations today.
What is the problem on the other side? Well, the policy makers have started to become project managers. They are recommending and designing projects for implementation and setting aside resources for projects, and appear to pay less attention on the traditional policy role. Being now more removed from practice, many stakeholders are arguing that they are reinforcing old water policy norms to new challenges. Policy and practice used to be intertwined, but now they have been separated in the marketised governance paradigm. So there are some problems.
Where do the goals of environmental protection, climate resilience, intergenerational equity and livability fit in a marketised system that has been set up fundamentally to address efficiency? If we want these outcomes we need a lot more redundancy in the system so we can improve our human capital and eventually be more efficient.
[SLIDE: Evolving Urban Water Hydro-Social Contact]
This ‘water sensitive city’ doesn't exist. But it is a combination of what some of the futurist social scientists and biophysical scientists are talking about. In the future – and we are seeing sections of the community already demonstrating these values, but it is not a mainstream value yet – people are going to be very motivated about protecting intergenerational equity. We have a certain amount of built capital now, natural capital and human capital. But there is going to be a certain amount of critical natural capital that we don't want to trade. There are types of human capital that we are going to want to prioritise in terms of investment.
In the last year I think there has been – if we just take the broadsheet media as an indicator – a massive shift in our society around climate change. People are talking about it and it’s the topic of conversation at dinner parties and so forth. Futurists are saying that communities are going to be really concerned about being resilient to climate change. Not just from having enough water, but being really concerned about their waterways being eutrophic, and how that will affect the waterways, the flora and fauna and all the other parts of the ecosystem.
What is the latest science and engineering? Well, I think this is fascinating because it really comes down to understanding design. The role of architects and landscape architects, in combination with engineers and scientists, are going to help us realise this future.
We need adaptive and multifunctional infrastructure. Imagine having nature strips and roofs and open spaces that harvest clean water, provide for urban agriculture, protect waterways, provide city cooling by offsetting the urban heat island, perhaps even being a carbon sink.
We are going to have the same city space but our population is increasing, so we need really resilient multifunctional infrastructure. And that infrastructure is going to have to reinforce water sensitive values and behaviours and re-connect people with the way the environment works; for example, if we have water art, that water art will be watering when it is raining and when we are in wet conditions and it will be dry when we are in dry conditions.
[SLIDE: Lots of pictures]
We are starting to see the signs with some of the water sensitive urban design technologies and treatments. We are starting to see what some of this green infrastructure would look like. I was a speaker at Singapore Water Week last year, and before that I had been doing some work with the public utilities board there. They think this sort of work is so ugly; they want flowers and plants. But for many communities these are really attractive.
The issue of designing for your community, but also designing for ecological functionality, is absolutely key. ‘Water sensitive cities’ are going to reflect a local socio-political and biophysical context of their area.
[SLIDE: Cities as a water supply catchment]
Massive investment in 1983 of the Thomson Dam was going to waterproof Melbourne. By the end of 2011 we are going to have the largest desalination plant in the country. Some Melbournians are very proud of this. But my engineering and water resource management colleagues – we presented this as a submission to the government and it was accepted last year – did a hydrologic analysis and took in population growth projections and so forth for a median climate future and found that this investment buys us time only until 2038.
You can see the cycle happening. We have so far kept developing more water supplies as the population grows. That is not sustainable in the long-term, particularly given the energy intensive nature of traditional water services. So as part of setting up our new centre, a centre for water sensitive cities, we are really focusing on the phenomenon of cities as supply catchments and looking at that third stream of stormwater and how we can harvest that. How can we develop multifunctional infrastructure, do integrated design that is attractive to communities, protect waterways, offset the urban heat island and provide a reliable source?
We hope by 2038 in Melbourne we won't need to build another desalination plant.
[SLIDE: Benchmarking Developing and Developed Cities]
This is a massive challenge around the world. Some colleagues from the UNESCO-IHE program are leading a large international project called Switch, and this project is looking at how developing and developed cities around the world can learn from each other to introduce more adaptation initiatives to climate change. They used our model for assessment. They published it last year.
I think what is interesting is that around the world developing cities are at the start – building major infrastructure. And these developed cities [pointing to above ‘waterways city’] are sitting here in their transition. What is being argued is that we should be leading and helping these cities and not exporting our technology and infrastructure to them. And that, in fact, there is an opportunity for these developed cities to leap-frog to being a ‘water sensitive city’ and to miss that technological and institutional path dependency.
[SLIDE: Contemporary thinking of governance studies]
In governance I talked to you about that hierarchical model of governance and that marketised model of governance. What you will find more interesting are the instruments. Hierarchical modes of government are about rules and laws, while the marketised mode of governance, which we are hearing a lot about, is about trading and taxes and incentives.
In governance studies, particularly in environmental governance studies, the conversation at the moment is that we need a network paradigm of governance. Not that the other two are inappropriate, but we need to start moving to an innovation networks mode of governance. It comes from a completely different science. Hierarchy comes from political science. The marketised comes from neo-classical economics. The networks mode of governance comes from sociology, innovation studies and new institutionalism.
What is interesting is that their techniques and their instruments are different. It is about learning processes, network management, experiments, demonstration projects, scenarios and so forth. It is based on the assumption that we don't know the solutions.
With the hierarchical and marketised approach you have got to know what the problem is and you have got to know what the solutions are. It is about finding a way; a way of using authority to get people to do it or incentivising them.
In the network mode of governance it is starting from the position of we don't know what the problem is. We don't know how to solve it. We need to go through a process to adapt and to identify the right types of solutions. That learning by doing philosophy.
We don't have networks governance as a mainstream practice. But it is the key conversation in the social sciences globally at the moment, that that's the mode of governance we need to move towards.
[SLIDE: Understanding Fundamental Change in Social Practice]
The reason is that in the social sciences we have a number of modes for understanding social practices. Like the social practice of water managing. It is really underpinned by three pillars. One is the cognitive: what we think the problem is and what we think the solutions are and what we think is important; the normative: what we value, what we want to protect, what is important to us; and the directive: the rules and the systems and the institutional frameworks to deliver on our cognition and our values.
Now, to create change you need mutually reinforcing change in each of these three bubbles.
The problem is that with quite a lot of our government policy intervention we have a bit of education which might create some normative shift in the community. We have a lot of R&D. We change the cognition, perhaps. Occasionally we will have a major institutional reform. These all happen in different parts of these bubbles and at different times. So what we know is that to create significant substantial step-wide change we need mutually reinforcing change across these three areas.
We need to start designing policy systems and policy responses that attend to each of these, to the cognition, to the norms and to the directive systems.
[SLIDE: Experiments and Demonstration Projects]
In the networks mode of governance we would see a lot more experiments and demonstration projects and people being funded to do them. The idea is that we would fund a lot of niches, a lot of experimentation and hoping that one or two of those experiments are going to provide a break-through pathway forward, because we don't entirely know what the problem is and we don't entirely know what the solution is.
[SLIDE: Co-design and co-management]
We would do a lot more co-design and co-management with communities. If we want to introduce a lot more landscape solutions then the people living with those landscape solutions have to be involved in co-designing and co-managing them. That is quite terrifying for a lot of professionals who are used to doing the design in their office and engaging a contractor and going out and building it.
[SLIDE: Bridging organisations]
We would have a lot more bridging organisations. These are temporary organisations that sit between government, communities and private sectors and their sole focus is learning and sharing and providing forums for that. In fact, we have some bridging organisations around water that have emerged in the last few years: Water By Design in Brisbane, Clear Water in Melbourne and New Waterways in Perth.
[SLIDE: The business case: Stimulating innovation]
We would also address risk head-on and find risk-sharing mechanisms. We would have leading organisations underwriting projects, underwriting the risk of projects. This slide shows an example in Melbourne. This is an old project. It was built over 10 years ago. Local council said no. Developer said no. No-one wanted to innovate these new types of streetscape technologies. Melbourne Water came in and they said, ‘If this doesn't work as well as the traditional system we will replace it’.
That really catapulted the whole idea of water sensitive urban design. It was built at a real scale. They found a developer to give them a site and, according to the developer, he gave them the worst performing site in the whole state. They did it and it worked.
[SLIDE: Current research ...]
There are some real community-driven experiments happening at the moment. This is in Sydney. I have a couple of PhD students working on this. This slide shows six different neighbourhoods in the Cooks River Catchment as part of the Cook River Sustainability Initiative. Cooks River is the most polluted urban waterway in Australia. Six neighbourhoods, involving eight municipalities, are coming up with their own vision for a water sensitive neighbourhood. They want to develop their own networks. They want to do co-design and co-governance.
[SLIDE: Strathfield Neighbourhood Vision 2050]
This is the Strathfield neighbourhood. They have finished their vision for 2050. What is interesting, as we observe these communities, is that they really understand that they are trying to build political capital to have more say over their urban landscapes. They are really passionate about the issue of water, and the environment more generally.
They are creating local stories. They are creating a local narrative. They are creating a local problem frame. People are getting excited. People from around the country are coming and having a look at what they are doing. It is fascinating.
[SLIDE: City transition stages]
This is where we are at, in my opinion, in Australia. We have had a major water scarcity crisis over the last 10 years. We have really had to bulk up and bring in big new sources of water in that ‘water supply city’.
I think attention has moved from protecting waterway health, particularly at the national level. The whole urban waterway health issue I think is just not strong enough across many of the state governments.
I think we really need to prioritise action around the total water cycle approach and that visioning. A ‘water sensitive city’ is a really key way of getting there.
[SLIDE: Concluding remarks]
If we want to enable climate-robust and ‘water sensitive cities’ then I think we need to be really open and supporting in dedicating resources to these experiments and demonstration projects, particularly ones being led by communities. We have to accept that the current environment is uncertain, it's indeterminate and we have to adapt. We need a new way of governing and a new way of working.
We need policy that targets cognitive, normative and regulatory change. We need skilled professionals that are used to working across different disciplinary boundaries and really facilitate adaptive learning networks. We need to invest in Australia broadly for a whole range of issues in our intellectual capital.
Visions and social experiments are going to be key, as well as acknowledging the need for economic redundancy. I think in the short-term it is perceived as being inefficient. In the long-term it is probably the most efficient. And some explicit discussion is needed about the need to incorporate dimensions of the network governance paradigm.
Question: Thank you very much for that. It was very interesting. You said that probably the best possibility for finding more water, if you like, is from stormwater. But in capturing that stormwater aren't you taking a lot more from an already very fragile environment? Wouldn't it perhaps be better to oppose the vast increase in population that the current prime minister is envisaging and for academics, such as yourself, to guarantee this fragile environment more? Short of approval of all these things, that is great, but let's keep the population proportionate to this fragile environment.
Rebekah Brown: Thank you for that question, because that actually gives me an opportunity to address a scientific misconception. I absolutely agree with you that in the urban environment there is a very big difference in the role of stormwater run-off than there is in the rural environment.
In the urban environment, say 70 per cent of it being hard surfaced, we have actually got too much stormwater going into our waterways, eroding them and putting a lot of pollution into them.
In Australia we are so concerned about the Murray Darling Basin and the rural waterways but actually in the urban environment we have too much stormwater runoff entering urban waterways. Aquatic ecologists tell us that there is too much stormwater going into our urban waterways rather than too little. This is causing a very significant and adverse impact. So actually harvesting that water is going to help improve the well-being and ecological integrity of these waterways.
In terms of population, I absolutely agree that we need to have a good debate about that. We need to be modelling a whole range of scenarios. We need to be looking at our own ecological footprint. A typical Australian or a North American actually uses around say 36 times the biological resources that one person in Bangladesh would use per year. Our obligation – even though I flew here – is to reduce our ecological footprint so people from developing countries can increase theirs. I think that is absolutely imperative.
Question: You spoke about the constant problem of governance coming out of the social sciences. I have to say I was really struck by the similarities of the concepts you were describing in that space with some of the work that came out of managing cybernetics and complex systems science in the 1960s and 1970s. The whole concept of stable but adaptive systems as opposed to ultra-stable systems, which is the problem we are stuck with at the moment.
Rebekah Brown: You are very intuitive and correct. Quite a lot of people from the complexity sciences area infiltrated into the institutional and policy sciences, so there is a lot of common language. But the fundamental theoretical principles around adaptation, niches, punctuated equilibriums and so forth, have been translated into a social construct, and a whole discipline transformation is happening within the social science from that original base, which I think is fantastic.
Question: Three things, if you don't mind. I would like your reaction to firstly how do you think Australians would adapt to using human waste, composting it rather than diluting it with large volumes of water in the way that the Chinese do?
The second point is how do we go about capturing and storing and using stormwater activity in coastal cities? In Sydney or Melbourne it goes straight out to sea. It is gone.
And the third point: marketisation or corporatisation, don't you think the primary driving force there is profit mode? Because once these things are privatised or corporatised or marketised the main driving force there is to make profit and, therefore, to encourage people to use more water and not less.
Rebekah Brown: The short answer to how receptive do I think communities are to localised wastewater recycling – I really don't know. What I do know is that I've done a meta analysis of other people's research that is focused on community reactions and perceptions to this.
When it is for not-for-potable-use it's really high. But as soon as it is brought closer and closer and closer to direct human use it drops off like that in terms of the existing research.
But we are actually doing a very large study next year, which will include about 5000 people from the city of Melbourne. We hope to replicate that in other cities as well, where we are going to be asking those questions.
In terms of stormwater, there is a whole lot of new break-through technology that has happened in the last five years. One of my close working colleagues, Professor Ana Deletic, has been a real driver behind it. Over 10 years ago people had to design end-of-pipe large wetlands and treatment ponds to capture that stormwater and treat it. And a scientific breakthrough was made, where they could scale these green technologies. They could make them really small; like 1 metre by 1 metre. They worked out how to design them between the plants, the soil struck and the biological properties and the water.
I am speaking out of my expertise here. But that scalability made a big scientific leap in terms of what you could do in terms of retrofit infrastructure and technology.
So now architects and engineers can work together, and they can integrate these technologies into roofs, nature strips and common streetscapes, and at these relatively small scales can capture stormwater and treat it and make it significant.
It can be integrated in a very distributed way in the whole urban landscape. Some exciting technologies are starting to be available on the market now, and they are called porous pavements. Early designs of them existed, I think, maybe 20 years ago. It is like a lattice structure where the water can fall through and be captured and treated underneath.
Could you imagine if all our footpaths and all our roads and all our carparks were designed like that? We would need to re-imagine and redesign cities. That's where architects and designers are absolutely central to realising more sustainable cities.
In terms of the move to marketisation, the profit motive, sure. The philosophy behind it is that government – I gave very idealised versions of those three governance modes as a typology, so there is an academic model for you, so it is not real. But it is just a thinking construct.
The philosophy behind it is that if government operated using business principles they would use the public's money more efficiently than if they didn't use business principles. So it was better for the public. That's the philosophy behind it.
But the problem is that it sets up, in this case, difficult incentives for water authorities at the moment, because they don't get rewarded for good demand management. They don't always get rewarded in their terms of reference by their economic regulators for water conservation. If we are going to stay in a corporatised model – and there are some water authorities screaming for this – they want to be able to offer a suite of services, conservation, water supply, waterways protection, retrofitting homes with decentralised technologies, education packages etc. They have a very narrow regulatory remit.
Question: Thank you very much for what has been a most interesting and stimulating presentation. Although our focus this evening is on urban water management, you have made passing reference to the Murray Darling Basin. For those of us who understand little of the complexity of water management, like myself, it would be very easy to become despondent, indeed despairing, about the ongoing inability of our collective governments and experts to get something as crucial as the Murray Darling Basin right or even on the way to being fixed.
So when in your address you point to the evident and large gap factor between those in your profession and those who are making decisions about water management, the elected representatives and the technocrats and others, and we introduce the many needs that you have taken us down the road to start us on, not the ‘waters’ but the ‘oughtas’ – we ought to do this and we ought to do that – I am left wondering, if you wouldn't mind explaining for us in the next couple of minutes, what are we going to do to get over that huge gap between what we need to do and in fact start doing the sensible things and get a general view in the community and amongst our legislators that that's the way we have got to go.
Rebekah Brown: Oh, that's a great question and a very difficult one to attempt to answer. I feel my response is limited to a typically academic response as I don't have a tangible answer for you. But I am a fellow community member observing, but passionate about this issue like yourself.
We have the issue of our national economy and our export economy and the whole agricultural sector and people's culture and communities and livelihood tied to a whole basin.
Then you have this basin whose ecological asset is eroding and degrading at an astronomical rate. Our natural capital in that area is being lost, but the human and economic capital of that area has propped up economically a lot of Australia.
So you have at the core of it this fundamental tension of saying we have to reduce this production and our dependence on this basin for our economy and find other ways of developing that, through, say, human and intellectual capital and so forth, and return and protect our natural environment.
The winners and losers in that fundamental tension are vast and it is incredibly complex. Then you have got traditional solutions and you've got experts with a whole lot of different opinions. You've got these people's livelihoods and then you have got political leaders who want to offer the community a healthy budget every political cycle.
Sorry, I realised I have only just described the problem. It is a complex problem.
Perhaps we don't know what the solution is. But in fact we need to be introducing initiatives and mechanisms that start from the point of there isn't an optimal solution, but we need to find a process that results in much improved outcomes for the Murray.
Question: My question is related to the system of collecting water from the roofs of our houses in Canberra, which isn't universal throughout the world. We collect the run-off water into our gutters that go into a pipe and it seems to me that this may not be a good thing, that maybe water should run onto the ground and be used.
I understand that the system of collecting water into pipes was developed because of legal reasons that all water must not run onto the property of the person next door. I was wondering whether you had an opinion as to whether we, in Australia, should abandon the collecting of water because in fact it only works for about 30 years, as we all know, and then our leaves block up the pipes and they don't work anyway. Then there is the problem of water entering the eaves of your house.
Rebekah Brown: If I put my old urban hydrology hat on I think fundamentally those pipes are important, particularly for extreme weather events to protect your home and to protect your property. But most of the time the sorts of weather events you get are very small storms, and lots of them. They provide opportunity to be a water source for your home and be a water source for your property.
Because of the much smaller magnitude, your property could also provide a space for attenuating that water and holding it back in the landscape and helping the receiving waterway; helping the ecosystem of the receiving waterway by holding that water back.
And if you included some rain gardens in your property, you could treat that and improve the quality of that water before it infiltrates into the ground water and eventually makes it to your waterways. I think you need a hybrid technology. I think you need that pipe system because when we have those very large events, like one-in-a-fifty-year-storm event, you want to be protected. But they happen very infrequently in comparison to the lots of little storm events.
Question: In the ‘water sensitive city’ of the future, like Canberra say, we are now using something like 500 litres a day. What number should we be aiming at for the potable water and the total water planning into the future? In other words, what should be the supply goals per capita? If we have a goal we know what we are working towards. What should those goals be?
Rebekah Brown: I would be reticent to say what I think they should be. I think that would be calculated based on the local region, and I think that is a value space judgment as well, not just a physical limits based judgment.
One of the six neighbourhood groups that we were working with in Sydney has just started getting to that stage of wanting to develop goals. They came up with 90 litres per person per day. That's their goal.
In fact, in their design for their neighbourhood they are exporting water. They are talking about building avocado farms and so forth just to take up the amount of excess water that is being generated in their neighbourhood.
I think goals are only meaningful if people own them and share them. It is important to give people really good quality information so that they can collectively decide what those goals should be.