Technology key to developing water sensitive cities

In a century filled with warnings about the impacts of climate change, water is one resource that is bringing together the brightest minds from across Australia.

As Australia’s population continues to increase, so too does the growth of urban centres and inner-city dwellings, placing ever-larger demands upon the existing water supply, wastewater and drainage systems, and the associated high-value infrastructure. Challenging scientists, engineers, economists, environmentalists, architects and sociologists, the question of how to futureproof Australia and create livable, productive, sustainable and resilient cities has become a national priority.

Recognising the need to provide answers and innovative solutions to these challenges, a network of more than 75 partners including universities, government entities and private-sector organisations are working together in the Cooperative Research Centre for Water Sensitive Cities (CRCWSC), established in 2012. Supporting this vision for cities of the future, the Australian Government has provided $30 million in funding to the CRCWSC until 2021, with additional contributions from partner organisations.

Chief Research Officer of the CRCWSC and Deputy Director of the University of Queensland’s Advanced Water Management Centre (AWMC), Professor Jurg Keller, says collaboration between academics in diverse fields and decision-makers in government and the water industry is vital in finding solutions to current and future water management problems.

‘Queensland provides interesting challenges and great opportunities for innovative and efficient water system integration with the combination of rapidly increasing, dense inner-city residential areas, as well as large, new suburban housing developments,’ says Keller.

On this theme, the CRCWSC is assessing the complexities of integrating centralised and decentralised water service options, taking into account the local structural and environmental factors, as well as the public and political willingness to introduce and use alternative schemes in the long term. One of the CRCWSC’s four current programs focuses on future technologies, such as the tools that can be used to improve the performance of water distribution and wastewater collection systems, which make up about 70 per cent of the total water infrastructure value in urban areas.

‘Professor Zhiguo Yuan’s research in this area is greatly improving the fundamental understanding of the processes in our water and wastewater systems, which is then incorporated into leading-edge, yet practically relevant, modelling and optimisation tools,’ says Keller. ‘This work is saving local councils and water utilities millions of dollars through more effective management of sewer systems to minimise the costly impacts of concrete corrosion.

‘In research led by Professor Damien Batstone, we also investigate new ways to optimise the economic and environmentally sustainable treatment of wastewater. About two per cent of the world energy budget is consumed in producing nitrogen, much of which is destructively removed from wastewater before releasing the clarified water to the environment. Novel technologies developed as part of an ongoing CRCWSC project will actually enable recovery of all valuable resources, water, energy and nutrients from wastewater, leading to energy-generating treatment plants, and the ability to reuse the extracted nutrients in agriculture.’

To establish actual water sensitive cities, however, many other disciplines – including social sciences, humanities and economics, as well as planning and architecture – all need to be integrated and working closely together with an equally wide range of stakeholders, including local and state government entities, utilities, developers, consultants and other private-sector organisations. To help bring all these important stakeholders together with the researchers, the CRCWSC has created highly integrative ‘synthesis projects’. A recent synthesis project focused on the Ripley Valley near Ipswich, where a major greenfield development is planned that could become one of the first in Queensland to demonstrate some leading-edge achievements from ongoing work across Australia. It is this very broad and integrated approach to managing the urban water cycle that encompasses a diversity of stakeholders and disciplines, which makes the CRCWSC unique in the vision for water sensitive cities of the future.

Read the whole article in the Future Water Yearbook 2016.

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