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WATER SENSITIVE CITIES
F or the water industry, this has meant a shift in the way that
services are delivered: from an approach that traditionally
aimed to avoid the bad impacts of nature (flooding) and
humans (sewage), to one where the services that we provide add
more value, designing water systems that are sensitive to the
urban needs – urban-sensitive water design. For the land use
and urban planning sector, this has meant thinking about how to
incorporate water as a complementary component to the urban
landscape, by viewing all forms of water in the urban landscape as
essential to a healthy urban environment and potential resources,
and not as problems to get rid of – net positive infrastructure.
To move in this direction, specific attention will need to be paid to
the interplay between the different factors that affect successful
collaboration and integration between urban and water planners.
Some ‘push’ for change through present-day needs (drivers),
such as the impending infrastructure capacity and resource
constraints, the need to reduce flooding and nutrient discharge to
waterways through sewer overflows. Others ‘pull’ or attract change
through fresh aspirations (visions of the future) for livable urban
environments, with new water systems that mimic and work with
nature, and that provide potentially lower economic costs to society
while ensuring resilience to climate change and mitigating the heat
island effect, and improving green open space and health outcomes.
And still others act as ‘weights’ or barriers for change (challenges)
that prevent the institutional changes and collaboration required.
Foremost of these is the inertia associated with the dominant
paradigm of centralised and siloed systems. This is evident in
funding and institutional arrangements, and in training that often
favours non-integrated infrastructure and management.
The management of urban water systems is often fragmented,
with the design, construction and operation of the various
elements carried out in isolation from one another. Short-term
solutions are selected with little consideration for the long-term
impacts on the entire urban water system. More specifically, the
conventional approach to planning for urban water management is
typically associated with the following issues:
Fragmentation – An overall systems approach to urban water
infrastructure and resources is still missing. The various elements
of the urban water system are often planned and operated in
isolation. Such a fragmented approach can result in technical
choices that are based on the benefits to an individual part of the
system, but may neglect the impacts elsewhere, such as flooding,
pollution and heat island effects, to mention a few.
Short-term solutions – Water management tends to focus on
today’s problems, opting for short-term, politically expedient
solutions, despite the risk that the implemented measures are
not cost-effective or sustainable in the long term. Collaboration
between institutions and levels of government can offer an
opportunity for risk-sharing and longer-term planning, beyond
the political election cycles and budgets.
Lack of flexibility – Conventional urban infrastructure and
management tends to be inflexible to changing circumstances.
Planning for water management has tended to address
problems through large investments in a limited range of long-
established technologies. Water supply, wastewater treatment
and stormwater drainage systems are constructed to match
fixed capacities, and when these are exceeded, problems
occur. Likewise, the management of these systems becomes
dysfunctional when faced, for example, with increasing climate
variability and rapidly growing urban demand. Incremental
planning and implementation that accommodates changing
circumstances can provide the flexibility needed.
Research led by the Institute for Sustainable Futures (University of
Technology Sydney) synthesised common themes from
27 case studies in Australia and the United States that can
transition organisations to work towards urban-sensitive water
design, or a One Water approach. These include the following:
Strong leadership and vision from senior officials is key to
driving a One Water approach. At a political level, public funds
must be made available to incentivise the transition to One Water
management. At the institutional level, executives and boards
must drive implementation of One Water strategies and address
institutional capacity requirements.
Institutional coordination can proactively pursue long-
term, mutually beneficial relationships with a broad range
of agencies, including the private sector. This will foster the
collaboration and data sharing needed for development projects
to be aligned with the One Water strategy and implemented in a
coordinated manner. This coordination should be driven at both the
state level and city level.
Organisational culture can be changed to incorporate the
One Water approach into everyday practices and thinking. It
is useful to identify what One Water ‘success’ would look like in an
organisation, set the measurable indicators, and then work backwards
to identify the steps necessary to build professional capacity. Getting
buy-in from senior level executives is equally as important so that they
‘walk the walk’ and support One Water initiatives.
IT IS USEFUL TO IDENTIFY
WHAT ONE WATER
‘SUCCESS’ WOULD LOOK
LIKE IN AN ORGANISATION,
TO SET THE MEASURABLE
INDICATORS, AND THEN
WORK BACKWARDS TO
IDENTIFY THE STEPS
NECESSARY TO BUILD
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