Potable water: 17 steps to boosting resilience

Clean, safe and reliable water supply is critical for healthy thriving communities – it’s at the very heart of sustainable development. However, in many places around the world water infrastructure is struggling to meet demand because it is limited, in need of repair, or vulnerable to stressors. To help ensure continuity in potable water supply, resilience specialist Dr Tracy Hatton has led the publication of our industry guide to enhancing potable water resilience. Fay Sweet talked to Tracy about this work.

Almost one-third of the world’s population is living in areas where water is scarce. And making the problem more acute, the changes in climate, extraction for agriculture, growing populations and rising consumer demand along with variable water quality mean that assured access to clean and safe water is becoming harder to achieve. That’s according to the latest United Nations’ World Water Development Report. As a constant reminder of the perilous situation, there is no shortage of media headlines warning about the urgent need for reliable, safe clean water supplies for all. See ‘A Quarter of Humanity Faces Looming Water Crises’.

 

“Potable water is the water we need to live,” says Tracy Hatton, a disaster recovery specialist. “It is alarming to see how many countries in the world don’t have access to safe, potable water. And how vulnerable some of our major cities are that are relying on infrastructure that was built over 100 years ago, and which has lacked investment to cope with population growth. There are some real vulnerabilities out there that we need to address.”

“The primer is aimed at everyone involved in water infrastructure whether they are operating and running the systems or making decisions about investments,” says Hatton. “The guide looks at making our physical infrastructure more resilient, at how to embed resilience thinking and adaptability into our water organisations, and also, unusually, to involve customers in the dialogue so they understand and value resilience in their systems.”

Balancing cost and resilience

Creating the primer involved a series of interviews with representatives of water companies, engineers and policy makers in Australia, New Zealand and the United States of America. The authors also conducted research in academic literature to draw out common themes in existing water resilience and to gather and develop ideas of what was required to incentivise and influence change.

“One of the most interesting things I learned was that including the voice of the customer can be crucial in speeding up resilience investment. For example, Melbourne Water, one of the city’s water authorities, is already having conversations with customers to help inform decisions about the balance between financial and resilience goals.”

Inside the primer: it’s elementary

Potable water: an industry guide to resilience is a brief document introducing the elementary principles of resilience relevant to the water sector. It aims to capture current and best practice in infrastructure resilience at all levels, to inspire action and to explore what successful measures have the potential to be scaled up. The publication forms part of a body of knowledge, tools and approaches from the Resilience Shift. It is packed with information such as defining resilience in the potable water industry, identifies many of the common issues that may erode resilience enhancements, provides commentary and case studies and offers a set of 17 recommendations.

The 17 recommendations:

  1. Understand your risks – to enable informed conversations with all stakeholders
  2. Engage communities in resilience – help them be involved in conversations about costs vs resilience
  3. Create public resilience metrics – create accountability and competitive pressure
  4. Find your burning platform – what is your realistic threat?
  5. Motivate change through stories – remember your own or others’ near misses
  6. Choose appropriate messaging – shape the message to fit your context
  7. Learn from other countries – don’t re-invent the wheel, learn from others and adapt to your context
  8. Create effective organisational structures – try and reduce conflicting priorities and gain efficiencies of scale
  9. Develop resilience advocates – we need more resilience champions
  10. Review professional education – engineers and consultants can play a pivotal role in introducing resilience thinking early in projects
  11. Provide the legislative mandate to act –does policy and law encourage resilience thinking?
  12. Build organisational resilience capabilities – organisations, not just pipes need be strong and adaptive
  13. Ensure water is valued – this assists with demand management, and allocation
  14. Embed resilience thinking at project inception – this makes it easier to capture greater resilience value for lesser costs
  15. Explore alternative funding mechanisms – more needs to be done than we can afford, so we need to think creatively on how to fund
  16. Apply system not territorial boundaries – a whole of system approach is needed especially where water is scarce
  17. Build and utilise co-operative networks – water, power, communications and transport all need to work together to build resilience

 

Also available

Resilience Shift Primer: Electric Utilities. An industry guide to enhancing resilience

Resilience Shift Primer: Rail. An industry guide to enhancing resilience

Resilience Shift Primer: Roads. An industry guide to enhancing resilience

Resilience Shift Primer: Ports. An industry guide to enhancing resilience

Research method and credits

The Potable water primer was informed by 19 interviews with representatives of water operators and key stakeholders, together with reviews of strategy documents, reports by government agencies, interest groups and academic literature. Interviewees were based in Australia, New Zealand and the United States of America. The aims were to explore attitudes of individuals and organisations towards resilience including the current and desired state of resilience within the sector, examine resilience building initiatives, understand perceived barriers that impede resilience improvement and identify incentives that assist resilience efforts. The publication was led by Tracy Hatton and supported by Ellie Kay, Nader Naderpajouh and Daniel Aldrich.

About Tracy Hatton

Tracy is joint managing director of Resilient Organisations and has extensive experience leading research and consulting projects focusing on organisational resilience and disaster preparedness and recovery. Tracy works at the interface between research and practice, ensuring that high-quality research is converted into real solutions for organisational problems. She is a skilled facilitator who delivers engaging and effective training and workshops relating to organisational resilience and disaster recovery. She completed a PhD focusing on disaster recovery in 2015 and an MBA with Distinction in 2011. Her prior experience in the client service industry ensures clients and funders receive quality results delivered on time and on budget.

 

With many thanks to Fay Sweet.

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