The role of local recycled water systems for sustainable urban water servicing

Publication Type:
Thesis
Issue Date:
2017
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Local recycled water systems are emerging as an option to meet many of the opportunities and challenges facing the urban water industry, and as a result they are being planned, delivered and operated. Although Sydney has seen an increase in the installation of these systems, their uptake is still limited and there is a lack of agreement about their overall value. The insights revealed in this research, gained through a literature review, in-depth interviews, and analysis of an extensive database of existing recycled water sites, will: • guide industry to make more robust investment decisions for local recycled water • assist regulators and policy makers to revise institutional structures that have had unintended consequences, so that they encourage investment that will support a resilient and adaptable water industry into the future. It does this by articulating the full range of impacts (costs and benefits) of local recycled water systems. The impacts identified are appropriate for inclusion in a wide range of decision-making frameworks. When compared to more conventional options, the variance in scale and distribution of impacts (as well as uncertainty regarding their measurement and timing) make the consideration of the full range of impacts challenging, contentious and potentially costly. Therefore, identifying, valuing and including impacts in the decision-making process is only one part of the puzzle. By using Sydney as a case study, this thesis demonstrates that the interactions between impacts and the context (environment, social, regulatory and institutional setting) are critical components of explaining what investment occurs and what role local recycled water systems (or any alternative) can have in urban water servicing. It is critical to consider this complex interplay to assess whether current policies and regulatory and institutional settings are appropriately designed to drive investment that meets the broad objectives of the water industry for the future. For local recycled water to become a mainstream strategy, a number of changes are likely to be required. An important first step is to clearly identify the objectives of the urban water industry, and then agree on how local recycled water contributes to these objectives. In addition, clearer and more equitable price signals, and simple and predictable benefit transfer mechanisms, are areas for change. To assist with developing more robust signals for efficient investment, broader dissemination of the current capacity of centralised infrastructure and investment triggers is required to provide an opportunity for the market to respond with solutions that meet market demands and assist with managing centralised system constraints.
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