Water management crisis – victims of our own success

Watching a video on Circle of Blue recently, one comment jumped out at me.

Paul Reiter, Executive Director of the IWA made the point that in industrialised countries, engineers have been so successful in solving two of the main water issues (providing potable water to the home and removing wastewater from the home), that water is no longer front-of-mind for most people; in fact it is completely taken for granted.

In countries without these sophisticated and costly engineering solutions, water and sanitation management is time consuming, and often takes much of their time and energy.

Removing water and sanitation from urban people’s conciousness has had serious repercussions.

Firstly they abuse the service because they are not stakeholders in its management, they are simply end-users who bear little or no cost of that abuse. They now believe it is their right to have unlimited potable water come out of the tap at their house.

During the water supply crisis in Brisbane, Australia, people were temporarily prepared to cut back their use, tolerate large expenditure on infrastructure, and support innovative solutions like planned potable reuse, but as soon as the immediate crisis was over they returned to the passive user role, demanding water on their terms.

Successful water managers are going to have to somehow get the community to participate in planning decisions. This will involve getting through to people that getting hundreds of  litres of  potable water piped to their house everyday is actually a massive challenge, which has been accomplished to-date at significant economic, environmental and social cost. If they want to continue getting this service in a changing climate they are going to have to make compromises, and pay more!