AdaptWater assesses climate risks for water assets

Friday, 02 August, 2013 | Supplied by: Water Services Association of Australia (WSAA)

With the uncertainty of climate change - and the extreme weather events expected from it - comes the uncertainty of how water utility assets will hold up under the pressure. So Sydney Water, in partnership with the Water Services Association of Australia (WSAA), Climate Risk and other industry partners, developed AdaptWater - an online tool which is designed to help water utilities make better investment decisions in a changing climate.

Australian water utilities manage and operate over $120 billion of assets, including approximately 250,000 km of pipes, 70% of which are underground, and hundreds of water filtration plants, sewage treatment plants and pumping stations. AdaptWater has been designed to enable water utilities to ensure these assets are more resilient to the potentially damaging impacts of climate change and variability.

AdaptWater is a climate change adaptation quantification and option assessment tool for the Australian water industry, owned and maintained by WSAA. The outcome of collaboration across the national water industry, led by Sydney Water and with Australian research expertise, the tool can be used by water utilities to help identify what infrastructure is likely to be at risk during events like floods, bushfires, high winds and heatwaves, and assess different costed adaptation options to manage that risk.

“We have seen a marked increase in the occurrence of extreme events and are now able to identify where investment is needed before facing a crisis,” says WSAA Executive Director Adam Lovell. “Risk associated with climate change can be considered alongside other quantified risks within the decision-making process, including system risks, engineering risks and operational risks; this allows utilities to facilitate more informed decisions within projects.”

“The tool was developed by ClimateRisk, so we have utilised world-leading climate change adaptation expertise and the most up-to-date climate change data, which means that water utilities can assess short- to long-term risk to infrastructure.”

Climate Risk Director Dr Karl Mallon said the project is especially significant due to its use of quantitative analysis of millions of assets. “We needed to have probabilistic analysis that’s demanded by the climate change scientists; we needed to have mathematics and methods that were rigorous enough to satisfy utility engineers; and we needed to go all the way back to material science to have a robust and rigorous system.”

Dr Mallon added that the project methods have been designed to be flexible, “so that they can be applied to any other type of asset class - things like roads, powerlines, telecommunication cables - and of course that’s very important because it’s often those assets which run through all sorts of different hazard zones.”

Lovell said the implementation of solutions should be as community friendly as possible, saying, “The last thing we want to do is keep disrupting the community by ripping up footpaths; ripping up roads; or having to take parks out of action because a pumping station needs to be upgraded.”

AdaptWater was released in April this year and by June its potential had already been recognised - the tool won Sydney Water the NCCARF Climate Adaptation Champion Award in the Business category. The awards highlight achievements in changing behaviour, techniques, businesses practices and policies to adapt to an uncertain future.

Sydney Water Managing Director Kevin Young said the award was a tremendous recognition of the company’s leadership in the broader industry. “I am very proud of our work on AdaptWater. It is the first tool of its kind in Australia and it’s also been acknowledged internationally.”

The project received funding from the Australian Government’s Department of Industry, Innovation, Climate Change, Science, Research and Tertiary Education (DIICCSRTE), and from WSAA members, and is designed to deliver efficient spending outcomes for government, regulators and customers.

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