When it comes to water, are we stewards or security guards?
Water is at the heart of our much-loved Aussie lifestyle — our quality of life, our jobs, our businesses and our communities depend on it. However, the challenges facing water utilities are growing more complex every day.
With climate change, extreme weather, population growth and industrial development all placing greater pressure on our finite water supplies, there has never been a more urgent need for innovative and sustainable solutions to manage our most precious resource.
Two distinct concepts play a crucial role in protecting our water resources: water security and water stewardship. Every water utility has a role to play in both.
How is water security different from water stewardship?
Water security refers to the proactive protection of water resources. It considers the political, economic and social factors — including the impact of climate change and population growth — that influence water availability and quality. This means considering climate-independent sources of water and planning our infrastructure and strategy around those factors.
On the other hand, water stewardship involves adopting an ethical and sustainable approach towards water management, where collaboration with local communities, customers and stakeholders is emphasised to develop innovative approaches. The aim is not only to use water responsibly but also to manage it in a way that benefits both the environment and the community.
At Urban Utilities, we’re focusing on security and stewardship side-by-side to ensure our water is protected and conserved for generations to come.
Net Zero by 2032
Climate change is one of the most pressing challenges facing our planet today, and it’s putting unprecedented pressure on our water supplies.
We acknowledge that, in the future, we’re more likely to have:
- more frequent and longer droughts,
- periods of low rainfall and low inflows into dams,
- less water available due to factors including increased evaporation and
- increased demand for water for cooling our urban and regional environments.
We’re committed to doing our bit to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and help mitigate the impact of climate change on our water resources.
To this end, we’ve set some strong-minded sustainability goals, including a commitment to reaching Net Zero greenhouse gas emissions by the time Brisbane hosts the Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2032.
This is an ambitious target for a water utility. Achieving it will require significant effort, investment, and cooperation — after all, water and wastewater treatment are essential but energy-intensive processes.
To achieve Net Zero, we’re focusing on three key elements:
- improving our energy efficiency,
- increasing our use of renewable energy,
- and investing in local offset projects.
One of the ways we’re improving our energy efficiency is by embracing innovative, cost-effective technologies.
For example, we recently grew our own ‘superbugs’ to treat wastewater, as part of the Australian-first Anammox biological treatment process at our largest wastewater treatment plant in Brisbane, which has reduced our energy use.
We’ve also installed solar panels in key regional plants, and are continuing to generate our own clean, renewable energy from wastewater treatment. In fact, since we were formed in 2010, we’ve generated more than 125,000 MWh from cogeneration, which is enough energy to power up to 27,000 homes for a year!
Another key element of our sustainability roadmap is recycled water — water that has been used once and then treated to remove contaminants, making it safe for reuse, rather than returning it to the environment.
Adding recycled water to the mix eases pressure on our drinking water supplies, reduces nutrients in waterways, and improves the well-being and liveability of communities. Recycling water also reduces energy use, which leads to lower greenhouse gas emissions.
At the moment, we supply recycled water to hundreds of customers across our 14,000 km2 service region, primarily for agriculture and irrigation. The water is used to:
- green local sporting fields,
- support farmers,
- breathe new life into country racetracks and
- help grow new koala habitats.
We also supplied recycled water to Brisbane Airport Corporation to support the construction of their second runway, saving more than 500 Olympic-sized swimming pools of drinking water in the process.
Embracing growth and opportunity
If water isn’t sustainable, industry isn’t sustainable.
The demand for recycled water from industrial customers has increased significantly in the past year, and we’re thrilled to be an enabler of this important and rapid shift toward more sustainable and responsible business.
Several major international companies have recently announced sustainability strategies that prioritise water stewardship, and we’re seeing this trend mirrored at the local level too.
We recently reached out to several of our biggest commercial water users to learn more about their sustainability goals and we’re happy to hear all have set sophisticated targets — with most having specific water stewardship goals.
We’re also particularly excited about a number of emerging green industry participants who are focused on using non-potable water sources to create eco-friendly products like cardboard pulp, green hydrogen and concrete.
Right now, we recycle an average of around 10,000 megalitres of water every year, but as more and more customers show interest, we’re excited to explore ways to increase our impact together and meet their evolving Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) needs.
Customers with a commitment to sustainability aren’t just setting the standard but shaping the future, and we’re here to support them every step of the way.
The recent announcement that Brisbane will host the 2032 Olympic and Paralympic Games has also accelerated the pace of change in our service region.
Brisbane is set to be the first climate-positive Olympic and Paralympic Games, and we’re thrilled to be playing our part to ensure large-scale, global events can be done sustainably.
As we approach 2032, we’ll work closely with customers and stakeholders to help them meet any ESG requirements set down by the organising committee for constructing sustainable precincts.
We’re also exploring opportunities to design and build innovative and sustainable water and wastewater infrastructure for key precincts that will benefit our community long after the closing ceremony.
… and beyond!
The next decade will throw up plenty of challenges as we look to shape the future of water for our customers and communities, and we’re committed to exploring all options to secure a diverse water supply for our regions.
This means further exploring the use of climate-independent water sources like desalination and purified recycled water, both for residential and industrial use.
As a water utility, we have an opportunity and a responsibility to pursue sustainable water solutions, and we’re excited to be doing so alongside like-minded industry partners. We’re committed to continuing our journey further into sustainability and helping our business customers meet their ESG requirements.
After all, waste is only waste if it’s wasted!
For more information on how recycled water can help you meet your ESG goals, click here.
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