State-wide stormwater approach to integrated water management

Supporting integrated water management is a priority for many water utilities and local councils. South East Water works with multiple groups to help manage stormwater through its catchment areas.

Supporting integrated water management is a priority for many water utilities and local councils. South East Water works with multiple groups to help manage stormwater through its catchment areas.

“Our population is growing, and climate change is happening,” said Suresh Bajracharya, South East Water’s Integrated Water Management Planning Lead. “The sources of water we currently have are not going to be enough to provide water security for our customers in the future. We need to expand the use of stormwater as a water resource.”

It’s this thinking about stormwater that Baracharya is implementing as part of South East Water’s strategic partnerships on stormwater. Originally from Nepal, he studied at Tribhuvan University, its oldest and largest university.

“When I was at school, we were taught that Nepal is the second richest country in the world when it comes to water resources,” he said. “When I looked at the situation in the villages of Nepal, most people would travel for hours to meet their daily water needs. That didn’t sound right, and I wondered why we could not manage our water resources properly. That would save my people from their hardship and poverty.”

Once he got to university, he learned that water resources management is a global issue. Immediately after graduating from university, Baracharya joined Kathmandu Metropolitan City as a civil engineer.

Moving to stormwater

In 2007, Baracharya joined Melbourne Water. He started as a drainage specialist, analysing the catchments flagged for growth and redevelopment. Baracharya then had to develop drainage and flood management solutions for each development.

“Melbourne was at the tail end of the 2008 millennium drought,” he said. “Australia had learned, in a very challenging way, that every drop of water does matter. I had just completed my Masters in Water Resources Management and was bubbling with many optimistic ideas. There were a lot of opportunities to capture rainwater and stormwater in many of the greenfield development areas I was working on.”

The goal was to reduce the potential flood management challenges and the pressure on Melbourne’s future water services. It would also provide an opportunity to reduce the impact of water restrictions. During this period, Baracharya switched focus from pure drainage and flood management to the holistic management of stormwater.

Working with stormwater

Melbourne Water and local councils are the designated authorities for managing stormwater in Melbourne from drainage and waterways perspectives. Historically, retail water corporations have had no official role in stormwater management. That is changing.

“Water authorities have become increasingly interested and involved in stormwater management,” said Baracharya. “That’s particularly the case when it comes to its use as a water resource. Using stormwater as a water resource is a relatively new concept. The roles and responsibilities for this service are not allocated to a single agency.”

South East Water sees its role as collaboratively working across the industry to help maximise the potential of stormwater in providing water security. It also offers other benefits that build into environmental protection, flood mitigation, and liveability.

“South East Water published its stormwater strategy plan last year,” he said. “It articulates our vision and collaborative roles in stormwater engagement. We have five key areas of focus within this plan.”

Stormwater plan

The first area focuses on policy influence. South East Water remains focused on developing and enabling policies, regulations and operating frameworks that facilitate stormwater harvesting.

“Collaborative planning with the industry is the second area,” said Baracharya. “We want to develop a shared vision and agreed plans for holistic water cycle management solutions that consider stormwater harvesting and reuse.”

South East Water believes in the importance of implementing strategic and collaborative partnerships. Such relationships are vital for developing aggregate plans and programs. In that way, water authorities can work with councils and other stakeholders to provide better holistic stormwater management throughout its service region.

“Innovation is a key feature of South East Water,” he said. “Innovation through partnerships in research and development of products, technologies and services are all key to how South East Water and other water authorities can support stormwater management initiatives. These all work to improve effectiveness and affordability, as well as the scale of rainwater and stormwater harvesting solutions.”

Finally, customer and community engagement are fundamental parts of the operations of a public water utility. They need to educate the community so people are aware and willing to understand the benefits of using stormwater and rainwater.

Developments within the stormwater industry

In the eyes of Baracharya, he can see a series of technological and non-technological developments influencing the stormwater management industry. Even though stormwater and rainwater are not part of the regular service domains for the utility, they are still involved in an array of research and development activities around stormwater and rainwater use.

“One example of our technological developments is our range of smart rainwater tank technologies,” said Baracharya. “South East Water has implemented them in its Aquarevo development. The smart tanks can be controlled remotely and operated to maximise water use and enhance flood mitigation. We’ve seen a 26 per cent reduction in stormwater runoff across the entire development area.”

These smart tanks are being trialled in properties in Fishermans Bend, ahead of their potential rollout across the development site. There has been interest in these smart tanks across Australia and around the world due to their water-saving and stormwater management functions.

“We are also working with councils beyond our catchment areas,” he said. “Our smart sensors are being used to enhance the waterway management functions and improve the habitat for platypi. It’s an example of how we lead in real-time monitoring and controlling of wetlands and waterways.”

When it comes to non-technological developments, a shift has been looking at stormwater as a valuable water resource. Stakeholders and the community appear to support this shift, which provides South East Water and other water authorities the social license to get involved.

“Stormwater is being spruiked as a potential potable water solution in multiple industry and community discussions,” said Baracharya. “It’s getting momentum, and pilot projects have been launched in New South Wales. There are also similar projects overseas, so we are learning as much as possible to advance further in this field.”

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