The future of stormwater management in Australia

There are many advocacy groups for different aspects of the water industry. Cath Thrupp is the president and chair of Stormwater Australia. She spoke about its role in the water industry.

There are many advocacy groups for different aspects of the water industry. Cath Thrupp is the president and chair of Stormwater Australia. She spoke about its role in the water industry and more broadly about stormwater management.

Management of water on the 2nd driest continent on earth is never going to be easy! Sharing experience and knowledge is vital to supporting effective outcomes. Groups like Stormwater Australia are making significant contributions to the stormwater industry.

Formed in 2000, Stormwater Australia engages with state and federal authorities to advocate for evolving stormwater needs. It also seeks to raise awareness of national stormwater challenges and to provide knowledge-sharing and certification programs for the industry. Stormwater Australia members have protected the environment, served communities, and supported sustainable stormwater solutions since its founding.

“We have a very diverse membership base,” said Cath Thrupp, the president and chair of the board of Stormwater Australia. “They broadly fall into three categories. The first is local government, which manages large stormwater asset bases in Australia. The second group are manufacturers and sellers of products in the water space. Thirdly, we have consultants that are working in the water industry.”

Importance of stormwater

Thrupp believes that stormwater management can be both challenging and exciting. Water touches every aspect of the urban, rural and regional landscape.

“Stormwater managers are never managing just one part of the city or landscape,” she said. “You have to take a broader perspective on the rainfall or total water cycle. Water lands on farms,  roads, buildings, and green spaces and flows into our existing stormwater pipes and natural waterways… It’s quite complex to work out how to manage that water holistically. As this water flows, it transports contaminants that need to be managed and treated before flowing into waterways and bays where people swim, boat and fish.”

Looking to the future, there are some emerging challenges for stormwater and water managers. One such challenge is climate change, which poses ongoing challenges due to extreme weather events and rising sea levels, leading to issues with urban heat, water supply issues, droughts and floods.

“A lot of our stormwater systems were never designed to deal with some of the extremes we’re seeing across the country,” said Thrupp. “It is something that we are seeing across Australia and worldwide. Massive storms roll through our cities, leading to large water flows to stormwater networks. There’s no way for our current stormwater infrastructure to cater for these extreme events.”

In the future, there will also be challenges with managing aging stormwater assets already in the ground. Thrupp believes that this is an issue that needs to be discussed more.

“Due to the age of our cities in Australia, many Local Governments have extensive pipe networks that are managed in conjunction with waterways and water-sensitive urban design stormwater assets above ground,” she said. “Many of those pipe networks are approaching the end of their lives. That becomes a problem for local government  because renewing thousands of kilometres of stormwater pipe infrastructure is an extremely costly exercise, and not one that many cities have the funds to deal with.”

Stormwater strategy

At the beginning of 2023, Stormwater Australia published its Strategic Plan for 2022-27. Within this strategic plan, Thrupp believes there are three key points.

“Firstly, Stormwater Australia is taking a future-focused view of what is going to be needed for stormwater going forward,” Thrupp said. “We want to focus on what a sustainable, resilient city of the future might look like. Globally, a lot of work is being done on how to design resilient infrastructure for the future. No city, town or region can transition to sustainability and resilience overnight, so long-term planning is critical.”

Innovation is the second point. Stormwater Australia wants to support its members by developing new tools and sharing the latest global technology with its community in real-time. The goal is to engage more effectively with members and share knowledge and training across the community.

“To deal with climate change and other emerging challenges, we have to leverage the latest technology and come up with ideas that we’ve never considered before to adapt,” Thrupp said.

The third point is collaboration. The water industry is already collaborative, and complex challenges need even more cooperation around the globe. We need the smartest people worldwide to work together to adapt for the future. Sharing things that have or have not worked well is fundamental to the growth of the stormwater and water management sectors.

Trends in the stormwater management industry

Stormwater Australia is paying attention to several trends in the stormwater sector. One is the effective and innovative design of a city or landscape’s green, blue and grey elements.

“Stormwater was historically focused on grey infrastructure, being the pipe and drainage networks,” said Thrupp. “With an increasing focus on liveability and infrastructure that serves multiple purposes, the attention is now focused on effectively integrating those existing networks with green spaces and natural waterways. Managing urban liveability requires the effective integration of water into the landscape to achieve a range of outcomes, such as flood management, water quality, community recreation and biodiversity outcomes.”

“With climate change and a sustainability focus for cities, there’s a big demand for green spaces and urban rivers and creeks,” she said. “People want that close relationship with their local green and cool spaces. We know there are social and health benefits associated with recreation along waterways and around our coasts and bays. We are focused on how stormwater contributes to that broader urban design outcome.”

There is also a significant change in how technology is being used to help design effective stormwater outcomes.

“Cities and utilities are using digital twins to run different design scenarios,” Thrupp said. “This helps manage and design optimised water and liveability outcomes. Technology also plays a key role in water treatment and quality improvement. Technological breakthroughs are rapidly transforming the industry in diverse ways.”

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