The Problems with Current Water Systems Design Thinking

As the millennium drought dragged on, Adelaide began to run out of water. The South Australian Government panicked. By the time the over-sized ‘drought busting’ 100 GL/a desalination plant was built the drought was well and truly over and the Adelaide customers were faced with the highest water bills of any Australian capital city.

If more attention had been paid to what was being demonstrated at Mawson Lakes and by other innovative water schemes being developed in South Australia and elsewhere over the previous decade, it could have beaten the drought and provided additional benefits in terms of flood and coastal pollution reduction at a far lower cost by integrating stormwater harvesting and wastewater recycling into its mix of water sources. This is the message implied in the “Transitioning Adelaide” discussion paper.

The WATER GAME gives you the opportunity to design your own water system for Adelaide and test the relative performance of your design in terms of its likely water supply reliability and levels of future flood damages and coastal pollution. You can design for different city sizes, different development densities, different climate change expectations and different mixes of water sources, storage possibilities and treatments. Help is given to you as you undertake your exploration.

New technologies, particularly in water treatment and storage, are revolutionising the ability to design and operate water systems in a far more efficient manner than was possible only 20-30 years ago when the decision was made to scrap the old Engineering and Water Supply Department and create the new SA Water Corporation.

SA Water is a monopoly. Its sole objective is to provide a profit for the South Australian government while maintaining an acceptable level of water supply and wastewater services. SA Water has little incentive to make changes to the way its system operates. By playing the WATER GAME you can see the advantages in changing the tired 100 year old single-purpose, ‘once-through’, large scale, centralised control concepts built into the present system in favour of the new possibilities and necessities for multi-purpose, multi-pass (recycling), local small-scale systems using the latest measurement and control systems.

Play the WATER GAME. See the problems, see the possibilities. Remember - Its your city, your water and your money! Let’s transition Adelaide to a more water sensitive, sensible and sustainable city and save money at the same time!

WaterSelect is a small South Australian company based in Adelaide dedicated to a more sustainable approach to water planning and management in modern cities. We focus our attention on Adelaide because it has already played a major role in demonstrating how changed approaches can solve the three main problems besetting all cities as they continue to grow ie. maintaining reliable and affordable water supplies, reducing flood damages and cleaning up water borne pollution.

WaterSelect’s main contribution is in the development and operation of mathematical models simulating the operation of alternative layouts for water systems in order to trial their effectiveness in achieving results in these three main areas of public concern. The WaterCress model was a world’s first model that tracked water flows through the whole of the natural and engineered water systems of a city and its surrounding region. The model was used for the design of the Mawson Lakes development and for many of the stormwater harvesting schemes which are now dotted throughout Adelaide suburbs. The WaterCress model and its operator manual can be downloaded from this website, free of charge.

As a result of the millennium drought, Adelaide made a great mistake in adopting very expensive desalination as its sole guard against future drought when, in fact, it had plenty of reserve water in the form of stormwater and wastewater and only needed to develop the lower cost treatment and storage facilities to bring these on line. This mistake has now been recognised (although not formally) and a paper “Transitioning Adelaide to a Water Sensitive City” has been published for public discussion as a way of reducing future costs and increasing the overall effectiveness. This paper is highly recommended and you can download it from here.

WaterSelect has also developed the Water Game to enable members of the public to test their ability in designing a better water system layout (Ie a more ‘sensitive’ and sustainable layout) that can reduce costs, increase water supply reliability even if Adelaide kept doubling its size), reducing flood damages and reducing stream and coastal pollution. The instructions on how to play the game and test your understanding of the main principles of water systems design can also be accessed from this website.