A Refreshing View on Integrated Water Management

By Chris Buntine, Melbourne Collaborative
Our recent March 7 Living Future Collaborative event in Melbourne was an opportunity to engage with leading ideas for integrated water management that enriches places and ecologies.  The evening included inspirational presentations from Professor Tony Wong is Chief Executive of the Cooperative Research Centre for Water Sensitive Cities and Dr David Bergmann, Research & Development Manager for South East Water.
In keeping with the 7 Seasons, 7 Petals theme, Jane Toner shared with us the meaning if Iuk (Eel) season, the importance of eels to the Aboriginal people and the amazing life cycle of the eel.
Following an ancient cycle the eels migrate through the local water ways northwards towards to the Coral Sea where they breed and give birth to larvae which are referred to as ‘glass’ eels due to their transparency.  The glass eels grow and then remarkably begin to make their own way to the freshwater rivers and creeks from which their parents came.
Reinforcing our connection to living water systems is essential if we are to rethink how we design for water in the built environment and this was the theme of a presentation by Chris Buntine.  Chris talked about the innovative was we are beginning to engage with our local water systems beginning such as the Yarra Protection Act 2017 which treats the Yarra River as one integrated living natural entity to be protected.  What if we were to daylight the original creek running down Elizabeth St., as has been promoted by Gilbert Rochecouste?
Chris also spoke about the work that Aurecon is doing with the University of Melbourne on the New Student Precinct to daylight waterways and create an eel pond, restoring in part, tributaries that originally fed water into the Yarra.  Having the right conversations to encourage a systemic and collaborative approach to water systems is challenging.  Chris illustrated an example of the level of interaction between disciplines that is needed to fully realise the design process.
A short distance from Aurecon’s office in the Docklands is the Reed Vessel, a public sculpture by Virginia King which acknowledges the history of the site and embraces the themes of migration, passage and survival. Chris talked about how the Reed Vessel provided a connection to water systems for the people living and working in the Docklands.
Chris also discussed the requirements of the Living Building Challenge Water Petal which is intended to realign how people use water and to redefine “waste” in the built environment so that water is respected as a precious resource. Imperative 5 Net Positive Water requires that project are designed to work in harmony with the natural water flows of the site and its surroundings. 100% of the project’s water needs must be supplied by captured precipitation or other natural closed-loop water systems. This means that all stormwater and sewage water discharge must be treated on-site through reuse, a closed-loop system, or infiltration.
A highlight of the evening was provided by Tony Wong who described how the Collaborative Research Centre for Water Sensitive Cities is encouraging a shift towards hybrid centralized-decentralised systems, and hybrid grey and green infrastructure.
The need for a new approach to water infrastructure is being shaped by accelerating urbanisation, climate change and exceedance of planetary boundaries, demographic shifts and technological breakthroughs.  Tony presented a case study on Fishermans Bend  where the use of an integrated set of site level water strategies has been shown to reduce the need for trunk water infrastructure by 45%.
Hybrid systems involve site-specific combinations of hybrid centralized-decentralised systems, and hybrid grey and green infrastructure. This means nature-based solutions play a key role as outlined in this UN World Water Development Report.
An integrated approach can link water management with broader cityshaping opportunities to enable sustainability to be achieved, in fact it touches on nearly every one of the UN Sustainable Development Goals. We should look to Singapore and China for examples of this level of thinking such as Kunshan, a Chinese city which has adopting a polder landscape to act as a sponge, making flood plains liveable.
One of the leading efforts in Victoria to implement the latest thinking in sustainable suburban water systems is the Aquarevo project and this was the subject of the presentation by David Bergmann. South East Water is services over 1.7 million people and 700,000 connections and needs to find ways to services a growing Melbourne population projected to reach 8 million people by 2050.  What this means is that depending on the climate and population growth forecasts Melbourne may be short of drinking water between 2030 and 2050 creating a need for new and innovative ways to manage and deliver water.
The Aquarevo development is a collaboration with Villawood properties 40km from Melbourne in the township of Lyndhurst. Aquarevo consists of 460 lots and 5 hectares of open space. Aquarevo homes will be plumbed with three types of water to showcase the possibilities of harnessing all sources of water available to us: drinking, recycled and rainwater.
Aquarevo will also deliver valuable liveability outcomes to residents through the enhancement of green spaces which provide amenity, biodiversity and cooling of the local environment.
One of the key challenges South East Water faced was the lack of a regulatory framework for the use of rainwater for hot water applications. This required a microbial risk assessment to demonstrate an extremely high level of safety for the residents.
The evening concluded with an open discussion with David and Tony about opportunities for transformation in the use of the water solutions discussion across the industry.
At the end of the evening people were invited to share their thoughts on an Ideas board.
In reflecting on the inspiring presentations and discussion the key takeaway for me was the opportunity to consider how water systems can be create vibrant communities that are healthier,  more resilient, more biodiverse and reduce the burden on expensive centralised waste and water infrastructure which is increasingly at capacity. This isn’t just about water, it’s about the positive transformation of our built environment.