Water research and reform is on the boil: Australian Water Resources Project formed
Posted : Thursday, July 22, 2010
issued: Thursday, 22 July 2010
Melbourne, 22 July 2010: CEDA, UniWater (a
venture between the University Melbourne and Monash University) and
Harvard University today announced the formation of the Australian
Water Resources Project. The project will conduct independent
analyses into Australia's water shortages and policy solutions.
Over two years the project will assess the priorities and options
to address long-term water supply across Australia by engaging
experts to deliver a series of policy related forums and a two-part
The research will aim to develop more efficient use and
allocation of urban and rural water supplies through analysis of
governance, trading, pricing, desalination, recycling, and
efficiency issues in and between metropolitan and rural
The project will also address issues faced by the new State and
Commonwealth Environmental Water Holders (EWH), including the
portfolio of existing water entitlements which should be acquired,
what new types of assets should be developed and how the EWHs
should engage with the water markets.
Australia will be expected to make a critical contribution to
meeting increased global food production needs over the coming
decades. Improving agricultural productivity through more efficient
use of rural water resources and irrigation practices and the
extension of water saving technologies will therefore be central to
The Australian Water Resources Project will be led by Dr Michael
Porter, CEDA Research and Policy Director; Professor John Langford,
University of Melbourne and Director of Uniwater and Professor John
Briscoe, Gordon McKay Professor at Harvard University and
formerly the Senior Water Advisor at the World Bank. Publications
and forums will be informed by the considerable expertise of the
members of the CEDA Water
Strategy Panel and the Uniwater
Dr Porter, Professor Langford and Professor Briscoe said they
were excited by the project and confident that it would make a real
contribution to finding better solutions to Australian water policy
CEDA Chief Executive, David Byers, said the approach of
harnessing Australian and international experts in the field and
engaging the broader community through policy forums and broad
communications will set this project apart from previous water
"It is founded on the conviction that governments can't do it
all - collaboration between academia, business and government is
needed to engage the broader community in understanding the
challenges and opportunities," he said.
"The critical nature of water policy reform is demonstrated by
CEDA members having ranked water as the number one policy priority
area for the last three years in our annual Big Issues Survey,"
David Byers explained.
David Byers acknowledged that the project has been made possible
by generous financial support from the Yulgilbar Foundation;
Harvard, Melbourne and Monash Universities; and donors to CEDA's
general research fund. The Victorian Government has also provided
support through access to technical advice, knowledge and expertise
in the project's formative stages.
Dr Porter noted that the project will build on an outstanding
existing knowledge base in Australia.
"In terms of the issues, we need institutional and market-based
reforms, competition on the supply side between conventional water
sources, plus desalinated and recycled supplies, and aquifers
recharged using wastewater. We need increased water trades and
arrangements between regions and metropolitan areas across grids,
like those being implemented in Melbourne and south east
Dr Porter highlighted that a virtue of desalination and recycled
water supplies is that they are climate invariant, and amount to an
insurance against weather-based shortages as experienced in recent
"The cities have no long term reason for having to use rationing
and other heavy handed controls."
Professor John Langford of University of Melbourne and Director
of Uniwater said regardless of whether Australia is experiencing a
'federation drought' or climate change, the time to act is now.
"Australia has one of the most variable water resources in the
world but the recent report by the National Water Commission
indicates reforms and institutional changes are lagging."
"Our independent and objective research will provide a clear
reference for the implementation and challenges of new
institutional arrangements and will aid sound water outcomes," he
Harvard Professor John Briscoe explained that Harvard University
has a long history of multi-disciplinary engagement with the
challenges of water management.
"Recognising that water is one of the great challenges facing
mankind, Harvard is pulling together faculty from across the
university to work with partners in focus countries around the
world. The initial focus countries are Brazil, Pakistan and
Australia. Australia is a priority because they have developed by
far the most sophisticated and effective system for managing
scarcity - a system which has meant that the economic impacts of
the devastating decade-long drought has been far less than would
have been the case had Australia not had such an effective water
market," he said.
"Furthermore, Australia is a world leader in integrating the
practitioner and research communities on water. We have just had a
group of faculty (from the Schools of Engineering, Public Health,
Government, Biology and Law) visit Melbourne and start the process
of designing a joint research and education program with the
University of Melbourne and Monash University. We are confident
that we will develop not only a strong bilateral partnership, but
that the Australian experience will be enormously valuable to our
partner universities in other countries."
Professor Briscoe was pleased to see new and more assertive
engagement of the private sector in water as one of the major
emerging issues which holds great hope for the future throughout
"We were delighted to meet with government and business leaders
in Melbourne, Sydney and Canberra, and to have the very exciting
CEDA-supported Australian Water Resources Project as a tangible and
strategic first engagement in Australia."
Professor Briscoe also said that he was excited by the potential
synergies between the Australian Water Resources Project and
groundbreaking work of the 2030 Water Resources Group.
"Over time, we aim to form an association with the 2030 Water
Resources Group, which brings together public agencies (led by the
World Bank's International Finance Corporation and the Asian
Development Bank), the World Economic Forum and a range of private
sector companies who have a commitment to both develop innovative
technologies and to support governments who undertake water
The 2030 Water Resources Group is engaging in transformation
programs which are led by committed political leaders, engage the
private sector in new ways, and which are designed to improve
water-related outcomes in a number of countries, including China,
India, Pakistan, Ethiopia, Mexico and South Africa.
"The Water 2030 Group, recognising Australia's global leadership
and relevance for other countries, is committed to engaging with
Australia, in part through the CEDA Australian Water Resources
Project," he said.
The project will lift the national level of understanding of
potential water policy options and their benefits. Communication is
one of the major challenges of the water issues identified by our
Water Strategy Panel, CEDA Research and Policy Director Michael
"Water is often viewed as an engineering and technical or
volumetric problem, rather than as a matter of incentives,
competitive tendering, new technology, risk allocation and trading
"Through our meetings and publications we will address some of
the communication challenges by sharply distinguishing between the
myths and the realities on the causes of, and solutions for water
scarcity," he said.
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