After nine years of research and international impact, the CRC for Water Sensitive Cities (CRCWSC) wrapped up on 30 June 2021. Its important work, however, will continue through Water Sensitive Cities Australia, which is becoming a part of the Monash Sustainability Development Institute.
The CRCWSC began in 2012 with a vision to build sustainable, resilient and liveable cities and towns, partly in response to the Millennium Drought. As a partnership between the Commonwealth Government, water sector practitioners and researchers, it has since unlocked new ways to manage urban water: New water sources and how they can be harnessed; new tools for measuring water performance; new ways of identifying and quantifying the benefits and costs of water sensitive approaches; and new processes for building the integration needed between agencies, sectors and with community to address the complex challenge of managing water in urban areas.
With its nine-year program, the CRCWSC had the time to demonstrate these new approaches to work in practice, and in a range of settings nationally and internationally. Through both works on-ground and in policy, the CRCWSC used the lessons learned to create a suite of tools, processes and guidelines that are now being deployed in cities and towns across Australia.
These tools are freely available on Water Sensitive Cities Australia’s Knowledge Platform.
But the job isn’t done just yet. “Having proved water sensitive cities practices work, the next step is to make them the norm,” said Ben Furmage, CEO of Water Sensitive Cities Australia. “One day, no matter where we are, we will see water sensitive practices in use and in projects large and small.” This is now the mission of Water Sensitive Cities Australia, the CRCWSC’s legacy vehicle.
As the name suggests, Water Sensitive Cities Australia retains the national coverage of the CRCWSC and also continues the partnership model with water utilities, state agencies and councils. It already has partners in Western Australia and Victoria, and on-going connections with South Australia, New South Wales and Queensland.
Key to Water Sensitive Cities Australia’s mission is building and refining the institutions, regulations, technical tools and industry networks necessary to scale up and lock in water sensitive practice. To maintain the momentum for change, one of the final papers released by the CRCWSC – Harnessing hybrid systems for transformative cities – sets out an agenda for scaling up water sensitive practices. It provides a framework and direction for collective research and action.
In particular, the paper introduces the concept of hybrid urban water systems that merge centralised and decentralised solutions, as well as blue-green technologies with grey technologies. These systems are tailored for local conditions by designing for multiple functions and benefits in response to local context. This means they can be customised and implemented as and when needed. This in turn enables cheaper servicing of out-of-sequence urban development that otherwise challenges the capacity of centralised infrastructure to meet demand growth, and can increase centralised water system robustness to make our cities more resilient.
The paper discusses ways to enable and scale the adoption of this approach:
- Use pilot projects that support scaling out (so that more practitioners are aware of and apply water sensitive cities practices), scaling up (so that water sensitive cities practices are reflected in policies and regulations) and scaling deep (so that water sensitive cities practice is evident in behaviours and beliefs throughout an organisation).
- Advance new funding and financing models that address barriers to mainstream uptake of hybrid water solutions.
- Integrate with sectors beyond water (e.g. urban planning, transport, energy, waste disposal and health), to respond to urban challenges holistically.