Date: 28 Jul 2015
Cat: Infrastructure, Strategy

The City of Salisbury challenged its own thinking and broke down relationship barriers to achieve integrated water management within and beyond its council boundaries, securing the region’s water resources and the confidence and investment of the federal government.

The challenge. “We’ve been at the leading edge of urban stormwater harvesting now for some time. We’re planning further investments in capturing and selling stormwater, but want to be certain it’s the right way to go” said Fred, the Council’s project manager. Were public finances at risk? Could capital allocation be improved? Was it even possible to attract other investment?

Our approach. We recognised that Salisbury was at the downstream end of the peri-urban catchment and its stormwater resource affected by upstream interests. Water supply was also just one side of a coin; water demand was also important to consider. So we took a step back, engaged a suite of key stakeholders (including upstream Councils exhibiting some antagonism) and undertook a future-focused review of the regional water situation. Important factors emerged (leading to a redrafting of the project brief) including the need to address urban environmental flow requirements, changing urban development policy and industrial water use, and climate change. Detailed water system modelling demonstrated that these factors put at risk the client’s water resource and investments. Considered in isolation the Council could have decided to withdraw investment and downscale its activities. But …

The solution. Upstream councils with their own stormwater harvesting activities and ambitions faced the same risks, as did Adelaide’s water supply. All water resources would be more valuable, changing the economic equation and requiring a more integrated regional approach to managing stormwater, groundwater, reclaimed effluent and raw water supplies. These deeper insights provided the impetus for refreshing strained relationships and collaborating across boundaries to invest in urban water. Novel policies for the allocation of stormwater were also drafted – a first for public resource policy.

The innovation. The bigger picture, strategic approach to this project had generated critical insights, importantly now shared across the key stakeholders. Constructive challenging of thinking, underpinned by a careful, structured approach and technical analysis, had changed the game.

Return on investment. The benefits of this work were substantial. It was received so positively when presented to the federal government, they were convinced to invest $40 million in water infrastructure across the region, funding that had not previously been forthcoming. This return alone represents a 32-fold ROI on the project. This ROI ignores any further benefits arising from leverage of co-investment by the parties involved nor any flow-on intangible benefits.

The client’s response. Keith, a senior manager with the regional catchment board who was participating in the project later stated “This project has made a big difference. The quality of the work was pivotal to securing the federal funding. And it’s helped repair some relationships. It’s been a great outcome.”

Transferable insights. Context is critical. So too is challenging assumptions. But it be uncomfortable and requires courage. Great results are possible though. A careful, structure approach that is transparent, inclusive and evidence-based can provide the data and confidence to realise new, better and admirable outcomes.

Note: This project was led by Nick Fleming of Innergise while employed at Sinclair Knight Merz, delivered in collaboration with sub-consultants including URPS, REM and Richard Clark.