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Image courtesy of South East Water

South East Water customer stewardship exemplar

Innovating for vibrant communities Metropolitan, Victoria

The Better Infrastructure Initiative identified eight industry exemplars who represent what good customer stewardship looks like and how it is being practiced in Australia. South East Water is one of those 2017 exemplars.

South East (SE) Water is a government trading enterprise that provides water utility services in Melbourne’s south-east suburbs. It services more than 675,000 residential and 58,000 commercial and industrial properties, which are equivalent to more than 1.7 million people.

Two major long-term challenges are confronting SE Water, increasing population and climate change. Both these directly influence the future demand for water and its supply. It is abundantly evident that SE Water is preparing for an uncertain future.

Necessity is the mother of invention, and SE Water has mobilised its people and customer talent to ensuring it can deliver on the needs and preferences its customers and stakeholders, particularly as Melbourne’s population is projected to almost by 2065.

SE Water’s entry onto the customer stewardship exemplar list reflects its planning for uncertainty by involving customer and stakeholders (Principles 3, 5 and 7), enabling risk to be a catalyst for innovation (Principles 8 and 9) and leadership (Principle 10).

SE Water’s approach to planning means that the organisation has an in-depth understanding of the impact that population growth and volatile weather patterns have on its long-term ability to service customer needs.

An increasingly large population will result in increased demand for potable water: currently SE Water draws around 156 gigalitres (GL) from catchments and it expects that by 2065 annual demand will be around 200 GL.

Having tested a range of different climate change scenarios, SE Water identified the following three major impacts:

  1. increased water consumption through higher summer temperatures
  2. reduced rainfall impacting catchment capacity
  3. potential for extreme weather events and urban flooding.

Such impacts have focused the attention of SE Water’s strategic planning experts as they seek to realise their objective of a sustainable environment by making services more resilient to climate change with less impact on the environment. Inspiring confidence that water assets are being well managed and are dynamic and adaptable to future challenges has been a centrepiece of SE Water’s practice. This is evident with issuing an Urban Water Strategy and Corporate Plan to clearly communicate the challenges, and planning to address them.

Building long-term confidence

Melbourne’s water supplies are considered secure in the short term, and accessing water from the Victorian Desalination Project managed by AquaSure is an important factor. SE Water’s approach to planning has led the organisation to understand that its ability to meet its long-term objectives demands change to how the water cycle is managed and new ways to engage customers.

To ensure long-term water security and meet objectives around sustainability and customer value, SE Water is developing a series of integrated urban water management (IUWM) strategies.

According to Robert C Brears (2017), integrated urban water management activities advance ‘technological solutions for water management while simultaneously modifying attitudes and behaviour of individuals and society towards scarce water resources’. This is important given humans are ‘part and parcel of the environment rather than its masters’. The benefits of doing so are reduced costs to build new infrastructure (new supplies) and meeting ever more stringent ecological requirements as water becomes more scarce1.

Planning for change

A key element of preparing for the future is the preparedness to trial new technology (Principle 8) and new ways of doing things (Principle 5). Innovation is critical to the long-term infrastructure services, enabling water services to adapt to the shifting needs of customers and the economy. By combining IUWM with a focus on innovation, SE Water is creating the possibility for services to adapt in the future, particularly with its focus on creating alternative water products and services.

SE Water currently removes around 121 GL of waste water per year, with 12 percent treated at eight water-recycling plants. Around 5 GL of recycled water is supplied to households for toilet flushing and outdoor use and is also used by agriculture, viticulture, recreation and business operations.

There is an ambitious objective of aiming to double the volume of alternative water supplied to users to more than 9 GL by 2065. As part of its strategy to create alternative water supplies, SE Water is developing different projects including Fishermans Bend, one of Australia’s largest urban renewal projects. It aims to reduce potable water consumption by incorporating water tanks into the design of buildings and establishing a sewer mining project that may deliver recycled water for applications such as flushing of toilets.

Aquarevo involves new technology and systems to manage three sources of water at a new residential development in Lyndhurst on land that was previously occupied by a water purification plant. SE Water is working to establish a community that integrates potable water, recycled water and rain water in each home, using an intelligent system enabled by OneBox® a monitor and control device developed in-house by South East Water.

Featuring a pressure sewer system that pumps wastewater to a local water recycling plant, treat the waste to Class A standard, and sends it back to each home for use in the garden, toilet or washing machine – closing the loop. Each home will have rainwater tanks linked with technology that receives weather forecasts – then releases water before heavy rainfall to minimise overflows or flooding in local waterways.

Each home will also have a leading edge rain to hot water system, so that rainwater can be used for non-drinking, hot water purposes (such as showering, baths and other hot water faucets). Aquarevo residents can monitor their energy and water consumption on a customised smartphone app. The development is expected to reduce demand for potable water by as much as 70 percent.

The outcome of SE Water’s long-term approach to planning and commitment to innovation is likely to be that customers will progressively change their behaviour over coming decades and not only adapt but also drive innovation. Success for SE Water is likely to be that water continues to be a catalyst for vibrant communities while being a quiet and enduring partner to it (Principle 10).

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Image courtesy of South East Water.


1 Brears, Robert C., 2017. Urban Water Security, Challenges in Water Management. 1st ed. UK: Wiley, pp.