A new research report on the future of water in Perth has highlighted the challenges and costs of maintaining our water supply in the face of an increasing population and declining natural sources.
The report, Future Opportunities for Water Services in Perth, is lead authored by Dr James Fogarty, School of Agriculture and Resource Economics, UWA, and co-authored by John Nicolaou, Executive Director, ACIL Allen.
Dr Fogarty said current water supply infrastructure delivers around 300 gigalitres of water to the greater Perth area and is already reaching its limits.
“Our analysis confirms water sources dependent on rainfall, including dams and groundwater aquifers, will continue to decline in importance,�? Dr Fogarty said. “By 2050, Perth’s existing water infrastructure will provide a third less drinkable water than it does currently.�?
ACIL Allen forecasts that as the Perth-Peel region grows to the WA Government’s expected population of 3.5 million by the middle of this century, total water demand will reach 438 gigalitres per annum.
“With rainfall-dependent sources falling and population rising, Perth will face a water supply challenge, requiring major upgrades to water infrastructure.�?
By 2050, Perth will require an additional 238 gigalitres of drinking water every year.
“That’s more than double what our current infrastructure will be able to supply, or the equivalent of five new Kwinana Desalination Plants,�? Dr Fogarty said.
Jeff Strahan, Managing Director, Water West, the new Western Australian private water utility that commissioned the report, said the cost to build new desalination plants, centralised recycling projects and associated connection and energy supply infrastructure, will be in the tens of billions of dollars.
“Under the current model, all capital costs to upgrade and extend our water network would be borne by the State Government, and ultimately, taxpayers,�? Mr Strahan said. “Encouraging private-sector investment in wastewater treatment and recycling would not only improve amenity in new communities, but also meaningfully reduce the future level of State Government infrastructure expenditure, costs to taxpayers and associated levels of State debt.�?
The economic modelling contained in the ACIL Allen Report estimates that by allowing private utilities to build, own and operate wastewater and recycling schemes in 50 per cent of Perth’s new urban developments, cumulative capital cost savings to the Government would be $3.37 billion by 2050, and 636 gigalitres of valuable drinking water would be saved.
ACIL Allen also estimates average household water usage bills could fall by more than 10 per cent as a result of using recycled water generated from the local treatment of household wastewater.
Local wastewater treatment and recycling is technically and commercially feasible, with successful schemes already up and running in other parts of Australia.
“Consumers will be better off with the adoption of local wastewater and recycling schemes, not only from improved amenities but also from paying less for recycled water to flush their toilets and water their gardens, rather than using scarce drinking water,�? Mr Strahan concluded.