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Spotlight on Water Conservation

October 20, 2020

With National Water Week taking place this week (19th-25th October), MBB Director, Michael Posener, discusses the role we as project managers and advisors have to play in water practices and conservation on major infrastructure projects.

Australia has just emerged from a period of major drought, and despite a return to improved conditions, being better prepared for future droughts is a topic high on everyone’s agenda. This is demonstrated by the recent Federal Budget announcement, which allocates an additional $2 billion in new funding for the National Water Infrastructure Development Fund.

Water use on major infrastructure projects can total millions of litres, across areas such as concreting, washdowns and dust suppression. Minor changes to work practices can have a large impact on water use and the sustainability of the project.

Bringing sustainability goals into focus

As project managers and advisors, we work in partnership with clients and their stakeholders, such as the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA), to ensure the design, construction, and operation of infrastructure projects meet specific sustainability goals, including water efficiency. Increasingly, we are seeing a rise in the number of projects achieving or aspiring to achieve Infrastructure Sustainability Council of Australia (ISCA) ratings across design, construction and operations. This is done through a combination of:

– Setting whole of life sustainability and water conservation targets as a key element of the scope definition for the project

-Undertaking interactive workshops with tenderers in order to understand their sustainability strategies

-Building sustainability targets and proposed sustainability strategies into the tender process, measuring the quadruple bottom line

-Ensuring that operational use of water and other resources is considered and minimised in the design of the asset

An example of this is TransGrid’s Project EnergyConnect, for which MBB was appointed to provide strategic, commercial, transaction and technical management services during the development and procurement phases.

EnergyConnect is a new 700km high voltage interconnector between the power grids of South Australia and New South Wales. It poses unique challenges geographically and environmentally due to the nature of the areas it passes through. EnergyConnect will take approximately two years to complete and will be built across an extremely dry area of Australia, resulting in the need to minimise water usage during construction.

Through a flexible procurement approach and an intensive interactive tender process, environmental issues were highlighted and discussed as a priority. Target ISCA ratings of ‘Excellent’ were specified in tender requirements, and formed part of evaluation. This helped drive innovative solutions from the market and resulted in the adoption of unique methods of limiting the amount of water used during construction. Such as reduced concrete requirements for foundations and increasing reuse of water during construction.  

Early engagement

Early engagement with water stakeholders is paramount to de-risk a project and something that has the potential to be neglected. Early engagement enables smarter solutions, helps identify significant impacts and can foster innovation and continuous improvement. The input from water stakeholders can guide the sustainable water use of a project, as they are likely to have greater insights and experience of water constraints in the project area and wider region. 

If neglected, projects can be faced with issues that have a significant adverse impact on project timelines, design and construction methodology.  For example, factoring in water asset diversions, obtaining licences and approvals and sourcing water for construction, can all impact on project timelines.

Design and construction

Water is essential for construction activities and significant consideration goes into water practices, in a bid to limit water use and ensure water is sourced responsibly during the construction phase.

When building a new road, high volumes of water are required for both concrete production and dust suppression. Developing strategies for water conservation include utilising runoff or wastewater from nearby sources, such as treatment plants, dams, rivers or bores. It is important to consider these strategies beyond the asset. They provide opportunity to add value socially and environmentally once the asset is in operation.

The design of the asset can have significant ramifications on the usage of water during operations. Once a project has been completed and handed over, the ongoing operations and maintenance can use large quantities of water, and as project managers and advisors, we have a significant role in ensuring water efficiency measures and conservation is built into the design. For example, including facilities for capturing, storing and treating runoff for reuse, or designing to reduce the water usage for cleaning.  Ensuring requirements and performance measures across the quadruple bottom line are included in the design requirements of a project from an early stage, drive the achievement of sustainability objectives and encourages innovative solutions from the market.

Looking to the future

Ensuring less stress is put on our water resources as our population grows is everyone’s responsibility. The UN have highlighted this in their Sustainable Development Goal #12 – Responsible Consumption and Production. It is about doing more and better with less. The role of MBB, advisors, private and government organisations is now more important than ever to ensure the power and influence we have is used responsibly. We can effect change by taking steps to shift our water practices, to use and reuse water to increase resource efficiency, conserve what we have today, for a better and more sustainable future.


National Water Week is organised by the Australian Water Association to inspire individuals, communities and organisations to build awareness around the value of water and rethink our current practices. Access to clean water is hugely important to our daily lives, and it’s down to all of us to protect our water environments and resources, and use water wisely.

Visit www.awa.asn.au for more information.