California’s Orange County Water District (OCWD) this week celebrated winning Singapore International Water Week’s (SIWW) prestigious Lee Kuan Yew Prize for its groundwater replenishment system.
PUB CEO Chew Meng LeongThe OCWD developed a model for recycling water safely and effectively, by recharging the local aquifer and providing a source of water that is more resilient, according to Singapore’s Public Utilities Board (PUB) CEO Chew Meng Leong, who first announced the award on February 18.
The PUB CEO said that innovations from OCWD have been very beneficial in helping PUB develop NEWater, the reclaimed water that has enabled Singapore to diversify its water supply.
US Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), as well as Harry Seah, chief technology officer with PUB; Shawn Dewane, board chair of the Orange County Water District; and David Smith, executive director of WateReuse California, attended the Big Ripple Effect on Water Reuse: the 2014 WateReuse California Conference in Newport Beach on March 18.
The conference’s timing is especially relevant considering the state is facing one of its worst droughts in decades.
California Governor Jerry Brown recently passed emergency drought legislation that mobilizes millions of dollars for wastewater recycling projects. The state is also considering importing water from an aquifer under the Mojave Desert and increasing desalination activities.
Water utilities are increasingly facing “unprecedented challenges” like “rapid urbanization, ageing infrastructure, climate change, and rising energy costs,” Chew said, which is why PUB created September 2013’s SIWW Water Utilities Leaders Forum (SWULF): “Mapping Challenges and Solutions.”
The forum brought together more than 80 water leaders from 46 countries.
In a recently published report titled “Pushing the Water Envelope: Insights from SWULF,” Chew said four major points had emerged from the forum: utilities should take the lead in encouraging political commitment and work with a “wide spectrum of key stakeholders;” utilities need financial sustainability, through proper water pricing and asset-management approaches, to increase investment in improving services; public education and increased transparency are necessary for water conservation measures; and utilities should drive innovation in technology, planning, finance and operational management.
Utilities should take the lead in advancing water in political arenas because “investment in water services requires long-term planning and commitment, and the timescales are generally beyond most political tenures,” the report said.
In order for utilities to effectively control the political discourse surrounding sustainable water services, they must have diplomatic skills and sound information. “Water utility leaders need to make a case for an integrated government strategic and planning approach, continuity of investment and cost-recovery for sustainability, and involve other stakeholders.”
Collaboration within the utility industry, as well as with other industries, is also an important part of this focus area. “The water industry has to reach out beyond its own boundaries,” according to the report. Communication with the public is also critical for several reasons; the public makes up utilities’ customer base, and it can influence public policies. Therefore, open and transparent communication should be “continuous process.”
The report encouraged the use of social media as a way for continuous and reliable information transfer.
The four key SWULF outcomes will be further discussed at the Water Leader Dialogue on utility issues, held as part of the Water Leaders Summit at Singapore International Water Week (SIWW) 2014, which will take place from June 1-5.