Sunday 29, November 2015

Abu Dhabi – MENA Herald: Stakeholder collaboration and a systemic approach to water management can help the GCC achieve efficiency and sustainability in urban water supply, international water experts said yesterday.

With population set to double in the MENA region over the next 40 years and per capita water availability projected to fall by more than 50 per cent by 2050, the GCC is looking abroad for international best practice that can be adapted to meet the region’s growing demand for water.

Speaking ahead of his presentation at the upcoming International Water Summit (IWS), which is part of Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week and hosted by Masdar, Rabi Mohtar, a TEES endowed Professor at Texas A&M University and Founding Director of the Qatar Environment and Energy Research Institute, highlighted the importance of managing water as part of a system.

“The biggest challenge for urban water management is the fact there is competition between sectors for this vital resource,” says Mohtar. “Because of continuous urban expansion, there is a growing demand for domestic water supply, which then competes with demand from the agriculture and energy sectors.”

This, says Mohtar, makes it crucial that water regulators, as well as solutions and service providers, adopt a holistic view that looks at water as part of a nexus with food and energy to optimize its use as a major primary resource.

“Water does not exist in a vacuum – you cannot look at managing water without considering the other sectors that interface with water use, such as food, energy, and utilities,” says Mohtar.

One example of this tightly interconnected water-energy system is the future ability of wastewater facilities in the US to generate energy, explained Mohtar. Traditionally known for their high energy consumption, these facilities are expected to become energy self-sustainable as a result of innovative technologies that extract bioenergy naturally embedded in the solid waste that is filtered from the water. This energy will then be used to power the wastewater facilities, transforming them into energy recovery units in addition to treating water.

“Of course, there is no blanket solution, and what works in one geographic location may not work for another. However, the overall approach should be one that is at the holistic system level,” said Mohtar. “Managing water in isolation is shortsighted and will not produce the desired long-term benefits. By leveraging it as part of the water-food-energy nexus, you are creating a healthy ecosystem in which one resource drives the other instead of competing with it.”

Collaboration between water business and utilities, in which knowledge, information, and lessons learned are shared between geographic entities, can not only help industry stakeholders meet the growing water demand, but also prove to be of instrumental support in times of crisis, says Nathan Epp, Senior Engineer – Energy and Commercial Projects at Australia-based Goulburn Valley Water, and also a speaker at the upcoming IWS.

Serving a population of more than 129,000 from the Melbourne countryside to the Murray River in the north, Goulburn Valley Water covers a geographically diverse area ranging from mountains and hills to urban terrains, making versatility an absolute necessity for the water services provider.

“There are 19 different water corporations servicing Victoria, all government owned, however rather than competing for resources and customers, we work closely with each other – our strength is in our collaborating capacity,” says Epp. “Socially there is a synergy, and this filters down to the infrastructure. This unified approach, combined with our focus on customer engagement, enables us to build commercial resilience, which is intrinsic to water supply resilience.”

IWS takes place from 18-21 January at the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre and brings together world leaders, field experts, academia luminaries, and business innovators to accelerate the development of new sustainable strategies and technologies.