Towards a Systems-Based Approach to Planning Infrastructure: Integrating the Need for Major Infrastructure Development with an Ongoing Commitment to Communities and the Environment Is the Driving Force Behind a New Approach for Sustainable Development in Major Projects in Australia

By Taylor, Robin | Ecos, June-July 2009 | Go to article overview

Towards a Systems-Based Approach to Planning Infrastructure: Integrating the Need for Major Infrastructure Development with an Ongoing Commitment to Communities and the Environment Is the Driving Force Behind a New Approach for Sustainable Development in Major Projects in Australia


Taylor, Robin, Ecos


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South-east Queensland, like other parts of Australia, is facing increasing pressure on water resources and trying to balance demands of a growing population with a sustainable water supply.

The region's population is expected to grow from 2.8 million to up to six million by 2050. While dams and weirs previously provided 95 per cent of south-east Queensland's drinking water, the Queensland Water Commission's draft strategy released in 2008 identifies a gradual push towards desalinated and purified recycled water providing up to 30 per cent of the region's supply from climate resilient sources by 2056.

Water consumption in the region, even with tough restrictions, is expected to double from 480 000 megalitres (ML) annually to more than 800 000 ML in the next 40 years.

Daniel Spiller, Acting Executive Director of regional planning and policy for Queensland Water Commission, said the forecast water use was based on a reduced water consumption of 300 litres per person per day pre-drought to 230 litres per day.

And, the commission's modelling predicts that an additional 97 000 to 308 000 ML per year (on top of what comes from the South-East Queensland Water Grid) will still be needed by 2056, of which 69 000 to 203 000 ML per year will need to come from 'climate resilient' sources.

The $9 billion South-East Queensland Water Grid includes a $2.5 billion recycled water project which promises to deliver up to 232 ML of purified recycled water a day as well as a desalination plant that began distributing desalinated water into the grid in February 2009. The grid integrates the region's eight water supply systems.

The controversial (still to be approved) Traveston Crossing Dam on the Mary River is seen as part of the 'missing link' in the water grid.

Chris Davis, Sustainability Business Development Manager at the Institute for Sustainable Futures at University of Technology Sydney (UTS), and a National Water Commissioner, says with the highest rate of population growth in the country, managing water supply in south-east Queensland is a challenge.

Mr Davis said the other issue is that our historic knowledge of hydrology is of very little use in the new world of climate change, superimposed on what is probably a natural variation over many decades.

'Twenty years ago hydrologists confidently predicted what sort of range of expectations one could have about runoff and now it is very hard to do that,' he said.

New engagement for best outcomes

In 2006, the Queensland Government established Queensland Water Infrastructure (QWI) to develop and manage major water infrastructure projects in south-east Queensland, including the Traveston Crossing Dam and the Wyaralong Dam (on the Teviot Brook in the Logan River catchment).

QWI engaged CSIRO Sustainable Ecosystems in the early planning stages of the Traveston Crossing Dam to develop an innovative sustainability framework and guiding principles for its optimal development in the Mary River region, provided it is approved and undertaken.

CSIRO Sustainable Ecosystems has been working with industry to develop solutions to deal with the challenge of social, economic and environmental sustainability.

The principles they have developed for QWI's project focus on three areas: sustainable communities, sustainable enterprises and ecologically sustainable catchments.

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The type of initiatives to be developed by QWI under these broad themes include, for example, developing options for relocating displaced residents within the local area, creating employment opportunities during construction, and encouraging restoration of riparian vegetation and wetlands.

Leader of the project, CSIRO Sustainable Ecosystems Deputy Chief, Allen Kearns, said, surprisingly, this systems-based approach was quite novel for planning major infrastructure projects which are usually assessed by proponents using almost purely financial criteria. …

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