National Water Week 2013: Liveable Communities

National Water Week 2013

National Water Week is coming up soon from 20-26 October – the theme for 2013 is Liveable communities and the contribution that water makes to them. What does this mean and what can each of us do?

Our communities need good services, and spaces that make us feel good. Water is a common factor in many of the things we require to meet our needs and there are many threads to this conversation.

“Liveability reflects the wellbeing of a community & represents the many characteristics that make a location a place where people want to live.” – A State of Liveability, Victorian Competition and Efficiency Commission

Phillip Johnson, designer of the Best in Show Garden at the Chelsea 2013 flower show in London is an Australian designer who believes beauty inspires people.  Water is fundamental to his designs because it links an Australian aesthetic to important sustainability concepts – use local materials, use natural systems wherever you can, support natural ecosystems, tread lightly on the earth and celebrate our landscape in your natural environment. Phil uses rainwater to feed water tanks and billabongs, builds outdoor showers and natural swimming pools and uses landscapes from the Otways to the Kimberley and puts them in residential backyards. Phil reminds us what a contribution water and beauty can make to our quality of life and perception of our surroundings.

Integrated water management looks at ALL of our sources of water and local opportunities to use and re use water, including rain water, storm water and recycled water from wastewater treatment plants. This approach allows consideration of the city as a self contained ecosystem, largely supplying and addressing it’s own water needs rather than relying on the hinterland for supply and waste management. This can result in long term operational cost savings and systems that can better cope with future challenges and climate change. The Office of Living Victoria is looking closely at this approach and forecasting the associated costs and benefits for Melbourne and Victoria.

Part of this integrated approach is a new appreciation of how we manage the rainwater that lands on our cities and becomes stormwater. Traditionally we have seen stormwater as a polluted resource to be disposed of as quickly and efficiently as possible. Unfortunately this rapid disposal dumps large amounts of polluted water into our local streams and degrades our natural Environment. An emerging alternative is to celebrate this resource, replacing underground concrete pipes with above ground waterways and wetlands that slow down and clean the water and provide the local community with bicycle paths, green spaces and healthy environments. Tony Wong and the CRC for water sensitive cities are building wonderful urban spaces on these principles.

So what can we do? At a very personal level we need to rethink the way we drink. Australia buys millions of bottles of bottled water every year, costing over a thousand times the equivalent in tap water. These bottles use energy and resources, create significant litter problems and high transport costs. At the same time tap water in Australia is amongst the best in the world. There are a number of initiatives focussing on the importance of tap water, using a refillable bottle and installing water refill stations in public spaces at the moment including Choose Tap from Yarra Valley Water, TapTM from Sydney Water, and the refillit movement from savewater!®. Staying hydrated is an important health factor for liveable communities and these initiatives allows us to do so in a sustainable way.

Another great option is to become a friend of a local waterway, particularly your local creek. Becoming part of a community movement is a great way to build local green spaces and help the environment at the same time. In Denmark they can swim in their urban rivers. Talk to our Councillors and Parliamentarians, we could use water to create wonderful urban places, use water more efficiently and reinforce and celebrate our natural waterways.

What are your ideas for using water to improve our community liveability? And have a great National Water Week!