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Research project to assess the economic benefit of water recycling

Two new research projects will improve understanding of the costs, benefits and risks that impact on investment in recycling options in Australia.

Australian Water Recycling Centre of Excellence CEO Dr Mark O’Donohue said more than $1 million has been granted by the organisation for research that will examine the true value of water recycling.

“Australia has really begun to embrace water recycling initiatives, with investment increasing over the past 10 years,” Dr O’Donohue said.

“While it is encouraging to see this uptake, it appears there is still a gap in measuring the full range of benefits of these projects, which has led to some concerns for further investment.

“We believe it is time to bring together the diverse research, industry and utility experience Australia has built up to evaluate the qualitative and quantitative benefits of and impediments to water recycling.

"Our goal is to use this knowledge to improve policy, planning and future investment, and to more equitably distribute the costs, benefits, and risks of recycling.”

Dr O’Donohue said the research should refine the approaches to investment decisions, helping key players to assess where recycling makes sense. This will improve the capacity for building business cases and the financial performance of water recycling schemes.

“Limited understanding and appreciation by the community of the true value of water recycling is a barrier to enhancing public acceptance and investment, a concern that we hope the research will help overcome.”

The University of Technology Sydney will use national case studies to uncover the full range of actual environmental, economic and social costs, benefits and risks of water recycling. Significantly, their project includes representatives of all the key players in water recycling: utilities, regulators, developers, councils, and technology suppliers.

The commercial benefit of the project could be substantial as it seeks to significantly inform the business case assessment of recycled water projects, and to shift policy frameworks to better distribute costs and benefits amongst key players e.g. to allow beneficiaries to be charged for the positive impacts they enjoy.

The first workshop for this project has already been held with global property and infrastructure company Lend Lease, who will be the subject of a pilot case study.

A second study led by Marsden Jacob Associates will develop the first national framework for the economic assessment of new schemes.

This project aims to fill the need for a national framework, review specific case studies and provide detailed advice on the circumstances and locations in which recycled water schemes are most likely to be economically feasible.

Following numerous workshops held with industry participants, work has commenced on the six modules of the project that address specific areas of the recycled water assessment framework. The work includes a community value study, an analysis of pricing issues and an evaluation framework.

“These projects have the potential to have far-reaching outcomes, providing insights into existing recycling efforts as well as influencing future water recycling projects both here in Australia and overseas,” Dr O’Donohue said.

The Australian Water Recycling Centre of Excellence aims to enhance the management and use of water recycling by investing in research into practical solutions for securing Australia’s future water supply, while at the same time building awareness and understanding in the community about this precious resource.

The Australian Government has committed $20 million over five years to the Australian Water Recycling Centre of Excellence, through the Water for the Future initiative.

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