Water security – from concept to practice

Water security is a central objective of water policy, management and infrastructure – both in Australia and overseas. It is at the heart of the new Australian Government’s commitments, headlines the new US global water agenda, and features in the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 6 on water.

Water security is easier to consider in situations of water scarcity, like the conditions large parts of the northern hemisphere are currently experiencing. It’s harder to consider in the context of the extreme rain events Australia is currently experiencing due to La Niña weather patterns. But for all its potential to guide water policy and practice, many players continue to talk at cross purposes and water security goals can seem elusive – if not merely aspirational.

Much of Aither’s work focuses on practical steps governments, utilities and businesses can take towards water security. There is no simple fix. If we are to make practical progress, we need better ways to define and test water security, stronger action agendas, and greater knowledge sharing.

Better ways to define water security and stress test its multiple dimensions

Our work for the Australian Government on a town and city water security framework provides a definition of water security and an evaluation approach. It applies as a system‑level diagnostic, and incorporates a survey of utilities on the institutional, planning and other arrangements that support water security.

By taking a holistic approach, the framework helps decision makers assess the preparedness, capability and capacity, planning arrangements, and underlying risks of water management regimes and service providers.

Having undergone significant testing and garnered strong interest from water agencies, utilities and other stakeholders, the framework provides the basis for nationally consistent reporting and performance improvements, through the identification of common challenges and opportunities.

Better approaches to achieve water security

At home and abroad, discussions on water security quickly turn to investment in built infrastructure. Achieving water security is about more than water policy and management, but likewise we can’t simply build our way out of this problem.

It’s both challenging and useful to think of governance as part of the essential infrastructure to achieve water security. A recent Aither insight explores how governance shapes decisions to build physical infrastructure – guiding the nature and timing of investments, supporting their effectiveness, and extending the life of physical assets.

It’s time to recognise the role of governance in realising water security, and the enormous economic, social and environmental benefits investing in governance can bring to water infrastructure investment and use.

Better action agendas and institutions to drive water security outcomes

Australian Government plans to establish a National Water Commission can help revitalise the national water reform agenda and work to ensure secure and sustainable access to water for all Australians.

Establishing a National Water Commission is an opportunity to show national leadership and set a clear remit for excellence in water management, especially in the face of the impacts of climate change.

In a new Aither insight, we explore how to set up a National Water Commission for success and what national leadership on water can look like.

Better sharing of experience and best practice

Australia has invested in water security beyond our borders for decades and has a recognised claim to world-leading capability. But our capacity to influence has not been deployed strategically and remains underutilised.

Australian leadership on water security in this decade can serve our foreign policy goals and contribute to addressing global development, economic and security challenges in a changing climate.

Acting now will leverage upcoming global fora and give the 2030 water and climate agenda the best chance of success. Our insight on the topic makes the case that the Australian Government develop a clear position statement and agenda on global water security to advance our foreign policy and development objectives.

Better ways to allocate and share water resources

In conjunction with effective water planning, well-functioning water markets are essential in allocating changing water resources.

Since 2014, Aither has produced Australia’s leading analysis and insights on southern Murray-Darling Basin water markets activity and outcomes, as well as an outlook for the year ahead. The 2022 Aither Water Markets Report is no exception. Informing water users in the southern Murray-Darling Basin improves water use and management, and complements the Australian Government’s recently released ‘Water market reform: final roadmap report’, which as described in this insight piece, Aither supports.

As shown by our recent work, Aither combines economics, policy, and strategy expertise to help our clients make better decisions, manage water resources and meet the challenges of water security.

We welcome your comments and look forward to engaging with you further.

The team at Aither.