Across the globe, WSP engineers and specialists are involved in all aspects of the water supply chain, which originates at the policy level. Advice on tariff-setting, which allows the utility to charge the correct amount to provide a sustainable service in the long term, requires an in-depth understanding of the entire business model, and must be tailored to the needs of both end users and the supplier. The correct balance is critical to ensure that water remains affordable, without creating a long-term maintenance debt.4
Many challenges in water supply arise at the source, be it aquifers, rivers, lakes or the ocean. The sustainable abstraction of water requires an understanding of not only environmental conditions and water quality, but also the legal and social situation. This is achieved by using a combination of computer modelling tools with sample testing, historical data and legal know-how to determine the source resilience, status and capacity. The end goal is to supply the population, while minimizing the impacts on the local ecosystem as well as historic users.
To be considered safe, the water must first be treated. Treatment facilities vary hugely in scale and complexity, from supplying hundreds to millions of people. The technology must be carefully chosen and monitored to provide the right quality of service at the right cost. As an example, over the course of 2018, WSP was involved in a rapid response effort (in infrastructure terms) for designing and implementing new desalination plants in South Africa,5 helping to push back the theoretical “Day Zero” that point at which the wells will run dry.
Both the water and wastewater treatment processes required to provide safe water require a huge apparatus of facilities and pipes. Once everything is in place and operational, the infrastructure must be managed and maintained. One of the key challenges is deceptively simple: much of the asset is underground. Tracking a network of pipes measuring thousands of kilometres and constantly growing, takes enormous effort. There are many strategies for dealing with this complexity, and business alliances have proven to be quite effective. In Australia, WSP entered a partnership,6 together with TasWater, UGL and CPB Contractors, to help ensure that Tasmania has access to water for the future.
Supplying safe and clean water and sanitation to all is an enormous challenge, but a combination of global experience and local presence will go a long way toward determining the right questions to ask, and what is needed to get the answers. World Water Day offers a good opportunity to look at how each of us fits in, and ask ourselves how our knowledge can be applied to reach a tomorrow where we can truly have water for everyone. A world where whomever you are, wherever you are, water is your human right.7