E.Botha, J.Bennett, and P.Lehmann GHD
The New Zealand Water Reform announced in July 2020 has sparked a drastic shift for the three-waters sector. The Reform Programme intends to transition the management of these services to accelerate the improvement in infrastructure investment, environmental outcomes, and adaptation to climate change for the three waters: drinking-water, wastewater, and stormwater services. Circular economy (CE) is gaining momentum as a well-positioned framework that supports these concerns. CE takes a holistic perspective on minimising environmental burden through reducing resource reliance, restorative solutions, and cradle to cradle design.
This paper presents the research outcomes of incorporating CE principles for three-water services by New Zealand councils. The findings explore international examples of implementing CE into three-water infrastructure, providing insights into what transition could look like for New Zealand. Three-water service delivery for a sample of councils were assessed using the Asset Management Maturity framework used within the Treasury Investor Confidence Rating framework and publicly available documents, includingstrategicassetmanagementplansandinfrastructurestrategies.Current Asset Management Maturity frameworks do not explicitly consider CE.
The research identified that strategic asset management plans or infrastructure strategies do typically integrate sustainability plans. While most councils acknowledge climate change and sustainability as issues to address, there is a gap in these sustainability strategies and the usage of CE that extend beyond just a focus on carbon.
The challenges that prevent the shift from linear water infrastructure thinking to circular are seldom technical–it is the pathway from status quo to something different that is the biggest unknown and risk. Drawing from case studies like Ireland’s Ringsend water treatment plant may hold some answers for overcoming current barriers. Insights include managing challenges such as coordinating stakeholders, ensuring a financially viable system, and accepting the risk of taking a novel approach.
The paper proposes suggestions that can make CE achievable for New Zealand. The current transition period in New Zealand’s water sector may provide the best opportunity for stakeholders to collaborate and embed circular practices as business-as-usual operations.