Sydney Water Innovation Festival Keynote

Thank you, [MC] and hello, everyone. Welcome to Sydney Water’s inaugural Innovation Festival. Welcome especially to the international guests, include of course, Northumbrian Water. It may be our inaugural festival but I believe it’s your fifth, so I am sure there is much we can learn from you.

I begin today by acknowledging the Gadigal People of the Eora Nation, and pay my respects to their Elders past and present.

I would also like to acknowledge Melinda Pavey, MP, Minister for Water, and Roch Cheroux, CEO of Sydney Water and a wonderful champion of innovation in this vital area.

Climate change and sustainability have been a key focus of our work at the City of Sydney since 2004. In 2008, after historic city-wide consultations and intense research, we developed Sustainable Sydney 2030, a strategy to make our city sustainable and liveable, with ambitious targets and regular reviews to keep us on track.

I am proud to say that we have reached those goals, many of them well before their due date. Sydney has grown strongly in that time but we met our goal to reduce emissions by 70 per cent by 2030 this year – nine years early.

One reason for our success is that we have actively sought partnerships and established programs such as the Better Buildings Partnership with major building owners; the Smart Green Apartments program for apartment owners, and the Sustainable Destination Partnership with hotels and entertainment venues.

Better Buildings Partnership members have reduced their water use by 26 per cent from 2006 levels, saving the owners $30 million a year which of course makes them – as well as the environment – happy! Similarly with the 172 buildings so far committed to the Smart Green Apartments program who have cut water usage by 697 mega-litres.

Sydney Water works with our Sustainability Programs team to develop and streamline these programs and, like the City, want to see recycled water use and dual plumbing installed in the government’s redevelopment of the Waterloo Estate.

In 2014, the City was accepted into the Rockfeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities and to develop the Resilient Sydney Strategy, we are now working with all 32 metropolitan Sydney councils towards long-term resilience across Greater Sydney.

So we are really glad to be partnering with Sydney Water to further improve our water management across the city.

The urgency of the crisis we are facing has been dramatically illustrated in the past couple of years. As the poet wrote, Australia has always been a land of “droughts and flooding rains” but the fires and floods we have more recently witnessed reflect the scale of global warming.

So we need to step up and join forces across the community, across the city, state and country to deal with these challenges.

Water is a key resource and its management a critical element in our response to climate change.

The City has long been working to manage our storm water run-off and promote recycling. Ten years ago, we developed a Decentralised Water Master Plan. Since then, we have established water re-use schemes in 20 parks, including some of our largest like Sydney Park and Pirrama Park on the harbour in Pyrmont.

These systems provide up to 80,000 litres of non-potable water each day in summer.

Our largest stormwater harvesting system was completed in 2015, upgrading the Sydney Park wetlands to provide a sustainable water supply for the 44-hectare park and our nursery, and at the same time creating a beautiful natural oasis for local residents and visitors.

In 2017, however, the original plant had to be removed to accommodate changing land use due to the NSW Government’s major WestConnex road project.

The City then built a new stormwater recycling plant harvesting stormwater from Munni Creek catchment, and diverting up to 840 ML a year. This is crucial in topping up the park wetlands, and remains our most significant project.

Then, with the redevelopment of a former industrial area at Green Square for offices and apartments, we seized the opportunity to install metropolitan Sydney’s largest urban water recycling centre.

Completed in 2018, it now treats up to 900,000 litres of stormwater each day to provide potable water for residents and community facilities in the town centre, and recycled non-potable water for gardens, parks and flushing toilets.

Then last year, as construction on the light rail along George Street was nearing completion, we laid a pipeline alongside and we are now going to market for an operator to supply recycled water to city buildings along its lengths.

Our new partnership with Sydney Water will see us release and Expression of Interest next month to engage private recycling operators across the city to supply recycled water to city parks and buildings.

We want to make Sydney a leading water-wise city but our ambitions stretch well beyond our city streets, parks and buildings to this city’s greatest asset, our beautiful Sydney Harbour.

The City has long had a dream for a clean, swimmable harbour and when we built Pirrrama Park in 2010 in Pyrmont, its design allowed for this possibility. Then in 2019, we commissioned an architect to examine options for creating a swimmable harbour – a dream the Covid pandemic has made more alluring. Indeed, there is strong community interest, especially from residents in the Pyrmont and Millers Point area.

Pirrama Park can be easily transformed given it has been designed into our existing infrastructure. But there are many sites that have potential, like Barangaroo and Rushcutters Bay. We also looked at potential designs for Beare Park and the Glebe foreshore. 

There is so much potential in having a swimmable harbour – from relatively simple swimming sites for locals, to the development of key harbourside swimming attractions for tourists and Sydneysiders alike. 

This, of course, is dependent on improved water quality which we can make happen through our growing collaboration with Sydney Water.

We have already installed a series of gross pollutant traps to keep run-off relatively clean and we also manage run-off through rain gardens installed in our streets to capture and filter water.

And while the harbour’s water quality has improved since the 1970s. when poor industry practices were reformed, there are threats from the impact of population growth and development, as well as from climate change.

To secure the harbour’s future quality will require a whole of government approach and Sydney Water is joining with us to lead the way. So I am delighted that one of the Springs during the festival will look at ways in which this might be achieved and how we might work together, with Sydney Water, with the NSW Government and other parties to make it happen.

Last month, I put a resolution to Council that we commend Sydney Water for its focus on innovation, sustainability and livability, that we note our partnership on the Expressions of Interest, and that I write to the Premier to advocate for a whole of government approach so that Sydney Harbour is clean enough to accommodate swimmers at some of its most iconic sites.

Together I believe we can make this happen, and this inaugural festival is a wonderful place to start.

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