Risks and tensions in water industry innovation: Understanding adoption of decentralised water systems from a socio-technical transitions perspective

  • Quezada G
  • Walton A
  • Sharma A
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Globally, centralised urban water systems are under pressure to respond to environmental and economic pressures. In Australia, high infrastructure costs and variable rainfall have prompted governments, end-users and property developers to begin investing in more decentralised systems that use alternative water sources (rainwater, stormwater and wastewater). This trend is based on a fit-for-purpose principle and is part of a global shift toward sustainable urban water management. These developments suggest that Australia's urban water sector may be in the early stages of transition and represent a multi-decadal shift from centralisation of water supply and sanitation to partial decentralisation based on local conditions. Much of the scholarship on decentralised systems focuses on drivers and barriers to adoption, which implies a static and mechanistic process of change, and overlooks the complex interplay between exogenous pressures, innovation, multiple actors and industry reform. This paper addresses this gap by analysing temporal processes of Australia's urban water sector, using a regionally based case study comprising an historical review and interview study that analyses the multi-level, -decadal and -actor developments at the nexus between water service provision and property development. The analysis revealed emerging tensions between incumbent water utilities, property developers and end-users, and an inherent conflict between neo-liberal and environmental policy agendas. Such tensions and conflicts are missing from urban water policy and research discourse.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Case study
  • Environmental policy
  • Industry reform
  • Sustainable urban water management

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