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10 July 2019 Chloe Brigden

Of the countless conversations that took place at this year’s IPWEA Conference, we’ve rounded up the top-three for those that couldn’t make the event. 

The three conversations you missed:

1.Time for a water reform

Many of the conversations centred around the water-space, including the industry’s collective agreement that New Zealand is in urgent need of water reform; from consenting to how we provide wastewater services.

Reviews following the Havelock North water contamination have identified that New Zealand has been underinvesting and not meeting the regulated standards. The main challenges are around funding and financing, with the cost of investing in infrastructure almost prohibitive for smaller regions without the population base to spread the cost. 

What's being done? 

A proposal currently being discussed would see responsibility for providing drinking water move from local authorities to aggregate water infrastructure to produce economies of scale.  

Additional reviews are occurring on resource consenting, consistency, performance of wastewater treatment, networks and overflow from the systems. Potentially, national standards will be set as a minimum for every discharge.

The Assistant Minister for the Environment presented a timeline that will require review, consultation and changes in legislation, with the transition time before the organisations become effective. This means, over the next seven to eight years there will be a substantial change to all of our water activities, with a following period of investment as New Zealand water becomes safe, clean and green. 

 

2. The impact of Zero Carbon

There were questions around the impact of the Government’s pending Zero Carbon Bill on businesses. What we do know, is that the effect will steer businesses into lower carbon alternatives, navigated by a combination of economic and regulatory drivers.

The stick to make the change is carbon trading which is already in place (but only for the generators of energy and the larger users). A unit for carbon trading is 1t Carbon Dioxide Equivalent (1tCO2-e). Over time, units will get scarcer and the cost will rise from the current $25/t CO2-e to over $100/t. CO2-e knocking onto users.

Our national target is to reduce from 80MtCO2-e per year to near zero. Economic experts predict that substantial change to this position is possible, but the technology is not yet there-- but innovation is driven by necessity. 

In the meantime, planting trees is viewed as a short-term solution of carbon capture; an acre of trees will take up on average 2.5 t CO2 per year; unfortunately, New Zealand is just not big enough for this approach. 

What are the alternatives?  

We must reduce our impact by reducing, recycling and avoiding,  getting as close to zero as possible; using trees for the remainder.

In his paper, ‘How Does Global Warming Effect my Wastewater Treatment Plant?” - Principal Wastewater Treatment Engineer, Andrew Springer identified the sources of emissions for facility owners to benchmark their carbon footprint and make informed decisions considering the capital, operational and carbon cost.  

 

3. New Zealand's skill-shortage: an industry emergency

Perhaps the biggest takeaway from the IPWEA Conference was the apprehension about the ongoing skill-shortage. Last year, STUFF reported that our current skill shortage will lead to a construction crisis in New Zealand. This isn’t new information. Our outgrowing population, paired with the associated demands on infrastructure, has been strained for some time. 

At present, 41-related construction and infrastructure trades sit on the skills shortage list.

What’s being done?

A very good talk by Myles Lynd (NZTA) and Deborah Lynd (Harrison Grierson) The journey of rebranding public infrastructure for the 21st century discussed some of the major workforce and industry changes such as ageing population and infrastructure, funding limitations, and the need for industry accountability; “we all need to do our bit”. 

New Plymouth District Council led this conversation, showcasing its work in addressing New Zealand’s skill-shortage issues in a holistic way for the region. This includes working with schools to create interests from young people in construction and engineering – through to strongly promoting wellbeing in the workforce to help retention and work performance.

How are we ‘doing our bit’?

WSP Opus has been heavily involved in numerous initiatives that hope to facilitate the development and progression of our New Zealand’s workforce. This includes our role in driving change for a more diverse workforce amongst our 40 offices in New Zealand; and 550 overseas. 

Some of our work includes:

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