Zunz 2020 calls for water rethink to quench city’s thirst

Trish Sunga Trish Sunga Australasia Press Office,Sydney
13 November 2020

Arup’s annual Zunz Lecture, held online last week, saw panellists united in advocating new approaches to water management in order to achieve greater equity in access and resilience of water supply in a changing climate.

With 2020 giving us a glimpse of the fluctuation in water supply that we might expect in the future – from prolonged drought to flooding – the theme Water for a hot, thirsty city led to discussion about the role of water in a growing city and the shift in thinking needed to ensure long-term water availability. 

Sydney Water’s Managing Director Roch Cheroux emphasised that current water resources are not enough to sustain quality of life in Greater Sydney with its growing population and predicted climate events, so we must continue to look to new approaches for managing our water.

Water is life…we need water to drink, water for the landscape – for food, parks, gardens, shade, temperature management – but we also need water for industry and employment. ” Roch Cheroux Managing Director, Sydney Water

“We live in an integrated society, so water as an industry that is purely government owned is not realistic for the future. We must partner with different organisations, the private sector, investors and community to get us to where we need to be for a sustainable future.”

Investors are becoming increasingly aware and focused on sustainability and resilience in infrastructure and embracing the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, according to Danny Latham, Partner, Infrastructure Investments, First Sentier Investors. 

“Investment is actively targeting wastewater as a long-term strategy – biosolids, producing renewable natural gas, recycled water,” said Danny.

A catalyst for a move towards greater long-term focus around water will be the economics, he explained. Water distress could lead to a ratings downgrade, so breaking down silos, implementing holistic planning approaches, engaging with community and transferring best practice across industries is key.

Panellists strongly agreed that giving greater voice to community and First Nations people would enrich, inform and positively influence the ways we think about and use water.

Marcia Ella-Duncan, Consultant, Indigenous engagement specialist and descendant of the Yuin nation, shared that to achieve this we must find a way to elevate cultural values and cultural purposes for water in a market that is based on economic return, and create a new dialogue that includes the way Aboriginal people think about the environment.

“Human beings are just one part (of our environment), we are the caretakers of the land rather than the consumers of natural resources,” she said.

“When we start to think about benefit beyond individuals – the benefit for our neighbours and the landscape that we all share – then we are having a different conversation that will lead to a more sustainable future.”

Equity of access to water and the amenity it supports, such as green space and liveability, was also raised by CSIRO’s Research Director of the Sustainable Pathways program, Joanne Chong, as being fundamental to planning conversations.

With one third of Sydney homes being apartments, residents are reliant on access to high quality public space for recreation, wellbeing and mental health – space that requires water. A clear consideration must be made for access to water in planning for growth in Sydney’s West where peak summer temperatures could soar 15-18 degrees higher than coastal counterparts.

Opportunity exists to complement current water management practices with recycled water, integrated waterways and storm water in collaboration with the Western Sydney community.


As paradigm shifts occur in our cities in this Covid-19 world, water must form part of the dialogue for our resilient future. Continued conversation and education will inspire people to think differently, with a ‘stewardship’ mindset, ensuring that water is available and appropriately delivered to meet the needs of all. ”

Richard Sharp Dr Richard Sharp Principal

Presented by Arup and supported by the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS), the Zunz Lecture Series was established in 2001 and explores broad community issues relating to engineering and information technology. It is named in honour of the work of Sir Jack Zunz, the renowned British engineer who led the design team on the Sydney Opera House as a partner of Sir Ove Arup. We are proud to celebrate his inspiring life with this event.