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Scenario forks in the water sector

Quality and availability of water directly affect the life quality of billions of people. Water may become a source of international conflicts, or facilitate countries’ cooperation. On March 6, 2015, Russian and international experts discussed different options for national development strategies in this field, based on the identified long-term global trends, at the round table “Development Scenarios for the Water Sector” at the Higher School of Economics.

Quality and availability of water directly affect the life quality of billions of people. Water may become a source of international conflicts, or facilitate countries’ cooperation. On March 6, 2015, Russian and international experts discussed different options for national development strategies in this field, based on the identified long-term global trends, at the round table “Development Scenarios for the Water Sector” at the Higher School of Economics.

The participants reviewed preliminary results of the joint HSE — Renova foresight project “Global Challenges and Long-term Innovation Development Trends” in the water sector. The initial project review took place at the 2014 Foresight Conference (see coverage of the round table discussion “Global Development Trends in the Water Sector”).

HSE experts examined three possible basic development scenarios for the Russian economy: 1) development, 2) status quo (stagnation) and 3) negative growth (depression).

Possible government policy turns

According to Sergey Sivaev, professor at the HSE Graduate School of Urban Studies and Planning and managing director of Vnesheconombank’s Federal Projects Funding Centre, implementation of a particular scenario implies the choice of appropriate government measures on regulating water consumption by households and industries.

E.g. in the case of the “depressive” scenario, water supply and sewage tariffs will be artificially contained or “frozen”, leading to reduction of water companies’ real profits. Private firms and skilled professionals will leave the sector, and cross-tariffs will be introduced; taken together, these factors would, in three-four years’ time, make the situation explosive. In the case of maintaining the status quo, the government will continue regulating water tariffs; the quality of relevant services would continue to deteriorate, leading to an increased risk of emergencies; by 2019–2020, the number of accidents would grow exponentially. Under the development scenario, government regulation of water tariffs will ease off, water companies’ financial situation will improve, the centralisation issue will be successively dealt with, and providing adequate supply of high-quality drinking water will be treated as a national priority.

The experts identified a number of variables (such as GDP, investments, and energy consumption) particularly important to achieving sustainable development of water supply systems. According to Mikhail Kozeltsev, chief research fellow at the HSE Institute of Natural Resource Economics and Environmental Policy, key expert and regional coordinator of the ClimaEast European project, these parameters affect the level of water consumption and reuse, the volume of water intake and discharge, and the amount of pollutants in sewage.

Daniel Sklarew of George Mason University (USA) believed that achieving sustainability of water supply requires breaking up certain established cause-and-effect relations, e.g. population growth leading to increased demand for water, technological development resulting in increased energy and water consumption, and complex meteorological conditions creating water-related risks. Solutions may be found through innovative products and services appearing on the market, in particular more efficient irrigation, water reuse in households, and the “zero discharge” concept according to which industrial and household waste water should be reused.

Innovative products and services

Different products and services would be demanded under different scenarios. Anastasia Likhacheva, junior researcher at the Ibero-American sector of the HSE Centre for Comprehensive European and International Studies, gave some examples. Under the crisis scenario, obsolete equipment is expected to be partially replaced, and new technologies applied to monitor water consumption at production companies and to reuse water. The status quo (stagnation) scenario implies replacement of all obsolete equipment; monitoring leaks; and launching a campaign to promote “smart” water meters and sensors. Under the development scenario, application of technologies allowing to reduce water consumption and optimise water supply, emergence of advanced water reuse technologies, a shift towards membrane-based water purification and ultraviolet disinfection are expected in addition to the previously mentioned developments.

Best international and Russian practices

Anumita Raj (Strategic Foresight Group, India) analysed the development of the water sector in the BRICS countries. Russia and Brazil are the only members of this group who don’t experience water shortages — which doesn’t mean they’re not facing potential risks in this field.

Nemanja Trifunovic, associate professor of water supply engineering at UNESCO-IHE Institute for Water Education (Delft, the Netherlands) spoke about the Dutch water sector. The expert described the business model and the services provided by a typical Dutch water supply company. The main success factors include R&D programmes implemented jointly with external partners, highly developed service networks, application of non-corrosive metals under low operating pressure, high level of automation and control, guaranteed systems’ reliability with moderate tariffs, abandonment of chlorination, a high rate of payment collection, full collection of profits (water tariffs amount to about 1% of median four-person family income).

Valentin Bordeniuc, head of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development’s project on development of Moldavian water supply systems, presented the results of a foresight study of the Moldavian water supply and sewage sector. The expert stressed the need for compulsory measurement of actual water consumption and adjusting water consumption standards, in particular by introducing differentiated tariffs for population, counting the costs of creating water supply and sewage systems by optimising consumption, and the costs of creating and maintaining sufficient water reserves for firefighting.

Petr Osipov of the World Wildlife Fund (Khabarovsk) described the scheme of integrated management and protection of water reservoirs in the Amur basin, and presented the acceptable environment impact standards applied during the scheme’s development. The Amur basin is a flooding-prone area, and probability of floods is growing every year. Therefore planning of new water-intensive production facilities in the area requires not just an analysis of the current state of water reservoirs and resources, but also consideration of their natural cyclic fluctuations. When locations for construction of production facilities, buildings, communication and water treatment facilities are selected, it should be taken into account whether the plots would be flooded during the high-water season. The expert suggested applying these conclusions in all flooding-prone territories in the Russian Federation.

Georgy Afanasyev, head of Industry and Energy Experts Club (Moscow), mentioned the main changes in water consumption after shifting to organic agriculture. He cited the experience of Singaporean NE Water programme aimed at making use of bio-chemical properties of plants — “consumers” of water pollutants. Another example is creating multi-level forest systems (“bio-plateaus”) capable of treating subterranean sewage of neighbouring settlements. In such systems, life cycles of several species (plants — microorganisms — fish) are connected into a self-sustaining system. However, the problem of cleaning waste water from major pollutants, such as heavy metals, remains unsolved.

Participants of the discussion commented on the proposed scenarios and made various important suggestions which will be taken into account during shaping the development strategy for the water sector. The final project review workshop will take place on April10, 2015, during the ISSEK-hosted Science and Innovation session of the XVI April Conference on Economic and Social Development.

By Liliana Proskuryakova