With our current water restrictions in Australia and particularly Western Australia, I would ask, are our Industry leaders of today equal to the tasks at hand as was the case in the late 1800 in overcoming the obstacles of disease and the required infrastructure. However, unlike the late 1800, we have expertise in communication, abundant resource’s, yet with all these recourse’s with a population a little over 20 million people, why is it we have run out, or nearly run out of water. The weather, if we had a population of 80 million people with above average replenishing rainfall, would we still have enough water? While it is not widely appreciated the Water Corporations and their associated utilities were created and formed by prominent Master Plumbers around Australia in the late 1800. An infrastructure that has resulted in immeasurable savings to Australia and to my knowledge an intact unity in the delivering of a service that was not duplicated anywhere else in the World. These Master Plumbers created The Water Corporations for the delivering of services, the highly trained individuals governed by a licensing body. The evaluation and testing of products which enabled only “tested and approved products”. In short, a system that was unparalleled in technical expertise that represented “a state of the art” in the late 1800 and which remains relatively intact today, only today The Master Plumber or those knowledgable in the required arts are no longer at the helm. The fact that our plumbing is standardised right around Australia, which is not the case in the United States, or the majority of countries that I have visited, represents an unparalleled accomplishment. In my opinion the Americans are sadly lacking the expertise in standardisation and quality in general. Yet, our present administrators appear to be lack less in their knowledge of what has been achieved in this country by Plumbers since the 1800’s.

In a recent lecture held by The Water Corporation of Western Australia held at the University of Western Australia in Perth, entitled “Our Drying Climate”. At this lecture were produced rainfall graphs and past methods of treating potable water. In short a detailed argument of how and why we have been left short of water as a direct result of our lack of replenishing rainfalls, despite extensive advanced planning for the perceived growth in our population. The lecture facilitated by Geraldine Mellet featured Dr Jim Gill, CEO of the Water Corporation of Western Australia, Mr Shaun Cox the Director of Gold Coast Water and Mr Ross Young the Executive Director of the Water Services Association of Australia (WSAA).

Dr Jim Gill informed the audience that it was up to them (the speakers) to train the Plumbers and consumers of Australia on how to save water. I found it novel that these speakers with no qualifications in the required art of plumbing are able to make such a profound statement. I am not sure how qualifications in Horticultural Science, Bachelors in Civil Engineering, Diploma in Natural Resources Law or a past Commissioner of Railways would enable one to speak so profoundly on such a subject. However speak and advise they did while I was at a complete loss of how this lecture was going to contribute to the conservation of our water supplies, especially in Western Australia. For anyone not familiar with the topography of Perth, Western Australia, we are blessed with a natural sand plain, and each year, the gigalitres of treated waste water we discharged into the ocean is approximately the gigolitres we consume in our gardens. Strange, we have had the technology to retreat wastewater for secondary use now for some 40 years or more, we have reserves well placed to cater for these small, odourless inexpensive plants in these numerous recreational reserves which exist in our ever increasing suburban sprawl, yet we have not acted. Point of use, for secondary treatment and sale of recycled water is only now being fully appreciated. I would have thought that those knowledgable in the required arts of water conservation, knowing our population would continually increase, would have developed strategies more dependant on the sustainable use of water, rather than rainfall.

If all our refuse tips had been lined, pollutants from entering our ground water supplies policed some 40 years ago, then I wonder if I would have attended such a lecture on “our drying climate”. I would have thought and in particularly in Western Australia, Mundaring Weir our main dam would have been overflowing nearly each and every other year. The immense value of this resource to flush our rivers while recharging our ground water would have made an immeasurable contribution in the conservation of our water supplies.

So how has plumbing or the application of plumbing products in the conservation of our water supplies come to such a situation, that those with none of the required arts, lecture those qualified in the required arts on matters of the weather.

While I may be well trained in the required arts and have integrated knowledge that the drinking of our own waste is technically completely safe. I remain firmly of the view that it is currently politically impossible for any Government or utility to impose the practice on the Australian public, which has been supported by the recent referendum in Toowoomba, Queensland.

I believe that the Australian consumer will support water saving products without a government rebate, if they could easily identify a quality water saving product. To which the WSAA and Wells administrators would reply “we have” with the previous “A” and the current “Star” rating systems. Well, once again I would beg to differ, and in 2003 I did literally beg in order to try to differ. I was given a draft of the new water rating scheme by Mr Alex Szann of Water Services Association of Australia (WSAA) at the time. On the first read it became abundantly obvious to me that this standard had been drawn up by those with little or absolutely no concept of how to govern or implement water saving standards. Firstly, the standards for washing machines, the washing machines were only judged on water consumption, not their cleaning ability in relation to water use or the amount of power they would consume. The time taken in order to complete the washing load I would have thought would have also been an extremely valuable consideration, in our ever-increasing time poor households. In short a simplistic standard which I would suggest represented an extremely ingenious view of what is required in the total success of implementing water saving standards. I can make this statement because I have all the correspondence and my suggestions which were totally ignored, were reported in trade magazines. The Hon Mr George Cash MLC, Deputy President of the Legislative Council bought the matter to the attention of Government in the Western Australian Parliament; all accepted my suggestions including Government, without any change by the Government in the rebate scheme in Western Australia.

The commercial aspect in my opinion of introducing new standards at this stage is not being fully appreciated by our current administrators. What was not reported at the time was that only top end loading washing machines were manufactured in Australia. While the rebates on front end loading washing machines did save water, at what overall costs. The only thing that saved Australia was the fact that these fully imported front loading washing machines had been tooled to a superior standard based on the experience of the Europeans.

Would it not have been a more practical approach, in after drafting a more comprehensive standard in allowing time for Australian Manufacturers a far greater opportunity to participate in this newly formed Market?

Why is it that our Industry has very little involvement in contributing in an understanding of how to successfully apply water saving standards? Or the way the Australian Public’s requirements are not surveyed for preferences. I believe many of us are well aware of the first water saving “miser” shower roses, which came on the market, covered in “AAAA”. They certainly saved water, however you could not adequately wash your hair and the spray was so forceful, they were unpleasant to shower under. I appreciate that the current shower roses are far superior, although nearly all fully imported. The point is they failed, were they trialed, did they fail because they did not save water, or was the standard at the time not generic enough to allow the proper evaluation of this products ability to save water. If not are or current standards of such a generic nature that the current water saving products being manufactured will succeed in being accepted by the Australian Public. We must assume that the current census within Government is just make it law and it will work. Well I am not so sure. My definition of saving water is “The amount of water saved, is the amount of water saved if you complete the same task adequately”. In other words if a percentage of the population may for instance have extremely thick hair and in using this new water saving shower rose they become dissatisfied, as the shower rose will not adequately rinse their hair, will that individual persist with this shower rose because it’s law. Or will they discard the shower rose?

Now I know that comfort tests are now being instigated, but why has it taken so long? For anyone with the most basic understanding in the principals of marketing, if a product or service fails, it requires a mammoth amount of effort and time in order to change the consumer’s perspective.

In early 2000 when I decided to design and manufacture a water saving device, I made research into the market thoroughly by speaking with numerous Retailers and their floor staff. I quickly formed the view that the damage in the perception of a water saving products being commercially successful, featuring the now defunct “AAAA” rating system was extremely limited.

My research in my category revealed that I needed to fully appreciate the consumers understanding of my previous statement. “The amount of water saved, is the amount of water saved if you complete the same task adequately” The consumers interpretation of adequately means “no maintenance” and definitely no maintenance in the first decade. Now I would suggest, that the water saving products of today need to be of a standard that will need to meet these first two hurdles, “complete the same task adequately as their existing product” and require no or very little maintenance as is currently the case with their existing products. If not, they face a far greater chance of failure. Are standards more important than saving water? As a Master Plumber and manufacture of patented products, I am astutely aware of the substantial design and tooling costs in placing the most basic of products in the marketplace. A technology advanced generic standard allows me the scope to design and manufacture quality water saving products. Are the standards more important than saving water? As I understand the current situation it appears that they are.

The consumer may not fully appreciate that under the previous “A” water rating system, that in tap flow controllers, with excellent market acceptance with a veering flow rate in excess of 1 litre a minute from 150kpa to 350kpa, were excluded from any evaluation or waterwise program. These products which function more in tune with the physics of water, which in my research were identified as the public preference are still excluded. The new Wells Standards has allowed for a variance of 2 litres a minute in flow rates from 150kpa to 500kpa, a massive envelope of improvement, but sadly I believe not enough.

The architects of the 1 litre, then 2-litre non-variance flow rates argue that as pressures are different all around Australia, that therefore the set rate must be maintained. Only problem is no one can identify an occurrence were a variance of up to 5 litres a minute from 150kpa to 500kpa could possible cause a problem. Our tests have proven that the Australian public can’t tell the difference in 5 litres a minutes at the average household pressure of 350kpa. The problem is, we are setting standards on assumptions, and no one has an accurate percentage of households in Australia in relation to supply pressures.

A definitive statement in the apparent technical gap between the Industry and the utilities was recently reported in the Media. The story detailed some of the workings of Sydney Water, Sydney Water being the principal utility responsible for treatment of waste water in New South Wales, particularly Sydney. The concern is being the consistent contamination of coastal areas, especially the Australian icon of Bondi Beach.

While the problem appears to have been resolved with a tunnel that has been excavated further out to sea at the expense of the taxpayer. As I understand it, is that a consortium of those expert in the arts have offered some time ago Sydney Water the ability to treat their waste at no charge. If they could control the rights in the resale of all the treated water, which was refused by Sydney Water. The group apparently resorted to the courts and particularly the ACCC for orders, which allowed for competition in the treatment of as they put it “a resource of value”. This was all at a time when covered trucks laden with stools carried by Sydney Water roared through the suburb of Manly on Sydney’s North Shore, which I would suggest represents the night carts of yesteryears. What I would like to see is the Industry returned to those, not unlike the fathers of our Industry of the late 1800. I would ask the question that if the individuals who pioneered the sate of the art in the advances in the 1800’s were alive today, would they be going around Australia giving lecturers on “Our Drying Climate”. Saving half of Australia water use is the easy part. To return the Industry back to this pinnacle of expertise remains a formidable obstacle, an obstacle not faced in the 1800, and an obstacle that I would suggest that Australia should no longer bare.

 

Philip Doust
Director
Doust Plumbing Products

Note: Copyright remains the copyright of the author, reproducing in part or in full can only be undertaken with the written permission of the author.

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