IWA Publishing

Working towards sustainable urban water management: the vulnerability blind spot

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The unprecedented water scarcity in Australia coincides with the adoption of a new urban water rhetoric. The ‘Security through Diversity’ strategy has been adopted in a number of Australian cities as a new and innovative approach to urban water management. Although this strategy offers a more holistic approach to urban water management, in practice, the Security through Diversity strategy is largely being interpreted and implemented in a way that maintains the historical dependence on large scale, centralised water infrastructure and therefore perpetuates existing urban water vulnerabilities. This research explores the implementation of Security through Diversity as the new water scarcity response strategy in the cities of Perth and Melbourne. Through a qualitative study with over sixty-five urban water practitioners, the results reveal that the practitioners have absorbed the new Security through Diversity language whilst maintaining the existing problem and solution framework for urban water management. This can be explained in terms of an entrenched technological path dependency and cognitive lock-in that is preventing practitioners from more comprehensively engaging with the complexities of the Security through Diversity strategy, which is ultimately perpetuating the existing vulnerability of our cities. This paper suggests that greater engagement with the underlying purpose of the security though diversity strategy is a necessary first step to overcome the constraints of the traditional technological paradigm and more effectively reduce the continued vulnerability of Australian cities.

Keywords: path dependency, sustainable urban water management, vulnerability

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