In Walkerton in Canada, in 2000, there was a water supply incident and seven people died and half the town was ill. At the end of the day, there’s a big report about that by the Canadian authorities and it was criminal negligence that caused the problem. At the end of the day, people went to prison for it.
But half a world away or the other side of the world over in New Zealand, that particular incident had a billion-dollar impact. And it had that impact because our public health officials looked at what happened in Walkerton and said there’s nothing to stop that happening in New Zealand, and we need to.
And so we had water safety plans came in for water supplies. And the New Zealand small water supply treatment and source protection needed to be upgraded. And over a decade they spent about a billion New Zealand dollars and New Zealand equivalent of a federal government hasn’t funded all that.
So the cost of that has landed in small communities that might not necessarily be able to afford it particularly. And there’s increased long-term operations and maintenance cost as a result of that.
And because we put in better treatment and source protection, those sorts of things, there’s actually an increased level of service in long-term and that equals an increased cost. And the communities haven’t been that happy about it; haven’t seen the need for it. But it was legislated for.
So, the point I’m making there is that something that happens in the US or Canada or somewhere else in the world can actually have an impact on practice all around the world.
I think the conclusion out of Flint is, once all the inquiries are finished, there will be changed standards, particularly in the US, around water supply, and around the risk, and around how you manage that, how you communicate it and how you make sure that an incident like that never happens again.
And that will ripple outwards and that would probably be an impact on Canada or in the UK or in Australia or in South Africa, or in New Zealand and many other countries that might be following that level of practice. Just from one incident in a small town in the State of Michigan in the USA.
And it’s all around that hidden risk – how to recognize that, how to work out what’s happening, and how to counter that off against the changes in levels of service and the change in cost because of the perceived unaffordability of the service provision for infrastructure.
And there are no easy answers to it – but I think if you ignore one whole axis, which is that risk axis, particularly the stuff you can’t see, then there’s real potential for problems.
And those problems can end up imposing a very large cost on societies over a very long period of time simply because we’re not very good at managing that risk.
So that’s it for levels of service and risk. The next section of the presentation is on finance, the impacts of money in finance and infrastructure acquisition and management.
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