Jaime Melo Baptista
President of LIS-Water, Lisbon International Centre for Water
The development of Portuguese society presupposes the existence of excellent water supply services, which implies the construction of important infrastructure components, with functions of capture treatment, elevation, adduction, storage and distribution.
We want effective water supply services that promote physical accessibility, continuity, reliability, water quality, safety, resilience, equity and affordability. We want efficient water supply services that promote good governance and the structuring of the sector, organization, modernization and digitalization of the managing entities, a proper management and allocation of financial resources, water efficiency, energy efficiency and decarbonization. Fulfilling these two objectives, it is possible to provide services to the population at an economically affordable price.
More recently, a third concern has emerged, the need for sustainable water supply services. Sustainability means the use of natural resources to satisfy present needs that do not compromise the satisfaction of the needs of future generations. But what does it mean in practical terms when applied to water supply services? It means that its good management is ensured in a long-term perspective, at the infrastructural, economic and financial, environmental, human capital and knowledge and innovation levels, always maintaining an adequate performance and thus also benefiting the next generations. Let’s look at each of the five levels mentioned.
Water Utilities must ensure infrastructure sustainability by maintaining the value of infrastructures and adopting good practices in their asset management, with more sustainable decisions in the long term. In fact, it is here that the biggest future investments in the sector will take place. A specific but relevant aspect is the need for periodic replacement and calibration of water meters by Utilities, namely to avoid under-invoicing of the service. It is also necessary to complete macro-measurement, telemetry and warning systems. Without measurement no basic information for the services management is available, namely in terms of water balance.
Entities must ensure their full economic and financial sustainability through the recovery of expenses from revenues essentially coming from tariffs and eventually from taxes and transfers. To this end, they must ensure good economic and financial performance, autonomous accounting reporting and a low level of indebtedness. They must also minimize non-revenue water to avoid turnover reduction.
Entities must ensure environmental sustainability in the use of natural resources necessary to provide the service, such as water, energy, reagents and construction materials. Sustainability in water use can be achieved by opting for alternative sources subject to less water scarcity, but also promoting water efficiency throughout the supply infrastructure and also encouraging efficient final water consumption. Sustainability in energy uses can be achieved by promoting energy efficiency and decarbonisation. Sustainability in reagents uses can be achieved through adequate efficiency in the management of muds and reagents and their eventual reuse. Sustainability in the use of building materials can be achieved by practicing a more sustainable construction, properly selecting materials and components, and reducing the production of trivial and hazardous waste.
Entities must ensure the sustainability of human resources, in terms of qualification, diversity of training and age balance, improving attraction and retention mechanisms namely of a salary nature, merit incentive and continuous training.
Entities must ensure the internalization of knowledge and the promotion of innovation in the sector, as factors of competitiveness and differentiation in the national and international context. Associated with them the business and economic valuation of the sector is an essential component for its development, creating jobs and wealth, promoting the consolidation and dynamization of what already exists, ensuring greater self-sufficiency in the sector’s national value chain, creating opportunities and opening up new areas of business expansion.
All this complexity on the path to sustainability requires good governance, with an adequate public policy, competent regulation and effective, efficient and sustainable service management.