This paper comments on the strengths and weaknesses of different methodologies for risk assessment, appropriate for utilisation by Australian Water Utilities in risk assessment for drinking water source protection areas. It is intended that a suggested methodology be recommended as a national approach to catchment risk assessment. Catchment risk management is a process for setting priorities for protecting drinking water quality in source water areas. It is structured through a series of steps for identifying water quality hazards, assessing the threat posed, and prioritizing actions to address the threat. Water management organisations around Australia are at various stages of developing programs for catchment risk management. While much conceptual work has been done on the individual components of catchment risk management, work on these components has not previously been combined to form a management tool for source water protection. A key driver for this project has been the requirements of the National Health and Medical Research Council Framework for the Management of Drinking Water Quality (DWQMF) included in the draft 2002 Australian Drinking Water Guidelines (ADWG). The Framework outlines a quality management system of steps for the Australian water industry to follow with checks and balances to ensure water quality is protected from catchment to tap. Key steps in the Framework that relate to this project are as follows:
Element 2 Assessment of the Drinking Water Supply System
• Water Supply System analysis
• Review of Water Quality Data
• Hazard Identification and Risk Assessment
Element 3 Preventive Measures for Drinking Water Quality Management
• Preventive Measures and Multiple Barriers
• Critical Control Points
This paper provides an evaluation of the following risk assessment techniques: Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP); World Health Organisation Water Safety Plans; Australian Standard AS 4360; and The Australian Drinking Water Guidelines – Drinking Water Quality Management Framework. These methods were selected for assessment in this report as they provided coverage of the different approaches being used across Australia by water utilities of varying: scale of water management organisation; types of water supply system management; and land use and activity-based risks in the catchment area of the source. Initially, different risk assessment methodologies were identified and reviewed. Then examples of applications of those methods were assessed, based on several key water utilities across Australia and overseas. Strengths and weaknesses of each approach were identified. In general there seems some general grouping of types of approaches into those that: cover the full catchment-to-tap drinking water system; cover just the catchment area of the source and do not recognise downstream barriers or processes; use water quality data or land use risks as a key driving component; and are based primarily on the hazard whilst others are based on a hazardous event.
It is considered that an initial process of screening water quality data is very valuable in determining key water quality issues and guiding the risk assessment, and to the overall understanding of the catchment and water source area, allowing consistency with the intentions behind the ADWG DWQM Framework. As such, it is suggested that the recommended national risk assessment approach has two key introductory steps: initial screening of key issues via water quality data, and land use or activity scenario and event-based HACCP-style risk assessment. In addition, the importance of recognising the roles that uncertainty and bias plays in risk assessments was highlighted. As such it was deemed necessary to develop and integrate uncertainty guidelines for information used in the risk assessment process. A hybrid risk assessment methodology was developed, based on the HACCP approach, but with some key additions and modifications to make it applicable to varying catchment risks, water supply operation needs and environmental management processes.