TasWater initiates water-quality planning for 24 towns

Posted 16 September 2016

Water KettleTasWater is setting up a project execution team to deliver on its promise to remove all towns from permanent boil-water alerts or public health alerts within two years.

The ambitious plan will accelerate the overhaul of water delivery in 24 towns across the state, which would otherwise have taken up to four years, Chief Executive Mike Brewster said.

“While we've addressed many of the towns with boil water alerts and public health alerts, we still have far too many on alert and this has a major effect on people's amenity, the growth of the towns and it's having a negative effect on our Tasmanian brand,” he said.

Solutions for 12 of the towns are already in train and TasWater will now consult with the community on options for the remaining 12.

“The primary options are: we could tanker water in. Where it's not far from an existing plant and the consumption is quite low, that may make sense,” Brewster said.

“Another option is running a pipeline from an existing water treatment plant, but the challenge with that is once you get a certain length with small volumes or flows it can be very difficult to maintain the chlorine residuals and ensure you don't get foul-smelling water at the end.

“Then there's packaged treatment plants with large clear water storages so that we can ride through periods of high turbidity. And if customers really wanted we could provide tanks or funding for tanks.”

Solutions will depend on issues that vary from town to town and throw up a range of challenges, Brewster said.

“The first challenge is the cost per connection to fix these small towns – that can range from around $40,000 in capital per connection, up to $80,000,” he said.

“That means we must find ways to be innovative and where possible package up the work – giving ourselves scale will significantly reduce the costs.”

The range of water quality issues and causes also vary significantly, according to assessments already completed.

“Some of the raw water supplies have a history of heavy metal contamination, some have high levels of bacteriological contamination, regular E. coli strikes,” Brewster said.

“Some of these systems only have one barrier of protection – often it's just raw water chlorinated and then when it rains heavily you get a lot of sediment washed in.

“If we were just to build a plant to address all the full range of potential flows and turbidity it would probably be very expensive for these towns so it's more likely we'll look at things like building larger clear water storages so that you bypass the water treatment plant in heavy rainfall.”

Remoteness, water insecurity and ageing reticulation networks also complicated matters, Brewster said.

Community consultation and tenders are expected to be completed in coming months with work due to be underway by the first quarter of 2017.

With TasWater unable to secure State or Federal Government funding for the works, the utility will increase its debt to avoid price increases, Brewster said.

“We know we can afford to increase our gearing, so our gearing will go from a relatively low 27% at the moment to mid-40% over a 10-year period,” he said.

“Then by driving further operational savings in the order of another $15 million per annum and reducing our dividends to owners, we've been able to determine that we can afford it without increasing prices any more than we'd already projected.”