TasWater has come a long way in ten years

TasWater is celebrating its tenth anniversary in 2023. People across the organisation have been involved in the industry for decades. This is the story of TasWater and Tasmania's water industry.

TasWater is celebrating its tenth anniversary in 2023. People across the organisation have been involved in the industry for decades. This is the story of TasWater and Tasmania’s water industry.

The water utility industry in Tasmania has seen epic change over the past two decades. In 2023, TasWater people reflected on the journey, some having been involved in the industry for decades themselves. While 2023 was TasWater’s tenth anniversary, the year was also about looking to the future. Team members from across the entire organisation engaged in workshops, planning days, and big-picture thinking events to take the organisation forward for the next 10 years and beyond.

The advent of TasWater and Tasmania’s water industry

The first seismic shift in Tasmania’s water industry was in 2008-2009. Before then, water and sewage services were managed by separate councils in each hamlet or region. Following reforms, three Regional Corporations were established: Ben Lomond Water, Cradle Mountain Water and Southern Water. Each was owned by multiple local government councils within their respective geographic areas, and a fourth corporation was the shared services business, Onstream, owned by the three Regional Corporations.

But the greatest change of all came after the biggest reform of all, amalgamating the four previous corporations into one statewide water utility in 2013, marking the formation of TasWater.

From challenging times to best practice

Reflecting on the past, there is plenty of colour in some of the stories told by some of the longer-serving employees who shared a yarn or two at this year’s TasWater staff events.

There were tales of strange items found in sewage pipes. Then there were the collective memories around the inconsistencies associated with reliably and consistently testing water quality across the state, with this duty undertaken by 29 different teams.

As well as the colourful tales, there were many observations of how positive the changes have been. Improved communications from the days of patchy two-way radios, poor resourcing of the staff on the front line, and on-call rosters covering vast areas of Tasmania with too few personnel, are things of the distant past.

As the quote goes, “The past is a foreign country. They do things differently there”. TasWater has emerged from those times and transformed to be the best it can possibly be, and that success is attributed to its people. However, they all recognise there is more to do.

After formation in 2013, and following an initial focus on compliance, TasWater is currently delivering a planned 10-year, $1.84 billion capital investment program for completion in financial year 2025-26.

It has added 30 new water treatment plants with upgraded treatment processes across the state. In the past seven years, 18,100 new connections were added to the state’s water network, and more than 13,000 properties were connected to wastewater.

These projects ultimately brought 24 towns off long‑standing boiled water notices, giving thousands of customers new-found confidence in the safety and cleanliness of Tasmanian drinking water.

Bringing resilience to Tasmanian water

Mark McConnon, TasWater Head of Risk and Resilience, sums up his decades of experience in the industry, highlighting the commitment of Tasmanian water industry people from decades ago to the present.

“Back then, they didn’t have the resources, and they did what they had to ensure that customers continued to receive water and sewerage services as they were passionate about their communities,” he said.

Kate Beard, Marketing Project Specialist – Community Programs, has been on board for much of the transition and reform of Tasmania’s water industry over the years. Kate summed up the past and the future perfectly.

“I guess something that hasn’t changed since the early days is it was, and remains, a really good group of people. We made our fun, we made it work, we found our way,” said Beard.

Tony Willmott, General Manager of Project Delivery, has as long a career in the water industry, having been on board for the 2009 reforms and working in the sector during the council days.

“This is how far we’ve come. From a lack of resources and understanding of our obligations to genuine best practice,” he said. “I don’t think we could have got as far as we have without that commitment from our people, and that is right across the business.”

Future infrastructure investment

One of TasWater’s challenges is that its 170 water and sewage treatment plants represent about 30 per cent of the country’s treatment plants. Still, TasWater serves only two per cent of the national population.

In 2022-23, TasWater supplied 62,537 ML of water, 2,622 Olympic swimming pools’ worth, and across Tasmania had 988 staff managing:

  • 6,557km of water mains (more than 1.5 times the width of Australia)
  • 4,913km of sewer mains (the distance from Hobart to Cooktown in far north Queensland)
  • 289 water reservoirs
  • 60 water treatment plants
  • 221,602 water connections
  • 952 water and sewage pump stations
  • 110 sewage treatment plants
  • 192,627 sewerage connections

In September, the Bryn Estyn Water Treatment Plant (WTP) upgrade was officially opened north of Hobart in the Derwent Valley. It is the largest capital project ever undertaken by TasWater, and construction was delivered on time and under budget. It was delivered by the TasWater Capital Delivery Office (CDO), an alliance partnership with UGL Limited, CPB Contractors (members of the CIMIC Group), and sub-alliance partner WSP. The Bryn Estyn WTP upgrade also involved many local contractors, with 81 per cent of contracts landing with Tasmanian businesses, providing local employment and economic benefit.

The Bryn Estyn WTP will lower the risk of water restrictions for Greater Hobart, providing high-quality drinking water for Tasmanians and creating capacity for growth over the next 50 years.

“We can continue to future-proof supply,” Willmott said. “There are pre-planned features around the new treatment plant pre-installed to enable the utility to increase supply in future in line with demand. In addition, there are new technologies embedded into the asset that are more robust, allowing the utility to manage a diverse range of raw-water quality with world-class treatment processes much more effectively than in the past.”

Bryn Estyn is a shining light of how far the industry has come in Tasmania. Able to treat 160 million litres of water per day, it can potentially expand to treat another 40 million litres of water per day if required.

TasWater’s Head of Water and Environment Services, Fran Smith, said there was no comparing decades past to now.

“We didn’t know what best practice was, or really understand what our obligations were,” she said.

“To be able to treat and deliver 160 million litres of water every day to Greater Hobart, with every litre meeting the Australian Drinking Water Guidelines, is not a small achievement. And just last year alone, across the state, we undertook 273,000 tests to ensure Tasmanians could confidently turn on the tap knowing their water is safe to drink. That’s a test every two minutes, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.”

Future people, career and skill investment

TasWater supports individual career opportunities, Tasmanian workplace retention, and the state economy through employment opportunities, including fast-tracked career pathways into the water industry. Such initiatives include the annual Summer Placement Program.

“Our Summer Placement Program is an annual intake for 12 weeks,” said Yvette Gilbert, TasWater’s Organisation Planning and Performance Manager. “Each November, chosen university students across various disciplines in their penultimate year of study, work at TasWater sites and offices across the state. This allows them to gain relevant work experience, study credit and get valuable insight into our industry.

“In addition, we recruit annually for the TasWater Graduate Program as a pathway to developing a future-ready workforce. Our intake for 2024 targets graduates from engineering, business/finance, data science and legal disciplines via a national advertising campaign. It is a two-year program supporting graduates to build their technical knowledge and skill in the workplace and putting their university learnings into practice in the real-world working environment.”

Notably, many summer placement participants progress to the Graduate Program each year, and numerous Graduate Program participants secure ongoing employment at TasWater.

“We also offer scholarships through the University of Tasmania, which gives back to the Tasmanian community, attracts local talent, and addresses underrepresented voices in the water industry,” Gilbert said. “The Scholarship Program has been enhanced this year as part of the organisations’ diversity, equity, and inclusion strategy. TasWater proudly offers clearly defined career pathway opportunities for our current and future workforce.”

These programs are in addition to TasWater continually refreshing its outdoor workforce, recruiting to ensure its frontline work maintaining and operating the state’s water and sewage assets.

Implementing ongoing workforce planning and recruitment meets TasWater’s current and future resourcing needs.

Initiatives, such as a new parental leave package supporting families and embracing a diverse, inclusive workplace, help drive an engaged workforce and make TasWater an employer of choice in a competitive employment market.

Here’s to the next 10 years of Tasmania’s water industry

TasWater Chief Executive Officer George Theo said after 10 years, there were too many achievements to list.

“But the fact all our customers now have access to safe, clean drinking water is the biggest win for those regional communities that spent years on permanent boil water alerts,” Theo said. “Our second decade is one of opportunity and possibilities. I’m excited about taking the journey together. We won’t shy away from setting a bold and ambitious vision for where we want to get to and where our customers expect us to go.”

For more information, visit https://www.taswater.com.au/

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