Wannon Water to improve taste of water

Wannon Water has announced it will spend $33 million to improve water taste in Port Fairy, Portland and Heywood. The town's water is safe to drink, but locals have complained of the taste. Wannon Water has also found that water shortens the lifespans of hot water services, washing machines and kettles.

Wannon Water has announced it will spend $33 million to improve water taste in Port Fairy, Portland and Heywood. The town’s water is safe to drink, but locals have complained of the taste. Wannon Water has also found that water shortens the lifespans of hot water services, washing machines and kettles.

Visitors to Port Fairy won’t have to be warned to bring their drinking water if a plan by Wannon Water is successful.

The water utility has announced it will start work on a $33-million project to improve the water quality in the popular southwest Victorian tourist destination and neighbouring Heywood and Portland.

All three towns have been the subject of long-running complaints about the taste of their drinking water. These campaigns have been led by locals and Port Fairy holidaymakers.

As one tour guide to the town put it: “The drinking water in Port Fairy is simply horrendous. I recommend you bring your own water or buy it upon arrival”.

A petition that attracted more than 2,000 signatures in favour of a water pipeline from the Otways to be directed to Port Fairy was delivered to Wannon Water’s Warrnambool office in July.

However, the pipeline appears unlikely to be an option in the upgrade, according to Wannon Water managing director Andrew Jeffers.

“We haven’t ruled anything in or out. In being pretty transparent, treatment of localised groundwater would likely be the solution that probably goes forward,” Mr Jeffers said.

“It’s significantly less expensive.”

Why does the water taste the way it does?

Mineral salts and naturally occurring chemicals in the treated groundwater supplied to each town imparts their particular taste.

“There are differences in each community about the satisfaction with the taste of the water. There are also differences in the levels of mineral salts in the water,” Mr Jeffers said.

“Based on the feedback from our customers, these three towns are the ones that have the strongest feedback on the taste of the water. That’s why this is a priority for us.”

The Port Fairy Pipeline Supply Support Group’s John Konings says that while Port Fairy’s water is safe to drink, its “salinity, alkalinity and iron levels” contribute to the taste and other associated problems around corrosion.

“[It’s] a situation of Port Fairy being a world-class tourism centre with a third-world-country water supply,” Mr Konings said.

Wannon Water has been studying the water quality issue in Port Fairy, Portland and Heywood since 2017. They found the towns’ groundwater significantly shortened the life span of hot water services, washing machines, piping and even kettles. They have been affecting resident health due to reluctance to drink the water.

There are also costs associated with bottled water or filtration systems.

A business case by Wannon Water’s board found improving the water quality in the towns “would deliver more than $47 million in health, economic and environmental benefits”.

So how long will this take?

Mr Jeffers is reluctant to put a timeframe on the project as only the first $16 million is funded.

If Wannon Water could secure government funding for the remaining $17 million, all three towns could have their water quality improved sooner rather than later. But if Wannon Water has to fund the full $33 million itself, the towns will have to wait their turn to upgrade their local water treatment plants.

The initial $16 million will come from Wannon Water. It was included in Wannon Water’s forward pricing estimate for customers. Their pricing estimate is currently before the Essentials Services Commission for approval.

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