Water infrastructure prepared for peaks and troughs

Victorian water authorities have dealt with extreme weather events in the past few years. Understanding their infrastructure and working with local emergency groups has been vital for Goulburn Valley Water and Goulburn-Murray Water (GMW).

Victorian water authorities have dealt with extreme weather events in the past few years. Understanding their infrastructure and working with local emergency groups has been vital for Goulburn Valley Water and Goulburn-Murray Water (GMW).

“Building your way out of the climate situation is not the answer.”

GMW Managing Director Charmaine Quick said this when talking about adapting to a changing climate. Goulburn Valley Water (GVWater) General Manager of Service Delivery Daniel Flanagan has a similar thinking.

“We need to plan and build to cater for the extremes. The assets need to have the flexibility to respond to those particular types of events at that moment. It’s about giving us additional levers to be able to pull when we see these peaks or troughs, knowing that they’re going to come and that they’re going to be more frequent.”

Both GVWater and GMW have dealt with significant rain events in the past three years, even though they had extreme drought and bushfires in the period before that. Flanagan and Quick talked about the impact of climate change on their infrastructure, how they prepare, and how they work with their communities to be better prepared for the future.

Their areas

GVWater and GMW operate in slightly different ways. GMW manages the water resources and reservoirs across much of Northern Victoria. Quick explained that they manage all the dams, such as Lake Eildon and the Waranga Basin.

“We provide water to Goulburn Valley Water, North East Water and Coliban Water. We are a wholesale provider of water,” said Quick.

Quick also pointed out that GMW manages water-related services of 68,000 square kilometres. They have more than 20,000 customers using over 39,000 services in northern Victoria. GMW manages 24 water storages holding approximately 11 million ML of water.

Flanagan, as a representative for GVWater, focuses more heavily on what he calls the “taps and toilets”. His service area incorporates 128,000 people in 54 towns connected to 37 water supply systems and 26 wastewater management facilities.

How extreme weather events impact their assets

Flanagan is responsible for all the activities that operate and maintain the water and sewer assets across his network. When looking at these extreme weather events, he looks at them differently.

“The short sharp rain events have a more acute effect on our infrastructure,” he said. “It could be through higher inflow into our sewer systems, for example. That would result in higher flows coming into our wastewater treatment plants that we need to treat and beneficially reuse. We need to cater to the higher immediate flows we see from these rain events.”

Another aspect he spoke about was water quality. More rain events change the quality of water flowing into the systems.

“We are starting to see some of that raw water within the river systems change, which means that our treatment facilities need to be able to cope with that,” Flanagan said. “It’s about ensuring that they’re designed to provide flexibility in the type of water we’re receiving.”

In the eyes of Flanagan, water authorities need to prepare for the abnormal event rather than the average.

Quick looked at it from a different point of view, highlighting the impact on drainage infrastructure.

“Much of our drainage network is still underwater, and we expect it to have suffered the most damage. A lot of our drainage infrastructure goes through culverts under roads, so we’ve already had to do many road repairs,” she said.

Quick also pointed out that there is work to be done on the irrigation channels it looks after.

“We have had to assess about 350 km of our irrigation channels because they went underwater,” said Quick. “For the most part, there is some repair work to be done. However, they are in reasonably good shape. We also have about 600 regulators and control structures within the network. We need to get out there to confirm their status, but we suspect there will be some minor oil changes and gearbox replacements.”

Preparing for extreme weather events

Both Quick and Flanagan highlighted the importance of working with local emergency groups to prepare for weather events that might surpass the norm.

“We use the Australian Incident Management System (AIMS) structure for emergency management, just like everyone else in Australia,” said Quick. “We have plans for every aspect of the business when it comes to flood management, and it is key for working with our partners both within the business and our external stakeholders.”

Flanagan had similar views about preparation and working with local emergency services groups.

“We were connected to the local and regional emergency management groups. They provide up-to-date forecasts,” he said. “Those forecasts gave us the information we needed about what would happen to our assets under a worst-case scenario. We got the ball rolling on several flood preparation plans, which include sandbagging assets, implementing contingency plans, and generally protecting assets where possible.”

Both Quick and Flanagan noted that it is essential to remember that it is not just about protecting assets. It is also about returning the service to their customers and communities after the weather event. One area that Flanagan spoke about was water quality.

“We have had some water quality challenges. Most importantly, they are meeting and beating all the health guidelines throughout the floods. However, we are experiencing some aesthetic issues in some towns, where the water may look or taste different from what our customers expect. We have been sending out text messages daily and communicating with them to ensure they are aware of the issues. Their response during these issues has been amazing,” he said.

Building resilience in their communities

Building resilience and readiness in their communities is critical for both GMW and GVWater. They emphasised the importance of working with their communities to be prepared for anything.

“I think resilience is about providing information,” said Quick. “It’s important that people understand. Even the weeks before the flood, we worked with the SES to get information out there, highlighting to farmers that this is likely to be a wet season. While the SES has responsibility, we feed into that and make sure we are putting out information in the media. We want farmers to be prepared for a flood season if they farm in the floodplains.”

Flanagan is looking at resilience from a different point of view, focusing more on the right water for the right groups.

“We’re trying to identify the most appropriate use of certain types of water,” he said. “Instead of using water that’s been treated up to a drinking standard and using that to wet down roads, let’s provide contractors with a type of water that is appropriate for that. For example, we have started building recycled water standpipes that are now available to contractors to use that water for construction activities. That’ll come back in spades when we have another dry come through.”

Working with the community is vital for both organisations. Quick pointed out something vital when thinking about water authorities overall.

“It’s not just thinking about organisations as being infrastructure organisations. It is having that holistic view of it. We work with our communities, we work with our partners, and we have an obligation to be part of that broader community in the space of recovery and providing factual information that people can understand.”

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