Adapting to a changing world

Adapting to a changing world

Bushfire impacts and recovery

In December 2019 and January 2020 bushfires in the Adelaide Hills and on Kangaroo Island burnt through thousands of hectares of land significantly impacting communities as well as our catchments and some of our infrastructure, with our teams responding to keep supply going through management of the situation on the ground.

Customer support

With properties and homes destroyed and damaged by fires, our focus was to support and help customers impacted.

Rates and water use costs were waived for 12 months for customers who had properties destroyed in the Adelaide Hills and on Kangaroo Island.

Customers in the Adelaide Hills, Kangaroo Island, Maitland, Clarendon and Bunbury identified as being in the scar zone of fires, yet who did not lose houses, were given an eight week extension to pay their most recent bill.

In addition, these customers were granted a reduction on their water use where there was an increase due to firefighting efforts.

Customers who were outside the scar zone, yet still within impacted areas, who used additional water for fire prevention and to stop ash were able to contact us and request a reduction in their water use and this was applied as for those in the scar zone.

Adelaide Hills

The Cudlee Creek fire in the Adelaide Hills caused minor damage to the recycled water system pipework at Bird in Hand and also to electrical wiring associated with water tanks in the region.

Our response ensured customers had access to drinking water, including through our Quench Benches which were made available in Lobethal, Woodside and Oakbank both during and after the fire.

Working closely with the Country Fire Service and the Department of Primary Industries and Regions South Australia, we also provided water for firefighting and livestock. Water from the Adelaide Hills catchments was managed to avoid poor water quality runoff entering our water treatment plants, including installation of sediment control structures within our reservoir reserves.

Our team collaborated with the Department for Environment and Water to engage with and help the community to prevent soil erosion and loss of seeds on their properties within the wider catchments.

Kangaroo Island

On Kangaroo Island, the Duncan and Ravine bushfires caused significant damage to the Middle River reservoir catchment and water treatment plant.

With the treatment plant damaged and temporarily inoperable, we put in place interim arrangements for continued supply in the Middle River System to 1,500 customers, including in Parndana and Kingscote. Changes included bringing water from the Penneshaw Desalination Plant and the mainland.

There was strong community support when we asked all Kangaroo Island residents and visitors to limit nonessential drinking water use and drinking water was made available to the community in both Parndana and Kingscote through water bladders and boxed water.

We worked closely with members of the Australian Defence Force (ADF) deployed to the Island to support the bushfire response and recovery. The ADF set up a mobile filtration plant which was used to fill contingency tanks at Kingscote. This mobile ADF plant was later moved to Penneshaw to help recover storage levels in the Penneshaw system.

The Middle River Water Treatment Plant was back running at full capacity within two weeks following restoration of electrical equipment, remote monitoring and network controls, plus communications systems.

Work to rebuild, repair and upgrade the damaged plant in May and June 2020 included:

  • replacing the control room and perimeter buildings, which had been completely destroyed
  • upgrading the main switchboard enabling it to be powered by a generator to ensure improved operation and security of water to our customers on the Island.

Delivering through COVID-19

Through the COVID-19 pandemic to date, we have continued delivery of services while maintaining the safety and wellbeing of our people and the community.

Everyone from our customer facing field-based teams, our laboratories, customer-engaging roles and people based in our shared offices, adapted to the challenge, ensuring the reliable and dependable supply of services, delivering for our customers and supporting each other.

With many of our residential and business customers experiencing a sudden change in circumstances when COVID-19 restrictions came into place from March 2020, we stepped up our support efforts.

Our focus was also on supporting partners and suppliers by driving economic activity. Capital work continued throughout, ensuring initiatives to improve our services progressed and our delivery partners and their supply chains were kept working.

Changing our payment terms to one business day following approval of an invoice also helped payments move as quickly as possible, contributing to the local economy.

In response to changes to access arrangements for remote Aboriginal communities, including the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Lands, Maralinga Tjarutja Lands and communities on Aboriginal Lands Trust land, our team incorporated the new strict entry requirements into their operations to protect these communities while continuing to provide services to our remote location customers.

The majority of the Aboriginal communities we service were designated areas under the Biosecurity Act 2015 requiring all travel to, and work undertaken in, these communities to meet the necessary requirements and approval from the relevant delegate.

Arrangements were put in place to maintain continuity of our critical functions. This included locating functions across multiple locations, rotating rosters and ensuring backup capabilities for key roles.

The impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic continue to be monitored for both our customers and our business and we have response plans in place.

Healthy sewers

This year we shared healthy sewers messages to encourage customers to change their flushing behaviour and help protect both their internal plumbing and the mains sewerage system.

Putting anything other than the three Ps – pee, poo and (toilet) paper – down the toilet or sink can contribute to sewage overflows and has the potential to impact customers. Removing rubbish from the network to landfill adds hundreds of thousands of operational dollars each year.

This message was particularly relevant when impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in a shortage of toilet paper and some customers reached for non-flushable alternatives.

From March to April 2020, we recorded a 29 per cent increase in the number of sewer main blockages across South Australia, as more items like wet wipes and other toilet paper replacements were flushed down the toilet.

Our healthy sewers stories generated significant community interest reaching more than 1.1 million people in South Australia and around the country.

Wastewater testing

A joint initiative between us and SA Health resulted in wastewater sampling established to help our state’s public health team identify the extent of COVID-19 infection within the community.

This new way of monitoring for COVID-19 provided an additional tool for our public health clinicians to detect and manage spread of the virus.

By combining the collective knowledge of South Australia’s water and public health experts we created in-house sewage virus detection techniques from sewage samples.

Wastewater sampling was undertaken at our Bolivar, Christies Beach, Glenelg, Port Lincoln, Angaston and Finger Point wastewater treatment plants, with plans for more in the future.

This work was part of a broader national initiative coordinated by Water Research Australia.

We are now a reference laboratory for testing of COVID-19 in wastewater samples from our interstate peers.

Biogas boost

Our Glenelg Wastewater Treatment Plant has historically been a strong performer in targeting power self-sufficiency.

In a good month, 275,000-300,000 cubic metres of biogas is generated onsite via digestion and in May 2020, this figure exceeded 355,200 cubic metres. This facilitated a site record of 654 megawatt hours which generated power to meet 89 per cent of the site’s electrical demand.

Driving the May results were expired beer generated by oversupply created when the hospitality industry was closed during COVID-19 restrictions.

Its methane potential was harvested via anaerobic digestion as a fuel source for the site engines to power the plant and maximise autonomy from the electrical grid.