SA Water is harnessing advanced 3D modelling technology to enhance its bushfire resilience at critical water and wastewater infrastructure sites, leading to the development of an Australian-first water industry technical standard.
As part of the utility’s $500,000 audit of 280 of its sites, drones were deployed to pump stations and treatment plants – including in the Barossa and Adelaide Hills – to capture detailed photogrammetry, which involves taking overlapping photographs and converting them into 3D digital models of the infrastructure.
Comprehensive reviews of individual digital models helped identify risks and opportunities for greater resilience to bushfires, such as upgrading building doors and windows, installing sprinkler systems, and vegetation management.
SA Water’s General Manager of Sustainable Infrastructure Amanda Lewry said the 3D modelling approach was far more efficient and safer than manual inspections of each asset.
“Our communities depend on essential water and sewerage services, and in the extreme circumstance of a bushfire, it’s vital we take proactive and preventative measures to protect the infrastructure that delivers these services, as well as help limit fire movement in the area,” Amanda said.
“In recent years, there have been some devastating bushfires in South Australia, and following the Kangaroo Island fire in early 2020 – which damaged the Middle River Water Treatment Plant and burnt large areas of the nearby reservoir reserve – our people were driven to further strengthen our preparedness and resilience.
“By creating virtual 3D models of our sites in areas prone to bushfires, we were able to remotely analyse each asset holistically, ensuring we pinpointed risks and opportunities to upgrade specific infrastructure features.
“Fire resistant structural upgrades of doors, windows, as well as installing ember guard mesh on external vents, formed part of our work at our Anstey Hill and Mount Pleasant water treatment plants, as well as our Hahndorf Wastewater Treatment Plant prior to the 2021-22 summer.
“We’re now planning significant upgrades at our wastewater pump station in Stirling and several assets in Happy Valley, which will include installing air conditioning and sprinkler systems to help reduce the potential impact of a bushfire, in readiness for the 2022-23 season.”
SA Water’s new technical standard consolidates all aspects of bushfire resilience – from risk and asset criticality to individual site management plans – and is the first to be adopted for water and wastewater infrastructure in Australia. The standard is now integrated into the utility’s design, build and site selection process for new assets.
Ms Lewry said vegetation management was also vital to building resilience – and the utility is now exploring an innovative application of LiDAR technology to help identify overgrowth hotspots.
“Working in tandem with site safety upgrades, managing vegetation effectively around our infrastructure is a first line of defence in limiting the impact of bushfires on our services and surrounding communities,” Amanda said.
“It’s clear from our engagement with local residents, they’re supportive of this work, as it contributes to a collective effort to prepare their communities for bushfires.
“Importantly, our program carefully balances conservation and risk management, by limiting the need to clear established vegetation, with this work including activities such as reducing fuel load or removing overhanging vegetation.
“Looking to the future, we’re excited to trial LiDAR technology – which uses light in the form of a pulsed laser to measure ranges – to automate the process of identifying vegetation overgrowth, by employing drones and satellites to scan vegetation, making it easier to detect likely sources of flammability.”
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