Keep close eye on pipeline
OUR new H2O, five more things we all need to know:
Community activism which began last December 2016 and convening of the City Deal’s Water Taskforce early in 2017, saw $ 225 million allocated in the state budget.
It will only fund stage 1 of the taskforce recommended duplicate pipeline which is a modified version of the council’s pipeline design ( two year process) also costed at $ 225 million.
The design was still not shovel ready as of early this month.
The first stage, a 36.5km pipeline to be completed by June 30, 2019 would provide up to 15 years of water security. With no guaranteed renewable energy source, pumping costs would be slightly reduced.
The plan is to negotiate connection to high voltage power, avoiding the impact of the monopoly energy provider’s profit margin. Despite the benefits and some unknowns, we could still see severe restrictions in the lead up to using the new pipeline.
The decisions for if, when, and how long to use the new infrastructure are made by the council. The pipeline could be gold- plated but this would not guarantee that level 3 restrictions would be a thing of the past.
Both the state and council are claiming the $ 225 million will provide full water security. If this was the case, why have a stage 2?
Stage 2 involves upgrading the open channel from HBSA to Clare ($ 90 million at today’s prices unfunded) connecting to a proposed new solar farm ( private). A new pump station is also required ( unfunded).
At the Townsville end a new treatment plant at Toonpan will be necessary to process the increased supply of very muddy Burdekin water ($ 138 million unfunded).
The existing plant at Douglas cannot be upgraded to treat this water and will soon be working to capacity. The existing pipeline supply has to settle in Ross Dam before treatment.
Both stages will continue to deliver to Ross Dam, which loses 30- 40ML a day to seepage and evaporation, but a new plant at Toonpan would be able to treat turbid water directly.
The 14,000+ member nonpartisan WFTAG community group has a volunteer technical team with a huge diversity of expertise.
They reviewed, costed and rated the suitability, affordability, sustainability, time frame to build and durability of nine known infrastructure options. They also proposed two original solutions. This was done in less than three months and submitted to the Water Security Taskforce chairman ( WSTF) in a 450- page report.
It documents the relevant history, geography, hydrology, social, environmental and political context for Townsville’s recurring water woes.
Our research was a valuable resource for the Water Taskforce deliberations, acknowledged by chairman Brad Webb in his Interim Report on June 30.
Many features of our preferred option were taken up in the second stage proposed but not detailed or costed by the taskforce for 60+ years of water security.
Unlike the taskforce recommendation the WFTAG preferred option is not staged and would not start at the leaking HBSA.
This would avoid environmental impacts and negating the need for the $ 90 million open channel upgrade.
This pipeline would start near the Tom Fenwick pump station near Clare and incorporate renewables, negating grid pumping costs.
It also includes the new treatment plant at Toonpan. Stage 2 of the WSTF may not start for 15 years, if ever. The cost of the WFTAG 70km pipeline is dearer upfront than the WSTF staged option, but provides 80 years of full water security with minimal operational costs.
This alone justifies a matched Federal Government grant of $ 225 million. Waiting 15 years or more will see costs soar. When Ross Dam is full, the supply lasts three years with level 2 and 3 restrictions. The Australian benchmark for stored supply without rain is 10 years. Currently there is no infrastructure redundancy.
In the event of the old pipeline or pumps failing there is no backup. If the main Douglas treatment plant fails, the city of nearly 200,000 residents has three days of potable water.
WFTAG is mainly concerned with water supply but power is inextricably linked. Fortunately the massive Burdekin Dam is on Townsville’s geographic doorstep, so a plentiful supply is not the main problem.
Political inertia aside, it’s a transportation problem.
Townsville faces huge costs for conventional base- load power, to pump from the Burdekin. Any new dam in the region will need a pipeline and pumps for our urban supply.
Renewable energy is a specific City Deal requirement. Solar power is a logical source in our sunny location.
Hydropower has always been associated with Stage 2 to raise the Burdekin Dam wall. Doing so is not necessary for Townsville’s urban supply in the short to medium term. A current federal feasibility study is looking into raising the wall by 2m.
Many engineers and people who worked on stage 1 believe the hydropower output from such a small increase would not justify the cost.
If every party does not start relentlessly lobbying the Federal Government to honour their City Deal and our city’s top priority infrastructure, the silence will speak volumes.
Every candidate needs to be able to elaborate on how their water policy specifically addresses Townsville’s needs and what their finacicial commitment is for.
If funding is promised, a generic “We will build a new dam” is more spin than win.
Would any candidate be willing to go with the quickest, cheapest, partisan- driven, solution, as a result of not asking some key questions?
WFTAG will keep reminding all candidates to be accountable for their knowledge base, choices and promises, in the lead- up to the election.