Keep close eye on pipeline

Townsville Bulletin - - OPINION -

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.

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