Water use: people take a bow!

A Geelong Advertiser Perspective issued Thursday 25 August 2011


What a contrast.

Two years ago, greater Geelong was gripped by drought, storages were down to 27 per cent and the rainfall outlook was grim.

Today, reservoirs are full or near capacity, the most productive water harvesting period (spring) is about to begin and several new water sources are almost in the pipeline, literally.

But is it enough? Does the Geelong region have sufficient water to meet the demands of one of the fastest growing areas in Victoria? Will it avoid harsh restrictions in the future when drought will inevitably return?

If major projects currently underway – and they are the biggest in Barwon Water's history – are successfully completed, then the answer is yes.

The sustainable management of water resources is complex; there are many and quite diverse factors to consider in providing water for the present and securing it for the future.

We must protect existing reserves, find new sources, develop alternatives and use water smarter. Add the important ingredient of environmental management into the mix and you begin to appreciate the challenges involved.

Barwon Water is in the unique position of having a flexible and diversified supply system, including surface storages, groundwater, conservation initiatives and recycling.

The latter is an increasingly important element in future planning; indeed, we are on the cusp of a recycled water revolution that will change the way we manage water resources in the future.

Barwon Water is committed to increasing water recycling to 25 per cent by 2015 as it creates liveable, sustainable communities across the region.

It is well on the way to achieving that target with the new Northern Water Plant, which will save 5 per cent of Geelong's current consumption, and a new recycled water plant at Black Rock that will service the growth corridor of Armstrong Creek and Torquay north.
New technology also will make a significant contribution in the pursuit of water security. Sewer mining, where sewage near the source is treated and converted into quality recycled water for purposes such as irrigation is one option.

Another is ASR - or aquifer storage and recovery - where water, notably stormwater and recycled water is stored underground, treated via natural processes and used later for non-potable purposes.

Barwon Water is also investigating a number of stormwater harvesting opportunities. At the same time, we are investing heavily in capital projects to ensure we have ample water and can continue to provide safe, reliable sewerage services over a 50-year planning horizon.

But there is a further factor integral to meeting growth and demand.

We should not under-estimate the role the community will play in guaranteeing water for this generation, the next and the next.
During the recent drought, the worst on record, customers saved a staggering 45,300 million litres of drinking water, more than 13,200 million litres better than expected. To put this in perspective, that is equivalent to the capacity of West Barwon Reservoir – twice over!

I have quoted the following statistics to business and community groups many times, but they are worth repeating.

In 1983, the year of Ash Wednesday, regional demand topped 40,000 million litres. The population at that time was around 163,000. Last financial year, total consumption was 27,500 million litres with the region supporting 285,400 residents.

In 2010/2011, consumption per person per day was approximately 152 litres; five years ago it was 215 litres and 10 years ago 235 litres.

Restrictions aside, these figures prove conclusively that a raft of conservation initiatives systematically introduced in the region over time has delivered.

But they are also testament to a change in community behaviour. People today have a greater appreciation and understanding of the importance of water in their business and personal lives.

While staged restrictions have been removed in greater Geelong, a Permanent Water Saving Plan applies. The plan is a derivative of basic water saving measures first developed by Barwon Water and subsequently embraced by government. They make good, practical sense.

A return to harsh restrictions is highly unlikely given record investment in infrastructure, the introduction of new water sources and the use of advanced technologies in further diversifying our supply.

But credit also must go to the community; their contribution was a significant turning point in how we managed the drought and will be a significant factor in our planning for the future. 

By Michael Malouf, Managing Director