Australia Leads the Way in Water Engineering Innovation

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Tuesday, May 6th, 2014
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Every two years the International Water Association (IWA) recognises excellence and innovation in water engineering projects throughout the world.

The programme highlights the IWA’s belief that solutions to global water challenges can be achieved through practical and innovative applications. In terms of applied research, planning and design, Australia is leading the way in the Asia Pacific.

The Eastern Treatment Plant (ETP) Tertiary Upgrade Project, which serves approximately 1.6 million people in south-east Melbourne and is the largest activated sludge plant in the southern hemisphere, won the IWA’s innovation design award. The treated water from the plant is either recycled or pumped along a 56-kilometre pipeline where it is discharged via a near-shore outfall to the ocean.

The plant’s discharge was shown to have an impact on both the receiving marine environment and the community’s recreational use of the surrounding beaches. To address these issues, an advanced tertiary upgrade to the ETP was implemented using an innovative treatment process based on ozone, biological media filtration, UV and chlorine treatment.

Further to the extensive applied research which supported the treatment innovation, the project has set new precedents for recycled water treatment and validation which can be applied to other recycled water schemes both locally and worldwide.

The tertiary upgrade project pioneered a number of process advancements, which were identified and validated through an extensive trial programme. The selected treatment solution has proven to be both robust and efficient; compared to traditional membrane-based treatment approaches, it provided an estimated $50 million capital cost saving and 35 per cent operational and maintenance cost savings.

The multiple disinfection barrier approach also allowed the plant to treat 100 per cent of the ETP discharge to a high quality, and consequently saved an estimated $400 million in ocean outfall upgrade works.

Through the Eastern Tertiary Alliance, Melbourne Water has delivered an integrated water management solution that brings the multiple benefits of environmental protection and creation of a new high quality recycled water resource for both the present and future generations of Melbourne.

In planning terms, the Iluka Sewerage Scheme on the Far North Coast of New South Wales (NSW) sets the benchmark.

Iluka was the largest sewer-free town in NSW. Reticulated sewerage planning faced the challenge of a community polarised about whether centralised sewerage should be provided given a very sensitive receiving environment which included a World Heritage listed area. A key challenge was providing an affordable scheme which addressed community polarisation while meeting stringent environmental requirements.

An innovative community participation and decision-making methodology was developed and applied to foster community engagement from concept design to construction.

A community committee developed a sewerage strategy addressing the stringent environmental requirements, and continued to provide feedback to designers and construction contractors during the design and construction phases while also informing the Iluka community about the progress of the scheme.

The power and ongoing success of this approach was that it dealt with community and interpersonal issues in conjunction with specific technical issues, and ensured robust and accountable decision making.

An innovative construction procurement methodology was adopted which combined contract “packaging” with an “Early Tendering Involvement” (ETI) process. Construction was split into three contracts which enabled smaller, more specialist construction firms to compete.

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The ETI process enabled risk to be allocated to the party best able to manage it, thus minimising risk allowance of contractors and related costs. Relationship contracting using the NSW Government’s GC21 contract was adopted for all contracts, which allowed for better contract relationships than traditional adversarial contracts.

Despite significant construction challenges related to latent conditions, which delayed project completion by nine months to September 2013, the project came in roughly $100,000 below its $23.2 million budget. The project’s successful completion demonstrates an effective partnership of government agencies, local government, contractors and the community.

In applied research, Australia once again provided this year’s Asia Pacific award winner.

The SCORe (putting science in sewers) project has been touted as the largest ever global research project focussing on sewer corrosion and odour, documenting economic benefits totalling several hundred million dollars. The five-year, $21 million research project, jointly funded by the Australian government ($4.7 million) and numerous major water utilities in Australia, has resulted in the creation of more than 130 publications, as well as a number of highly innovative new technologies and powerful modelling tools.

By means of an active knowledge dissemination and capacity building program which serves as a built-in component of the project, the team has ensured that the project outcomes will be actively adopted by the industry. This uptake is also supported by an online knowledge management system delivered by the project, now managed by Water Services Association of Australia, which promise to have an enduring impact on the global water industry.

These projects, along with the other Asia Pacific winners and honourees, will be submitted together with those of the East Asia, Europe & West Asia and North America Regional Awards competitions to compete for the global prize, which will be presented at the IWA World Water Congress in Lisbon, Portugal on September 24.

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