From the magazine

Innovating a better Brisbane

I’ve been lucky enough to be part of the water industry now for more than 15 years, a journey that started with my involvement in the Trenchless Technology industry working as an Operations Manager in a pipe relining company. I was hooked from the start and have subsequently had the opportunity to work at senior levels in both the private and public sectors of our industry.

When defining the future it’s always important to understand where we’ve come from. The Trenchless Technology industry has a rich history of innovation and developing solutions for the maintenance and creation of vital infrastructure. To understand the importance of the trenchless industry, we need to look back to the birth of Australia’s modern water and waste network. For Australia, the precursor to our current understanding of the importance of clean drinking water and reliable sanitary services stems from the 1800s, when John Snow discovered the existence of waterborne disease.

Brisbane’s S1 Main Sewer’s creation was instigated by the Metropolitan Water Supply & Sewerage Board (MWS&SB) using a design prepared by MWS&SB engineer Mr GW Thom in 1911. The project had come about after decades of pressure from businesses and the public in Brisbane to have a competent sewerage system installed in the city.

The MWS&SB was created under an act of parliament that instructed and empowered the board to sewer the city. Brisbane had suffered through a sanitation and drainage crisis – at its worst in 1875 when 245 of every 1,000 infants died before age one – and the Board came under immense pressure to deliver a sewerage system, but it was a tough time to get started. Young men were being recruited for the War, the cost of labour had skyrocketed, and resources and funds were hard to get.

The S1 was developed to mimic Joseph Bazalgette’s successful London sewers built in the 1870s. The S1 is a highly efficient gravity sewer that still handles more than half of the city’s sewage daily. It is this investment that, like many other major cities, has allowed the population to safely grow and live in more densely populated areas.

We’re now over one hundred years on from the first steps of establishing a reliable sewerage network and Brisbane has flourished, which highlights an important point. Without good infrastructure, it’s impossible for a modern city to thrive. We have a solid track record of constructing assets that stand the test of time with many of our pipelines lasting well over the standard 50 year design life. We’ve built systems that, by and large, have dramatically improved the quality of life and minimised the impact on the environments in which we live. We have also developed advanced methods of maintaining and rehabilitating our networks to improve performance and asset life. But is that enough?

Queensland Urban Utilities is working consistently to maximise the use of the assets we currently have, in answer to the changing landscape of our city. We need to continue to deal with the usual infrastructure requirements for geographically dispersed development as land will continue to be more affordable on the fringes of cities. But, we are also faced with a growing trend towards more condensed development, which in turn requires the expansion of existing networks to cope with the increased demand for services. With these upgrades inevitably required in areas already highly developed, Trenchless Technology comes into the fore. It has enabled our industry to significantly minimise the impact of capital works on the customer, drive value at all stages of the asset life cycle and minimise the footprint of our construction activities.

Innovation is at the centre of the success of Trenchless Technologies and now more than ever in Australia’s water sector, we are coming to terms with the pressures of rising prices for utility services and quite rightfully the rising expectations of our customers. Recently recognised in the top 10 of BRW’s most innovative companies, Queensland Urban Utilities is continually looking for innovative ways to provide reliable services, at lower cost and with less disruption to our customers.

We’re seeking to partner with industry to discover innovative solutions to address the replacement of AC water mains, develop more accurate and efficient methods of condition assessment, create cost efficient assets, reduce our environmental footprint and develop predictive analysis tools for the management of our network assets.

Queensland Urban Utilities’ customers are at the centre of our drive to deliver our services. Utility companies have traditionally been very asset-centric organisations, but providing a positive customer experience is now at the heart of everything we do, from the design phase through to construction. Minimising the impact on customers from our activities is a key focus and Trenchless Technology will continue to play a vital role into the future.

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