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Water security in hot waters

Interflow water security

Climate change isn’t water under the bridge. Its effects are set to impact the consistency and reliability of global water systems, making them important than ever. But when water security covers such broad ground, where do authorities focus? 

Water security comes in numerous forms, each as important as the last.

For some, the concept is all about malicious actions by hackers, such as the one who compromised the systems of the local water treatment plant in Florida in 2021, attempting to increase levels of sodium hydroxide in the town’s potable water to potentially deadly levels.

For others, it’s about water efficiency, particularly around the prevention or minimisation of leaks in the system and the challenge of non-revenue water.

And for more, water security is more closely related to the resilience of our infrastructure and systems in the face of major weather events such as floods.

It is vital to recognise each as its own unique challenge, and to have specific solutions designed by water managers in consultation with experienced contractors.

Legislation around water security

According to Interflow contracts manager John Weaver, a well-maintained asset base is at the centre of most water security success.

“In the late 1970s and early 1980s there was a flurry of new sewer and water construction throughout Australia,” he said. 

“In the late ´80s and early ´90s, the sector moved away from new construction and towards asset management.”

According to Weaver, there was an increasing number of old sewers and water lines that were leaking, and some of them were laid in the 1950s and ´60s. 

“The Environment Protection Authority’s focus was on stopping sewer leaks and overflows and maintaining the value of the assets,” he said.

Legislation was introduced locking councils and water authorities in to coming up with long-term plans to maintain the value of their assets. 

“That led to a lot of relining work that Interflow did from the early 1990s, which is how we became deeply involved in water security,” Weaver said.

How to adapt water systems to climate change?

While maintenance will always be a core focus, the attention of water managers is also shifting towards ensuring water supply will not be affected by climate change.

“In other words, how do we take the stuff that falls from the sky, hold on to it and reuse it over and over again,” Weaver said. 

“That’s the next phase of water security. How do we treat water as a very valuable resource, reusing and recycling it as much as we can, rather than discharging it after a single use?”

According to him, recycling will play a major role in the water security solution in Australia. This has to do with reusing wastewater in the potable supply, as well as considering where wastewater is being sent.

Discussions around treated water being reinjected into aquifers for storage are all the rage currently. 

Western Australia has led the charge in this space, and replenishing groundwater with purified recycled water is now common practice in Perth.  

Following suit, a water authority in Melbourne has conducted a tertiary treatment that created recycled water. When that water wasn’t being drawn upon, it was pumped into the ground, into the aquifer, to be recovered for future use.

How do water managers prevent water loss?

Non-revenue water loss is a very big issue in Australia and globally. According to a report from Frost & Sullivan, almost one-third of all water, with a value of US$39 billion, is lost every year before it even reaches a customer.

According to the Bureau of Meteorology, non-revenue water loss stands at around 10 per cent of water utilities’ system input in Australia.

“Of course, the more that networks reduce water loss, the less water we will require in the long run,” Weaver said. 

The combination of the reuse of water and the prevention of water loss could dramatically reduce the amount of water required in the nation’s systems.

“And so, a large part of the solution lies in the network,” Weaver said. 

“How can the water network be optimised and operated with a program that identifies potential leaks before they occur?

“That solution involves a mix of data-driven technology and proactive renewals programs.”

Interflow water security
The Mountain Highway project. Image: Interflow

Is cybersecurity an issue?

As the case study from Florida highlighted, cybersecurity is a central concern for water managers.

At the same time, the cyber and technology issue goes a lot further than the protection of systems from those with bad intentions.

“Power and water security are deeply linked,” Weaver said. “If you don’t have power, you can’t pump water.”

This brings major weather events into play. Floods, for example, have proved to be far more efficient than hackers at knocking out power and damaging water supply systems.

“We need new options for when things go wrong,” he said. 

“We need backup plans, and that’s probably the biggest challenge. 

“This is also what a lot of people are discussing at Australian Water Association (AWA) conferences. 

“How do we make our systems disaster-proof?”

How can Interflow help with water security?

Interflow’s role in water security right now is in collaborating with water authorities on their water and sewer renewals targets. 

The organisation’s goal is to continue to improve the reliability and service life of water assets, meaning water authorities should be seeing less bursts and leaks, and instead conducting more proactive maintenance and renewal.

Interflow is working actively with water authorities, such as Yarra Valley Water, on a meter program to monitor exactly how much water goes in to and out of the network. 

This will support the water authorities in their understanding of where, how and why they’re losing water, enabling better asset management.

Weaver said it will essentially enable water authorities to carry out work before problems reveal themselves.

The other major involvement Interflow has with water security comes through the simple fact that Interflow offers innovative solutions that often save the client money and other resources. 

These funds and resources can then be spent on further advancing the water security strategy.

On the Mountain Highway water main renewal project, for instance, Interflow turned a $2 million job into a $1 million job by doing things differently and in a more innovative way. 

“A big part of the innovative solution comes from innovation and better ways of doing things, which is what Interflow does best,” Weaver said. 

“When we’re part of the conversation from the beginning, we can often help release funds and resources into other areas, so water authorities can continue to improve and prepare for the future.”

This article featured in the February edition of Trenchless Australasia. 

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