SISTER CITY PARTNERS
In last month’s Duo, I tackled questions of energy for North Queensland. This month, it’s water’s turn and what follows is a submission I made to the Townsville Water Security Taskforce. I made no specific reference to residential grey water systems or water tanks, but these are topics worthy of further consideration no doubt.
Attention: Mr Brad Webb, Chairman
This submission charts a practical pathway towards a sustainable outcome, which demonstrates Townsville’s capacity to be global leaders in dry tropic urbanism.
Let’s get some basics out of the way:
There is no shortage of water for the city.
The Burdekin Dam is overflowing. It holds four Sydney Harbours of water. It was designed as a regional water reservoir. That’s what it does.
Townsville City pays for a dedicated allocation of 100,000ML. This allocation can’t be given to anyone else. It’s 3-years’ water for Townsville. That’s water security, right there.
A pipe and channel connects this body of water to Townsville’s Ross Dam, from which water flows to the treatment system.
The pipe was designed to carry ~130ML a day, but for a range of reasons can’t do much more than ~100ML. This is enough to compensate for evaporation in the Ross Dam at present levels (c. 16-18%).
The water needs to be pumped, at a cost to Council of reportedly $27,000 per day; and when one adds in the costs of the water allocation some $34,000 per day.
When Ross Dam runs low, Townsville City can access the Burdekin Dam allocation.
On the consumption side, I’ve been told that the reticulation network loses up to 20% in leakages. It’s also worth noting that prior to the imposition of water restrictions, average per capita daily consumption was around 800L. This was the highest in the State. South East Queensland consumes ~190L pp/day these days, a consequence of technology change, lifestyle change and behavioural change instigated after the water crisis of the early 2000s.
There’s talk of building a second pipeline from the Burdekin Dam. Estimated capital cost is around $200m. It may be more, but unlikely to be less. On top of this will be operating expenses. Suggestions that the pipeline can be gravity-fed does not mean the water delivered is free. A gravity-fed pipeline will need to deal with frictional losses, which means the capital costs alone will be substantial. It will also need to be maintained. If there is concern about the costs associated with pumping today, remember that the cost of building a second pipeline is equivalent to 20.3 years of continuous pumping, at $27,000 per day or 16.1 years at $34,000 per day. A properly maintained pipeline will incur costs, whether it’s gravity-fed or not. Water from either pipeline comes at a cost.
Deferring pumping is a sensible financial management strategy. The trade-off has been the amenity costs of water restrictions versus the cash cost of pumping. The longer term consideration is (a) the total cost of a second pipeline and the cost of water delivered by it, compared to (b) the likely cost of periodic pumping over the existing pipeline. Paying for two pipelines when neither or just one is being used will add to the cost of living.
Changing water consumption habits, behaviours and technologies would go a long way to mitigating the amenity costs. About 60% of water consumed is by the residential sector, of which between 50% and 60% goes to watering lawns. That means at least 1/3 of water consumed is for residential lawns. This isn’t sustainable, because it’s ultimately very expensive. New horticultural choices and landscape design remedies are possible, which demonstrate our city’s capacity to adapt to its ecological situation. In doing so, there’s no reason why we could not strive to be a global leader in dry tropic urbanism. We could also cool our city in the process, which has numerous social and economic benefits.
Townsville can demonstrate real dry tropic urban leadership and know-how. This is an exportable capacity, with ever increasing markets globally. We can create a cooler, greener city in the dry tropics by grabbing the challenge with both hands and embracing the opportunity to change for the better.
I haven’t mentioned pricing yet, but in effect it is “free” to residents. That water has effectively no price guarantees it will be consumed wantonly. Consumers also have no real-time visibility as to how much water they are consuming. Smart meters, like those installed in Mackay, would overcome this. In Mackay, savings of 13% have been achieved after smart meters were introduced a few years ago and residents were provided access to real time consumption data (www.myh2o.com.au). Doing the same in Townsville would cost, I estimate, in the region of $6m. Bringing pricing into line with contemporary best practice would also make sense and help us all appreciate the value of water.
Last, the urban reticulation network leaks an estimated 20% according to anecdotal information I have been provided. If this is the case, there is prima facie a strong business case for fixing the leaks first given what could be saved.
So, what should be done? Here’s a logical sequence of priorities:
Changing consumption patterns is
a much cheaper option than any other, I would suggest. A modest investment could shave 10%+ if Mackay residents’ experience is any guide. If Mackay could change for the better, there’s no reason why Townsville couldn’t. Smart meters and best practice pricing are needed.
More could be done to transform water utilising appliances (eg., tap, shower heads, sprinklers) before progressively cooling the city whilst making outdoor water use even more efficient through better garden and park designs. Another 10-15% shaved without compromising quality of life is a modest target given the proportion of water that goes to watering lawns. We’d also give new life to the horticultural and nursery industry, not to mention unleash the creative talents of local landscape designers. This is permanent, structural change that can lock in new, more affordable services.
Fixing a leaky network seems to be the next obvious thing. Smart meters also make this possible and cost-effective. There’s 20% saving to be achieved, forever and a day.
Then, getting the existing pipeline back to full capacity would be next. That’s a 30% improvement in carrying capacity when Ross Dam does get low.
If we’re concerned about costs of pumping, try installing solar + bio-oil GT generators to power the pumping and sell into the grid when not. More energy efficient pumps may also be in order. At worse, this should be a cost neutral proposition.
All of these measures should be evaluated and implemented before decisions are made to committing $200m+ to a second pipeline especially given how infrequent the existing pipeline actually has been called upon.
Townsville can demonstrate real dry tropic urban leadership and know-how. This is an exportable capacity, with ever increasing markets globally. We can create a cooler, greener city in the dry tropics by grabbing the challenge with both hands
and embracing the opportunity to change
for the better.
Wishing you all the best in your endeavours.
With kind regards.