In our Project in the Spotlight series, we look at the projects that have been delivered across Australia, the challenges the project managers faced and how they overcame them.

A complex problem presented itself to Eric Vanweydeveld, a senior project manager at Power and Water Corporation, when he was asked to deliver a water treatment solution for one of Australia’s most remote communities. Through creativity and innovation, this engineer and his project team solved this complex problem.

Borroloola is located on the McArthur River in the Gulf of Carpentaria, about an eight-hour drive from the nearest major centre and has a permanent population of around 1,000. The potable water supply is sourced from underground and therefore had corrosive tendencies associated with low pH, low alkalinity and high concentration of carbon dioxide.

Without appropriate water treatment in place, the aggressive water had damaging effects on the distribution infrastructure such as pipes, fittings and tanks. The low pH and corrosive tendency of the source water also had the capacity to affect chlorine efficacy, further impacting the delivery of safe drinking water to the community.

Due to these factors, the water treatment system required extensive repairs or replacement.

Community engagement was key

The project dealt with various levels of complexity (technical, social, geographical and logistical). In addition, there were a wide range of challenges including a project team spread across five locations, the remoteness of the site, long distances, a high level of political and social influence and a large number of stakeholders involved in different phases of the project with various interests.

To overcome geographical, climatic and logistical challenges and to reduce time, costs and risks associated with the delivery of a complex system in such a remote location, the new water treatment plant was delivered through a unique containerised solution.

To increase community understanding of the benefits of the project, Eric had to get creative. Borroloola School, Waralungki Arts Centre and Mabunji radio all were invited to participate in community engagement programs and advise on how the project was delivered. The school children were asked to create the artwork to adorn the water treatment plant.

Image source: Power and Water

“We wanted to involve as many local people and businesses as possible,’’ said Eric. He believed with a supportive community the project would deliver many positive outcomes for the town.

The community benefited not only with safe drinking water but also from learning more about the importance of water, its health benefits and the need to conserve it. Maria Pyro, Deputy Principal of Borroloola School said “It’s very important for the future of our children that we teach them to care for water. Being involved in creating artwork for the water treatment plant gives us ownership of this project.”

Water quality was paramount

Borroloola, previously, had three basic water treatment systems. Whilst these met drinking water standards, they were not able to effectively address the corrosive issues with source water that was leading to damaged pipes and storage infrastructure issues that reduced water quality. From conception to tap turning took 6 years to deliver the $6.4 million fully automated water treatment plant. Eric noted that “it was a very complex project and we had to think outside the box and be innovative.”

With agreement given to use Aboriginal owned land, contractors were invited to the site to witness the logistical difficulties firsthand. A joint venture was created between SUEZ (water treatment solution provider) and Goodline (Darwin based construction company) to deliver a solution for Borroloola. This allowed for many Territory businesses to be involved in the project, including Borroloola firms and Aboriginal providers.

Community engagement was key to the success in project delivery, so Power and Water sponsored the annual Borroloola rodeo. Power and Water had a stall at the rodeo where staff were able to brief residents on the project’s progress and expected results once completed.

Challenges and innovation

This complex project faced many logistical issues firstly having a project team spanning across five locations: Borroloola, Sydney, Katherine, Darwin and Alice Springs.

In person meetings had to be kept to a minimum to save on time and resources. The structurally modified containers came from Brisbane and Melbourne, the chlorination system from Sydney, filter skid from Melbourne, degassing tower from France and calcite filters from India.

Following the 3D modelling of the facility, all the parts were built into modular sections and assembled in Darwin. The execution had to have minimal disruption to the onsite system therefore installation was rapid after it was fully tested in Darwin. “In Darwin, we duplicated the Borroloola site precisely to enable testing of the system. By doing this we were able to correct a lot of the problems before the equipment was transported to Borroloola, which saved both time and money and reduced the risk profile of the project,” Eric explained.

Image source: Power and Water

After completing the commissioning tests, the entire plant was disassembled and transported 1000kms to Borroloola by road trains and rebuilt on the edge of the township. The system was tested for 16 weeks through a validation process to confirm it met the specifications of design.

This project demonstrated that through extensive planning, local engagement and innovation that the most precious resource could be provided to a remote community – safe drinking water. Eric says it best when he notes ‘At the end of the day, it is all about Power and Water improving people’s lives by delivering quality water. That’s what is important.”