The innovation of an Australian water icon

Written by  05 June 2015
Published in Major Projects & Water Reform
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Nestled in the Brindabella Mountains, at the bottom of the Great Dividing Range, is the water supply system built to service Australia’s largest inland city, Canberra.

When the Australian Capital Territory site was first mapped out for the future capital, it was chosen for the excellent quality and reliability of the water source in the Cotter River. Here, the city could be located at the head of the Murray Darling Basin, where the water was pristine and abundant for a future population.

Compared to Australia’s larger cities on the coast, Canberra’s position has always meant that it faces some fundamental differences and unique challenges. Other cities are able to pump their wastewater out to sea once they have used and treated it. By contrast, inland water treatment facilities must release their water downstream, and at a high enough standard to be used again around the river bend. The way that the Australian Capital Territory’s water is treated affects not only Canberra’s population, but also people across the country all the way to Adelaide (and everywhere on the rivers in between).

The water quality is intrinsic to the growth and prosperity of everyone in the Basin, from kitchen taps in Canberra, to grapes growing in Mildura wineries, and children playing in fountains in Adelaide. It’s critical to ensure that the water in the Basin remains safe and drinkable as it leaves their custody.

For 100 years, Canberra has enjoyed some of the highest-quality water and utility services in the country. They are serviced by Canberra’s water and waste utility, ACTEW Water, which has used innovative techniques and expertise to make clean, safe water. This year, on their 100-year anniversary, ACTEW Water is rebranding with a new name and an ambitious new vision as Icon Water. ACTEW Water has realigned its goals and, faced with the challenges that a growing inland city bears, it aims to become the best provider of water in Australia by 2022.

The name Icon Water was chosen to express the company’s promise to become the premier water and sewerage service in Australia. But to be the best, there is a range of factors to consider, such as safety, sustainability and innovation, as the city grows. Perhaps the most important of these, however, is water security. This vision leaves Icon Water with the opportunity to refocus how they want to serve the community in the future by remaining relevant and sustainable. It reinforces the critical importance of ensuring the security of the water supply in the Canberra region for generations to come.

A subsequent pressing reason for ACTEW Water to renew its brand was to defuse growing brand confusion in the capital. ACTEW is an acronym for ACT Electricity and Water, and for years, the Canberra community had assumed that ACTEW Water was still a segment of the local Canberra power provider, ActewAGL. By changing their name to Icon Water, they will be able to effectively communicate who they are, and what they provide to their community.

As Icon Water is an unlisted public company, it has compliance obligations under law and is highly regulated. Water released into the Molonglo River meets standards in accordance with environment management plans. With plentiful, pristine catchments and contemporary facilities, the company already surpasses national compliance standard levels, but it knows that it can do even better.

Icon Water ensures that when Canberra’s treated effluent enters the Murray-Darling Basin it is clean. When it comes to the big picture, the preservation of the environment is paramount. They have implemented innovative infrastructure to ensure a renewed commitment to the Australian Capital Territory and the Murray-Darling Basin community downstream.

The most recent estimates put Canberra and Queanbeyan’s combined population at 428,000, with the annual growth tracking at an average of 1.2 per cent. On average, the daily consumption of a Canberrian is 314 litres.

To cater to the population, Canberra has four storage reservoirs in two catchment areas – the Cotter and the Queanbeyan River – as well as the Murrumbidgee River, for the Territory’s drinking water supply. There are two water treatment plants: Mount Stromlo and Googong. Icon Water’s inland treatment facilities are overseen by the Environmental Protection Authority to make sure that the water is treated to strict environmental requirements.

Icon Water aims to become an authority on environmental sustainability and security. To do this, they have raised their high standards even further, becoming more active in environmental arenas. They are currently heavily involved in reference groups and river action groups, with their infrastructure providing an opportunity to research improved ways to produce quality drinking water through their treatment facilities. As the company improves water utility standards, their knowledge growth provides benefits for other communities, even in far-reaching places. Improving the way they treat their water will help Australia gain a better hold on this valuable resource.

The Australian Capital Territory is in a great position as a net exporter of water, with its catchments on average generating more runoff than is used in the territory. The Territory’s water cap has important economic and social implications for the entire nation, as it sets the rules for sharing water with other Australian communities. Icon Water also plays a role in national discussions and the development of national water sharing principles.

As an inland city, the way that Canberra uses its water will always be important. Achieving true long-term water security will never be a finished project because the environment is constantly changing – this is a reality that Icon Water recognises. Factors such as climate change and variability, continued population growth, and increased expectations of quality mean that the company can never completely say ‘job done’.

In the act of striving to be the best, Icon Water will contribute to Australia’s future prosperity through better environmental practices, providing value to its customers, water security and technological innovation. In becoming Australia’s premier water utility company, Icon Water will continue to strive for better practices, ensure that water is safe and secure in the region for the long-term future, and continue to support the Canberra community.

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