Thursday, April 25, 2024

National Water Week: celebrating our water treatment frontline

Celebrating National Water Week with SUEZ

Coined as the ‘Sunburnt Country’, Australia is a continent where water scarcity and quality
closely intertwine with environmental challenges. However, a dedicated legion of professionals stand sentinel on the frontlines of water, wastewater, and desalination treatment plants. These unsung heroes work round-the-clock to secure one of earth’s most precious resources – water. Their efforts, often hidden from the public eye, are the backbone of Australia’s resilience against the march of climate change and population growth.

In this National Water Week special report, SUEZ takes you into the heart of their endeavour, shedding light on the experiences and challenges faced by those working at the forefront of water management across Australia and New Zealand.

The guardians of clean water The ever-shifting environmental factors in Australia have a profound impact on the clarity, purity, and safety of its waters. From droughts concentrating pollutants to urbanisation’s runoff, our water sources are faced with constant challenges.

Bushfires, floods, and soaring temperatures have amplified the issue, with the nation bearing the weight of these unforgiving trials in recent years. Amid these events, water treatment and dosing are fundamental to ensuring a safe, reliable water supply
to communities. They ensure that the water flowing from our taps is reliable, and that we’re responsibly using our freshwater sources. Robust treatment processes neutralise the effects of these factors, preventing adverse health impacts and safeguarding aquatic ecosystems.

As environmental changes persist, applying the right water treatment and dosing are essential to meeting regulatory requirements for NSW.

At the Prospect Water Filtration Plant (pictured, above) in Greater Western Sydney, SUEZ’s frontline operators are responsible for supplying reliable drinking water to 85% of Sydney’s population. The plant’s Manager, Peter Slabber, notes that water treatment and dosing have become more critical than ever following the recent extreme weather events Australia has experienced.

“We’re really feeling the impacts of bushfires and floods in the quality of raw water that comes to our filtration plant,” he says.

“We’ve not seen the quality of raw water like this in years. To ensure our water continues to meet the Australian Drinking Water Guidelines (ADWG 2011), we’re taking a specialised approach to how we treat and dose our water.”

For SUEZ, this involves a careful balance of water treatment and dosing to ensure that every drop flowing through our taps is clean and safe. At the heart of this process lies water filtration, where a comprehensive approach is applied to water catchment. At the Prospect Water Filtration Plant, SUEZ’s teams, in partnership with Sydney Water and Water NSW, adopt strategic water catchment management processes for the protection, conservation, and sustainable allocation of water within the Sydney region.

The dosing component introduces precise amounts of chemicals to disinfect and optimise water quality. This requires thorough precision, orchestrated by skilled technicians. The teams monitor chemical reactions and ensure that the dosing process doesn’t just clean the water but does so without compromising its safety or taste.

Adapting to a changing landscape

Australia’s water treatment landscape is not immune to the dynamic currents of change. Several trends have emerged, guiding the direction of the industry and shaping the experiences of those on the frontline:

Sustainability as a north star

Sustainability has woven itself into the everyday fabric of water treatment and infrastructure. The push for reduced energy consumption, lower carbon footprints, and enhanced resource efficiency are now central considerations in plant operations.

SUEZ’s Vice President of Operations and Delivery, Mark Lautre, highlights the critical role that SUEZ-operated treatment plants play in ensuring the most sustainable use of water.

“As stewards of our environment, the importance of sustainable practices in water treatment and desalination plants cannot be overstated,” he said.

“Our commitment goes beyond today; it’s about ensuring water security for generations. For instance, one of SA Water’s wastewater treatment plants in Adelaide – which we operate as the utility’s production and treatment alliance partner – has incorporated advanced aeration control technologies, saving up to 20% on energy and methanol.”

This plant is a testament to both SUEZ and SA Water’s ongoing progress towards sustainability. It reflects our company’s vision of a world where responsible environmental stewardship goes hand in hand with operational excellence.

“Our focus on sustainability is a reminder that, in the face of complex environmental challenges, innovation and technology can pave the way for a brighter, more resilient tomorrow.”

General Manager of SUEZ Smart Solutions in Australia & New Zealand, Evan Atkinson.

Digital Transformation

The rise of digital technology has revolutionised water treatment plants. Plant operators now interact with digitised systems and smart technologies as much as they do with equipment, making decisions based on predictive insights rather than reactive measures.

General Manager of SUEZ Smart Solutions in Australia & New Zealand, Evan Atkinson highlights how automation, real-time monitoring, and data analytics have heralded a transformative era for treatment plants.

“These technological allies have redefined how we operate, shifting us from reactive to proactive, through near real-time hypervison, predictive analytics and specific process optimisation,” he says.

“Every data point becomes a steppingstone toward optimised efficiency and unparalleled communication. It’s a paradigm shift that empowers us to anticipate challenges, make informed decisions, and ensure water quality with unprecedented accuracy.

“Step by step, this transformation leads to real-world benefits including; consistently higher water quality, reduced wear and tear on our plants, and lower consumption of energy and chemicals. More than this, it’s driving the team to push the bar up on what’s possible for our plants.”

The Victorian Desalination Plant.

Desalination’s renaissance

In the face of water scarcity, desalination has emerged as a key solution. Desalination plants are like oases in the desert, conjuring fresh water from the saline depths of the sea.

Working in these plants requires specialised knowledge and a deep understanding of the intricacies of the reverse osmosis process.

The Victorian Desalination Plant (VDP) is a prime example of this in action. Operated and maintained by ‘Watersure’, a Joint Venture between SUEZ and Ventia, the plant provides Melbourne’s metropolitan area and regional Victoria with a reliable source of up to 150 GL per year of high quality drinking water whenever required. With part of the plant presenting a design life of 100 years, this critical infrastructure provides a robust long-term solution to future proof the State, not only against droughts but also for periods of high water demands.

VDP Director, Julien Tauvry.

VDP’s Director, Julien Tauvry manages with his team the entirety of the plant’s everyday operations, including the 84 km transfer pipeline.

“Every day, within the heart of our desalination plant, seawater transforms into a lifeline for our community,” he says.

“Through the osmosis of technology, we extract purity drop by drop, ensuring a consistent water supply that provides reliable drinking water to the Victorian community. Reliability isn’t just a goal; it’s etched into our operations, a commitment to ensure that every tap yields reliable, safe, clean water.”

Watersure was proud to have been awarded Ixom’s Best Tasting Tap Water in Victoria earlier this year, demonstrating that water resilience goes with a quality product enjoyed by consumers.

Climate Resilience

On a macro scale, rising temperatures and altered precipitation patterns due to climate change can influence water quality. Higher temperatures can increase the growth of harmful bacteria, while changes in rainfall can impact water availability and dilution capacities, affecting pollutant concentrations.

Intense bushfires, exacerbated by a changing climate, release ash, debris, and chemicals into water bodies. Subsequent heavy rainfall can wash these pollutants into waterways, leading to increased turbidity, elevated levels of heavy metals, and reduced water quality. The 2019-2020 bushfires that ravaged Australia, for example, severely impacted water sources in many areas.

As Australia grapples with increasingly erratic weather patterns, water treatment plants must build resilience. Climate-resilient infrastructure, predictive models that account for extreme weather events, and adaptation strategies are becoming staples of the industry.

Leaving a precious legacy

As we turn on our taps without a second thought, let’s remember the individuals who work in the background to ensure that the water flowing into our lives is pure and safe. Their commitment to safeguarding this precious resource is ongoing. The trends shaping the industry are not just professional considerations; they’re part of a larger narrative about the future of our planet.

The frontline of water, wastewater, and desalination treatment plants in Australia embodies both challenges and triumphs. It’s a realm where science meets dedication, where innovation meets responsibility. It’s a testament to human ingenuity and resilience – a legacy that future generations will inherit.

So, the next time you take a sip of clean water, remember the unsung heroes who make it
possible.

To learn more about how SUEZ secures reliable water supplies for Australian communities, visit www.suez.com.au.

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