26 November, 2013

Water Supply Level of Service Objectives

Water Supply Level of Service Objectives

A review is being undertaken of SEQ’s primary ‘water security’ planning framework, the level of service (LOS) objectives to allow planning for operation of the bulk water supply system and future upgrades.

The review of the LOS objectives is being undertaken by the Qld Government’s Department of Energy and Water Supply.

According to the previous SEQ Water Strategy 2010

“Benefits of diversification - A dam operated in conjunction with a desalination facility or purified recycled water scheme has the potential to yield a greater supply than the same dam operated in isolation. Desalination facilities and purified recycled water schemes can deliver these benefits as standby facilities— increasing the amount that can be taken from dams when storage levels are high. This mode of operation reduces operating costs and energy consumption.”

The Qld Government’s new 30 year water strategy is being developed in two phases.

Phase 1 was the release of the Queensland's water sector: a 30-year strategy - discussion paper in December 2012 for a three-month public consultation period (now closed).

Phase 2 is the development of the strategy itself.

Climate resistant water sources are important for our economy.  Business can be confident that they will have the necessary water to operate. The community can have confidence that government is planning for potential and highly likely future scenarios where water supply from traditional sources might be less reliable. Water security is about ensuring that there is adequate water supply to meet the needs of the South East Qld (SEQ) community over the long term, including during drought.

In response to Millennium Drought, the SEQ Water Grid was set up in 2007. The $9 billion network carries harvested and manufactured water to 2.6 million people across 21 000 square kilometres. Its treatment facilities and two-way pipes are intended to guarantee water supply security, regardless of climate change and population growth.

Currently costing $76 million a month, the grid operates bulk water infrastructure assets, such as dams, weirs, water treatment plants, and pipelines. It also includes the Gold Coast Desalination Plant (GCDP) and the Western Corridor Recycled Water Scheme (WCRWS), termed the climate resilient or manufactured water assets.

Planning for bulk water supplies in South East Qld is the responsibility of a statutory authority, Seqwater. The review will be undertaken in consultation with Seqwater and the water service providers. It will inform the Qld Government who will then set the new desired LOS objectives.

The supply of water is capital intensive, requiring significant investment in strategic infrastructure. According to a Qld Audit Office report the combined replacement cost of the grid assets at 30 June 2012 was $6.342 billion and their carrying values were $5.498 billion. A further $2.640 billion in value of assets was transferred to Seqwater on 1 January 2013.

The decision to develop the manufactured water assets was an appropriate response to the severe drought circumstances at the time, and they have provided water security.

However, the Qld Audit Office believes the cost-efficiency of these assets cannot be demonstrated, due to limited comparative benchmarking data and inconsistent operation of the plants in any one mode for a sustained period of time. 

At present, the LOS objectives for South East Qld are outlined in the South East Qld System Operating Plan.
The current LOS objectives state, that the South East Qld bulk water supply system must be able to provide an average urban water allowance of 375 litres per person per day (this includes residential and non-residential demand and system losses) during non-drought times.

This allowance has been in place since 5 March 2010. However, current data on actual water use in South East Queensland shows that average daily demands have been substantially less than this allowance in recent years.

The desired LOS provides users with an indication of what water restrictions may be imposed during droughts and how long restrictions might last for. LOS also outlines other security measures necessary to ensure continuity of essential supplies during drought.

A discussion paper  provides information on water security planning in SEQ, the process of the LOS review and the proposed changes.

The paper seems to focus on issues of quantity and does not address water quality, water reuse or integrated water management.

Department of Energy and Water Supply is seeking feedback. They are particularly seeking feedback about the potential of having more severe water and more frequent water restrictions during drought vs further expenditure on drought response infrastructure.

An additional paper (a consultation regulatory impact statement) will be made available in the coming weeks to provide supplementary information about the considerations made in developing the proposal for the revised LOS objectives.

Comments can be made on the proposed changes to the water security framework until 31 December 2013. The Department of Energy and Water Supply will then consider the submissions made and assess potential implications such as cost, before prescribing the new LOS in mid-2014.

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