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Coliban Water has reported record low sewer blockages in the last year thanks to a dedicated program of sewer maintenance and preventative cleaning known as Stop the Block.

Coliban Water Executive General Manager Service Delivery, Danny McLean, said an Essential Services Commission report handed down earlier this year shows a decrease in blockages.

The Stop the Block campaign was launched in 2016, increasing investment to over $1 million each year to improve sewer performance and reduce service interruptions, overflows, and impacts to communities and the environment.

“In the last financial year, we recorded 18 blockages per 100km of sewer, which is a dramatic reduction since the 2013/14 financial year, where we recorded in excess of 60 blockages per 100km,” Mr McLean said.

“It’s also a reduction from 22 blockages per 100km in the 2019/20 financial year. “The 70 per cent reduction means more than 3,800 blockages have been avoided in the last seven years. This is a huge reduction in customer and environmental impacts. It’s also saving customers’ money on reactive sewer repairs and clean-up costs.

That’s a real win for the community,” he said. During 2020/21, there were record low blockage counts in several months, including in December and March, which contributed to an overall record low blockage rate for the year.

“We have been utilising closed circuit television (CCTV) to assess the condition of around 3,500 poor performing sewer mains throughout our region, which provides accurate information to drive our renewals program,” Mr McLean said.

In 2020-2021, approximately 600 sewer maintenance holes have been inspected across the region and a total of 40 sections of sewer main have been renewed, which is equivalent to 1.9 kilometres. “We also undertook preventative sewer cleaning of approximately 5,000 sewer mains, equating to roughly 270km. This includes 70km of sewer mains adjacent to creeks and waterways,” he said.

The data presented by the Essential Services Commission as part of the Water Performance Report 2020-21 compares Victorian water utilities on a range of metrics including customer service, water quality and sewer blockages rates.

Though Coliban Water ranked 11th out of 16 water utilities on sewer blockages per 100km of sewer main, the organisation also had the largest decrease since the 2016-17 financial year. Coliban Water was also one of only eight water utilities in Victoria to contain 100 per cent of sewer spills within five hours in 2020-21.

The organisation now has its sights firmly set on upgrading aging assets across its region. “Our focus is to continue the prioritisation of works, using the data we collect from our CCTV assessments to identify the mains most in need of maintenance, renewals and cleaning,” he said.

“We’re also looking at what other initiatives or work programs will further reduce the risk of environmental, public health or level of service incidents,” he said. Coliban Water is in the midst of preparing its Pricing Submission 2023, which sets the level of prices, investment and service for the next five years.

“The challenge for us is how do we prepare for tomorrow while being fair to customers today? Our region is facing a critical point in its water supply and demand. Our assets are aging, and our climate is getting drier. We need to prepare for this changing future,” Mr  McLean said.

Significant investment is expected to take place across the region to ensure Coliban Water can continue to serve its communities by upgrading and maintaining the sewer network.

Bin it, don’t flush it

Sewer blockages can be caused by tree roots, but it is the non-flushable items people flush down the toilet that increases the risk of blockages.

This emphasises the importance of preventative maintenance and proactive community behaviours. “Carrying out this significant program not only means fewer sewer blockages and spills, it minimises our impact on the environment and saves customers and the organisation money in responding to spills,” Mr McLean said.

“This reduction in blockage rates now brings Coliban Water in line with other Victorian water authorities and helps us work towards our Stratege 2030 goals of a cleaner environment and healthier communities.

“Our environment and sustainability policy commits us to seek the highest possible standards of environmental performance, as well as ensure the protection of waters influenced by our operations and these reductions help us meet those objectives,” he said.

The reduced blockage rates are being assisted by the Bin it, don’t flush it campaign, which aims to educate the community on what can and cannot go down toilets and drains.

The organisation has a firm commitment to Bin it, don’t flush it, featuring a social media campaign, advertising in customer newsletters
and even printed toilet paper to hand out to community groups and customers.

“We want to thank the public for their efforts to only put the three Ps down the toilet; pee, poo and toilet paper, but there is still a long way to go,” Mr McLean said.

The organisation’s Education program focuses heavily on the Bin it, don’t flush it messaging of the three Ps as well as teaching children and community groups about the wastewater process, helping future generations better understand the
sewerage system.

For further information about sewer blockages and the Bin it, don’t flush it campaign, visit www.coliban.com.au

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