Cleaning up Middle River Water Treatment Plant

The Middle River Water Treatment Plant on Kangaroo Island, which supplies more than 1,500 customers, has been rendered temporarily inoperable after sustaining significant damage by a bushfire front that went through the area on the night of 3 January.

Damage was caused to the plant’s electrical equipment, remote monitoring and network controls and communications systems, as well as several buildings on site.

SA Water General Manager of Asset Operations and Delivery, Mark Gobbie, said that staff had been mobilised from across the state to repair the Middle River Water Treatment Plant since gaining access to the site on Sunday 5 January.

“Our team is making good progress, but realistically, we’re looking at around two weeks for reconstruction, with both the quality of the water and operation of the infrastructure then needing to be tested to ensure there are no other faults,” Mr Gobbie said.

“Ongoing fire activity across the region has interrupted access to the treatment plant site and been the main variable in our reconstruction time frame, and while we are doing everything we can to make sure the island continues to have water, we must keep our people safe and follow the directions of emergency services.”

Water supply has been maintained to Kangaroo Island to date, through SA Water drawing on a variety of resources and changing the configuration of the local water network.

“Our customers on Kangaroo Island are supplied drinking water from one of two separate sources – the Middle River Reservoir or the Penneshaw Desalination Plant,” Mr Gobbie said.

“The Penneshaw network has not been damaged by fire, so since Monday [6 January], tankers have been transporting around 500,000 litres of water a day from this network, and another on the mainland, into the Kingscote storage tank, maintaining supply to the main Kingscote township.”

Generators are temporarily powering pumping infrastructure and a mobile chlorinator to get safe, clean drinking water to the western part of the Middle River network. This includes Parndana, Kohinoor Hill, Cygnet River, some parts of Brownlow, the outskirts of Kingscote and various country lands.

“It’s important people in these areas understand this water is disinfected and safe to drink, but isn’t filtered, so customers will notice some of the natural discolouration caused by organic material in the Middle River catchment area and a slightly smoky odour from ash that has entered the catchment,” Mr Gobbie said.

To help improve the quality of water put through the Middle River network, SA Water has sourced and positioned two mobile filtration plants that can treat around two million litres of water each day. These are expected to be operating within the next few days.

“While the temporary plants will improve the aesthetic quality of the water and it will continue to be safe to drink, it’s not expected to be of the same quality as what is usually treated through the Middle River Water Treatment Plant,” Mr Gobbie said.

An additional mobile water filtration plant provided by the Australian Defence Force – which can produce up to 300,000 litres of water a day – is also being used.

“Until we reach a point when the Middle River plant can be safely operated again, it’s really important everyone continues to limit their water use to essential needs only – staying hydrated, flushing toilets and basic hygiene – and we appreciate people’s efforts so far,” Mr Gobbie said.

“For those who have been evacuated or are usually reliant on rainwater tanks, cask and bottled drinking water supplies are still available to collect from Kingscote Oval.”

SA Water previously asked Kangaroo Island customers to limit the use of non-essential drinking water due to bushfires impacting the Middle River Water Treatment Plant and pumping operations responsible for supplying drinking water in Kingscote, Parndana and surrounding areas.

The utility has asked customers to continue conserving water to help manage storage levels as it works to bring fire-damaged water infrastructure back online.

People on Kangaroo Island are encouraged to follow SA Water on Facebook and Twitter for updates on drinking water services, and anyone in urgent need of assistance should call 1300 SA WATER.

Charlotte Pordage is Editor of Utility magazine, a position she has held since November 2018. She joined the team as an Associate Editor in October 2017, after sharpening her writing and editing skills across a range of print and digital publications. Charlotte graduated from Royal Holloway, University of London, in 2011 with joint honours in English and Latin. When she's not putting together Australia's only dedicated utility magazine, she can usually be found riding her horse or curled up with a good book.

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