By Jeremy Sollars
The Southern Downs Regional Council is calling for tenders from consultants to undertake a ‘critical asset condition assessment’ of its water and wastewater treatment plants across the region, with millions of dollars’ worth of capital works slotted into budget forecasts over the next decade.
Tender documents on the Queensland Local Government ‘Tenderbox’ online portal show the council is seeking a “suitably qualified consultant to critically analyse water and wastewater assets and provide condition assessments relevant to each site”.
The analysis relates to its water treatment plants at Warwick, Stanthorpe, Wallangarra and Killarney and its wastewater or sewage treatment plants (WWTPs) in Warwick and Stanthorpe.
The Stanthorpe wastewater treatment plant on Quart Pot Creek is the subject of an ongoing investigation by the Queensland Department of Environment and Science (DES) into accidental sewage releases into the creek over the last several years.
The council could face potential State environmental fines of up to $4 million due to the raw and treated effluent releases, which it has previously blamed on human error by employees.
But documents obtained by the Free Times under Right To Information (RTI) in early 2018 showed equipment failures at the treatment plant were to blame, with staff having raised issues around faulty components with their supervisors which were not addressed in a timely manner.
Another major release of raw sewage into the Condamine River in Warwick took place in late 2017, which the council said was the result of an Ergon power failure during heavy rainfall which caused a sewage pump station near the new Bunnings on Condamine Street to fail.
The Free Times asked DES for an update on its investigations into the releases and received the following response from a departmental spokesman in the last week of September –
“The Department of Environment and Science (DES) is continuing to monitor the Southern Downs Regional Council’s (Council) efforts to address issues with its sewage treatment operations,” the spokesman said.
“Severe drought conditions have had an effect on the Southern Downs area, and DES will continue to work with Council to better understand any impacts these dry conditions may have on the sewage network.
“The Environmental Evaluation Notice issued in 2017 relating to the management of the sewerage network at Stanthorpe remains current, and requires Council to regularly report to DES about its ongoing monitoring of the sewerage network.
“The department notes that Council has invested more than $52,000 into reducing the risk of future overflows throughout the sewerage network in Warwick and will continue to monitor Council’s sewerage network performance to ensure it is operated in a way that minimises environmental impacts and complies with environmental obligations.”
The council’s tender specification document states that the “specification does not relieve the Respondent (council) from its responsibility to comply with all relevant Australian and International Standards, industry best practice and in accordance with all relevant and applicable legislation, statutory regulations and codes”.
“Southern Downs Regional Council values proactive management of assets and process, enabling efficient and effective planning,” the document states.
“Comprehensive condition assessment of SDRC’s Water and Wastewater treatment plants will provide transparency in budget and resource allocation, now and into the future.
“A high level summary of the required work under this Project is as follows: 1. Determine standard a. criticality matrices; and b. risk matrices, for condition assessments of water and wastewater assets throughout Southern Downs Regional Council area.
“Condition assessment of Council’s Water and Wastewater Treatment assets will ensure SDRC is able to continue to provide water and wastewater services over the long term in a cost-effective manner.
“This will be accomplished by collecting data on existing assets, completing process audits of water and wastewater assets and providing collected information in a format to allow Council to import the information into an asset management system.
“The Project includes development of matrices for criticality and risk, for global use in this and subsequent condition assessments across water and wastewater infrastructure in the region.
“The matrices will be able to be used as a tool to inform and develop a hierarchy of criticality.”
The tenders close on Friday 1 November 2019.
The council currently has the following spending on water supply and wastewater capital works factored into its 10-year forecast capital works budget, including full re-location of the Stanthorpe Wastewater Treatment Plant –
• Provision for Critical Water Supply Infrastructure Failure – $7m
• Relining of Wastewater mains to reduce inflow and infiltration – $5.2m
• Relocate Stanthorpe WWTP (sewage treatment plant) and upgrade – Stage 1 – $9.4m
• Warwick Wastewater Treatment Plant upgrade – $5.5m
Several million dollars are also forecast to be spent over the next decade on associated capital works, including upgrades and renewals of water and sewage pump stations.