In 2003, the Victorian Government helped elevate the topic of water quality in Australia by introducing the Safe Drinking Water Act. Queensland's Water Supply Safety and Reliability Act (the Act) introduced in July 2008 is now also focusing attention, and efforts, toward improving quality and standards.
The Queensland Act, which was initiated as part of a push toward improving Queensland's water quality management and compliance with Australian Drinking Water Guidelines, requires water service providers to prepare drinking water quality management plans and will be phased in from July 2011 to 2013, dependent upon the size of the service provider. The larger providers will have the shortest amount of time to prepare and there is much work to be done in order to achieve the targets.
The community and elected representative expectation is that water supplied to communities be safe for all State residents, regardless of location. In a sign of the legislation's importance, the State Government established the Office of Water Supply Regulation within the Department of Environment & Resource Management which has, as one of its key duties, the review and approval of drinking water quality management plans of the 80 to 90 water service providers around the State.
According to the requirements under the Act, it is not a simple one-to-one equation that will call for each water service provider to prepare a single drinking water management plan for its given jurisdictions. While there are only about 80 to 90 providers around the State, some will need to prepare plans for multiple schemes, which may result in as many as 300 to 400 plans being implemented.
For example, water service providers in councils such as Toowoomba Regional Council or Somerset Regional Council, which serve multiple towns with their own independent water supplies, will need to prepare separate water management plans for each. It is only in circumstances where these supplies are integrated that one overarching plan can be applied.
Suddenly the deadlines – 2011 for large utilities, 2012 for medium utilities and 2013 for small utilities – do not appear so far away, particularly when many councils do not have the resources or specialist skills available to develop even one plan in-house. And while taking a phased approach provides smaller organisations, which generally have less funds available to support work such as this, the most time to achieve full compliance, the Office of Water Supply Regulation has requested that all providers (regardless of size) contribute detailed reports on drinking water quality for the 2009 calendar year. This data will allow the Office to determine current water quality and performance and identify any areas that need additional investigations or support.
This legislation affords water service providers an occasion to develop a plan, or plans, to help ensure water of the highest quality is provided to residents for years to come. To take full advantage of this opportunity, there are a few recommendations that should be kept top of mind:
- Assess your situation. Given the time and cost implications of this legislation, it is important that water service providers quickly determine whether they have the capacity to prepare plans that are compliant, effective and manageable.
- Ask for help. Management plans as detailed in the legislation will need to be reviewed by independent auditors. Providers are therefore recommended to include specialists in the early evaluation stages where appropriate to avoid being subject to significant reworks to obtain approvals. Try to make sure the people you use in these early stages have an understanding of the regulations and water supply network operations.
- Consider future regulatory expectations. Ensure the plans developed are not unnecessarily complex – develop them in a manner that suits your current state and can be adhered to now and also down the track as regulations change.
There is considerable risk for non-compliance to the legislation. Not having a plan in place by the required deadline may lead to penalties, and supplying water that is not fit for purpose will result in even harsher consequences. The legislation does include maximum fines of up to 3000 penalty units (equating to $300,000, as at September 2009). While these penalties are harsh enough, the broader implications of a service provider's reputation within the community is a key long term risk.
Headquartered in Broomfield Colorado, MWH is a private, employee-owned firm with approximately 7,000 employees worldwide. We provide water, wastewater, energy, natural resource, program management, consulting and construction services to industrial, municipal and government clients in the Americas, Europe, Middle East, India, Asia and the Pacific Rim.
About Tom Belgrove
Tom Belgrove has 30 years of experience in various roles within local government and water utilities. He is currently MWH's Brisbane-based Group Manager, Business Solutions. In this role, he leads a team of strategic consultants who partner with public and private organisations to evaluate and improve business performance through the efficient management of people, assets, resources and budgets. As Acting Manager for a water authority, Tom had considerable experience negotiating and reporting on compliance requirements with regulators.
Throughout Tom's career, he has held a number of leadership positions within the industry, including President of the Australian Water Association in Queensland and a member of AWA's National Board of Directors.
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