Facing up to big challenges

By Country News

Goulburn-Murray Water shares a challenge with water utilities across Australia — how to ensure our infrastructure continues to work well for customers, at an affordable price and with consistency into the future.

For G-MW, it is the challenge.

We are the largest rural water authority in the country, serving the nation’s largest irrigated agriculture region.

Much of the $5billion in infrastructure we use daily to harvest, store and deliver water ranks among the oldest in the country — our dams, weirs and channels have been in use for many decades and some in excess of a century.

On the other end of the scale, G-MW is now receiving the benefit of new assets from the Connections project, a $2billion investment in state-of-the-art water delivery systems.

Old or new, our customers expect these assets to operate efficiently because they pay for it — a substantial amount of our revenue and operating costs goes to managing and maintaining our assets. I am mindful every dollar must deliver real value for money.

I am also mindful much has changed in a relatively short time in the Goulburn Murray Irrigation District. Not only do we have challenges with climate change, declining water availability and new, emerging farming enterprises, G-MW and its stakeholders are well aware we are delivering about half as much water in the district than we were barely 20 years ago.

In short, we face the prospect of maintaining an asset base designed to deliver large volumes of water — and we are supplying less of it.

We are reducing costs to create a business model that meets these challenges. Indeed, we are currently making top-down corporate changes to do just that.

However, reducing costs alone is neither sufficient or a clever-enough, long-term solution — we must also avoid spending where we can while at the same time invest wisely in the assets critical to the long-term prosperity of the GMID.

My career in the water industry has had many instances of applying innovation to fix a problem.

I am proud to report G-MW is in the final stages of developing a new planning tool — our Channel-by-Channel Framework. This is a new asset management approach designed to deliver the best bang for the buck to our customers.

Using our in-house engineering and planning expertise, the Channel-by-Channel Framework applies a more commercial focus on what we repair and maintain, how we do this, why and when we do work to keep the GMID running at peak efficiency.

We now have the technology to apply years of data to more than 200 ‘pods’, or distinct sections of the GMID’s irrigation network, to identify common trends in water use, productivity and future needs to determine the most cost-effective maintenance across the region.

And it works.

Applying the Channel-by-Channel Framework allowed G-MW to recently review a package of 59 planned projects along 60km of channel in Shepparton.

Opportunities were identified to restrict this to 19 projects on 14km of channel — avoiding $10million in costs to our customers.

The business transparency we are bringing to our pricing, reflected in workshops and drop-in days being held across the GMID, will be applied as we further develop our Channel-by Channel Framework to the irrigation network.

We are now progressively briefing our water services committee members and key stakeholders on the best application of this planning tool to help us all guide long-term investment for the irrigation network.

I am an engineer with an entire career in the water industry, so I like fixing things and ensuring they are fit for purpose.

My executive management experience has shown me this can only be done effectively when customers are included every step of the way.

I am committed to ensuring G-MW is a key part of the long-term prosperity of the GMID.

Through this column and other means we will keep you informed of this initiative; it is a major step in getting there.