A Pipeline to Sustainability

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-By Aleisha Parr

With so much attention focused on dealing with the recently excessive rainfall and floods across Queensland and Victoria, it is easy to forget about Australia’s underlying water crisis – its desperate lack of reliable water. Australia is actually the driest inhabited continent, with far too many communities plagued by chronic water shortages and droughts. These water woes have led to government issued water restrictions in many regions and cities over the last several years, but it is clear that Australians needs to develop a more permanent and successful plan for water preservation and acquisition in order to continue to grow and develop as a nation.

Mitchell Water, Australia’s largest dedicated water pipeline contractor, has been developing and implementing pipeline systems for nearly thirty years, helping communities across Australia to obtain their water needs. Offering a complete design and construct service, Mitchell Water’s solutions extend from efficient pipeline network design, directional drilling, storage tank and pump station construction including programming control and SCADA communications, through to bulk earthworks and poly lining for reservoirs and channels. In a recent publication, Mitchell Water boasts, “We are not limited by the size of the task, the location or the complexity, and remain committed to delivering excellence in pipeline construction.”

Although it began in 1982 as a small family run business, through the dedication of its founding family and their loyal workforce, it has seen record growth over the past five years with the successful completion of nearly 9000 km of water pipelines, 32 pump stations, 82 tanks and 25 earthen storages up to 140 ML. The company now turns a sizable yearly profit, servicing the entire continent.

Part of that process included increasing capabilities through building up a committed and reliable workforce and amassing the largest fleet of specialised pipeline trenching equipment anywhere in Australia. The fleet includes equipment imported from North America as well as innovative machinery including trenchers, vibratory ploughs, and trench screening and backfilling equipment developed by Mitchell Water.

One important innovation championed by Mitchell Water is the Modified Vibratory Plough, which was recently developed to install HDPE up to 125 mm diameter and 1200 mm deep without creating any trenches or surface grading and ensuring ultimately no soil erosion or sinkage. In normal circumstances without the use of this technology, the topsoil would have to be removed and set aside, the trench dug and the pipeline inserted, then re-covered with the original ground and the topsoil returned. This technology reduces damage done to crop areas, and also allows for more accuracy and navigational control when working in cultural preservation areas where artefacts are at risk of being disturbed.

Recounts Mr Bennett, “Farmers were absolutely impressed. They kept saying to us ‘This is marvellous. You’re not upsetting the ground in which we grow our crops, where we grow our pasture’.”

Mr Bennett attributes the company’s success also to its devotion to helping improve the quality of life of residents and to increase productivity of local industry within these areas. Referring to a recent project out in Tungameh, Mr Bennett explained, “They only used to get water three or four times a year. It would flush through the channels into the dams and then they’d be expected to use the water in the dams all sorts of domestic purposes, supported by rainwater of course. In times of drought, they didn’t have water. At the end of the project the farmers would come up and say simply that they now have water on tap 365 days a year of a good quality that they could drink it.”

This particular project involved the installation of a domestic system throughout middle Victoria. Mitchell Water installed 776 outlets over a total of 360 km, ultimately saving approximately 80% of water previously lost in the area. Although a very successful project, the Tungameh pipeline was small compared to a more recent endeavour carried out in Wimmera Mallee, which covered almost 9000 km of terrain, roughly 10% of all of Victoria. Jointly funded by the Commonwealth of Australia, the Victorian State Government and water users, the project was overseen by the Grampians Wimmera Mallee Water Corporation and benefited 36 towns across the region by providing water that had previously been unavailable. With an initial project completion period assumed for ten years, Mitchell Water was able to deliver on every requirement of the multiple phase $415 million project in just three and a half years – an incredible feat and a great testament to Mitchell Water’s capabilities.

The situation in Wimmera Mallee prior to Mitchell Water’s work was so bad, in fact, that many residents and farmers did not have access to water most of the time. In certain cases, Mitchell Water allowed these communities to use the systems they were creating, even without a commission tendered yet, just to ensure that they were able to get the water they so badly needed. This generosity fuels much of the work carried out by Mitchell Water.

Mr Bennett shares his feelings on the Wimmera Melle project, “The sheer size of the Wimmera Mallee project means that for us it’s one of the feathers in our cap. It was the largest irrigation domestic project ever undertaken in Australia and we’re really proud of it. It’s a great feeling that we then saved 95% of the water that they used to use. So, in Australia where water’s a scarce resource, it makes you feel proud that you provided that benefit.”

Mitchell Water’s work far surpasses merely providing a service to communities; it actually changes peoples’ lives. Property values increase, standards of living improve; indeed, even the little things that we sometimes take for granted – like being able to take a shower without worrying about consuming water preserved for drinking water – can be life-changing.

Adds Ross Bennett, Director of Business Development for Mitchell Water, “I can’t understand, myself, why they don’t implement that right across all the farming regions of Australia, particularly the more intensified farming areas, where people are still presuming that they can live on the little rainwater that falls out of the sky. It’s quite feasible to pipe water to large areas of farming. The difference it makes to people’s lives just to have stock domestic water, and the very little amount of water it actually uses is incredible.”

Making Sense of Management

Management is the art, or science, of getting things done through people. Sounds fairly straightforward – except for the fact that people are not robots waiting to do our bidding. People have their own minds, motivations, and goals. So how do managers keep operations – and the people behind them – running as planned?

November 21, 2018, 3:45 AM AEDT