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Bushfire damages Kangaroo Island water infrastructure

With bushfires continuing to devastate South Australia’s Kangaroo Island, SA Water is working to bring fire-damaged infrastructure back online. 

The Middle River Water Treatment Plant, which supplies water to more than 1500 people, was significantly damaged by the bushfire front that went through the area on 3 January.

This damaged the plant’s electrical equipment, remote monitoring and network controls and communications systems, as well as several buildings.

SA Water General Manager of Asset Operations and Delivery Mark Gobbie said the utility’s staff had come from across the state to repair the plant.

“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,” Gobbie said.

“Ongoing fire activity across the region has interrupted access to the treatment plant site and been the main variable in our reconstruction timeframe, 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 to the island has so far been maintained, with SA Water drawing on a number of resources of changing the configuration of the local water network. 

This is possible as Kangaroo Island customers are usually supplied with drinking water from one of two separate sources: the Middle River Reservoir or the Penneshaw Desalination Plant.

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

“To get safe, clean drinking water to the western part of the Middle River network, generators are temporarily powering pumping infrastructure and a mobile chlorinator.”

Gobbie said it is important for customers to understand the water is safe to drink but isn’t filtered, so there could be some natural discolouration caused by organic material in the Middle River catchment area and a slightly smoky odour from ash that has entered the catchment.

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To help improve the quality of water put through the network the utility has sourced two mobile filtration plants that can treat about 2 ML of water each day, which are expected to begin operating shortly.

“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,” Gobbie said.

An additional mobile water filtration plant provided by the Australian Defence Force, which can produce up to 300,000 L 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,” 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.”

The blaze on Kangaroo Island first broke out on 20 December due to a lightning strike but escalated rapidly. It has now destroyed more than 170,000 hectares, including most of the tFlinders Chase National Park, and has claimed two lives.