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WA North West Region – Water Facility Study Tour 2019

The Western Australia (WA) Branch of the Australian Water Association arranged its first regional WA Water Site Study Tour in and around Karratha on Thursday 30 and Friday 31 May 2019, across multiple locations in the Karratha region. Here, the WA Branch shares what happened.

We partnered with Engineers Australia, ANZ, KAW Engineering and Engenium to run the tour to some of the north west region’s water and industrial facilities. The event attracted water professionals, engineers and beyond from across Australia and our delegates heard from local experts on water challenges & technologies and connected with other water professionals and engineers.

The aim of the tour was to incorporate a combination of site tours and presentations/speakers, making it accessible to our more remote and regional members, showcasing the specific challenges of our remote and regional communities/industry, recognising and incorporating cultural diversity through inclusion of an Indigenous rock art tour and aiming to cross-collaborate with other industry bodies.

On Thursday we departed the Red Earth Arts Centre in Karratha by coach and received an introduction to the Pilbara Water Supply by Kathryn Heaton, AWA WA Branch Committee Member and an engineer with the Water Corporation.

Carmel Krogh joined us for the tour for her first official AWA event as our National President who gave us some insight into AWA’s Strategy’22 and looked forward to the tour.

A visit to Harding Dam and Water Treatment Plant kicked of the tour with morning tea at the recreational pool area below Harding Dam, before Merv Lockyer gave a traditional Welcome to Country and Brendon Archer gave a brief history of the water supply from Harding Dam and the water treatment plant. Delegates visited the top of the Dam wall to see the water body and for a brisk walk, before heading to the water treatment plant for a tour of the membrane tanks by Guy Hayden.

The West Pilbara Water Supply Scheme (WPWSS) supplies the coastal ports and towns of Karratha, Dampier, Roebourne, Wickham, Cape Lambert and Point Samson.  The scheme uses 3 sources – the Bungaroo and Millstream Aquifers and the Harding Dam.  Millstream and Harding Dam are operated by the Water Corporation, Bungaroo is a Rio Tinto developed borefield integrated into the Water Corporation’s distribution network in 2011 to supply Rio’s Dampier and Cape Lambert Port areas.  Annual demand is approximately 12.4 GL from all 3 sources, 46% of water is used by about 1800 non-residential customers, remained used by about 8500 residential services.  Major industrial customers include Woodside North West Shelf and Pluto projects, Dampier Salt, Rio Tinto and Yara Pilbara Fertilisers.

Harding Dam was built in 1984 on the Harding River with a wall height of 42 m and has a capacity of 64GL and a catchment area just over 1000 km2.  It is surrounded in a beautiful Pilbara red rock and spinifex landscape.  The Harding Dam Microfiltration Treatment Plant was commissioned in July 2004 to provide high-quality drinking water for the WPWSS all year round, provided it has rained and the dam holds sufficient water.  At the time of visiting the Dam was a few months away from ceasing supply due to lack of rain and low water levels.

Prior to the treatment plant, the Harding Dam could only be used 6 to 8 months of the year due to issues with the raw water quality following weather events and dam water body inversion, which resulted in high suspended solids, turbidity, alkalinity, dissolved organic carbon and taste and odour issues. The membrane treatment plant removes most of these issues, increasing the reliability of Harding Dam as a water source for the WPWSS. The treatment plant has a capacity of 50 ML/day and has 6 membrane tanks. The tour group had the opportunity to see and touch the membrane polymer strands of an old unit on display.  There was also a robust discussion on the current issue facing all industries in the Pilbara with the failure of PE pipes in the high temperature region.

Rio Tinto’s Dampier Port Operations

After lunch on the bus we arrived at Rio Tinto’s Dampier Port Operations at Point Parker. Nothing can really prepare you for the scale of these operations. The Point Parker facility has an iron ore export capacity of 110Mt/a. The neighbouring East Intercourse Island facility has a capacity of 45 Mt/a and the newest Cape Lambert facility further east from the Burrup Peninsular has a capacity of 205 Mt/a. All three facilities rely on the Water Corporation’s town water supply for dust suppression on the large iron ore stockpiles, a demand in the order of 5 GL/a and much of it blowing in the wind from the large cannon sprinklers. It’s ironic that at a nominal iron ore moisture content of 5% Rio are exporting upwards of 15 GL of water with their iron ore. But without the dust suppression and without the moisture content the iron ore exporting would not be viable. It’s just another example of how reliant so many diverse industries are reliant on water.

Woodside’s North West Shelf Visitor Centre

While we didn't get to tour the Woodside facility we did get to visit the nearby visitors centre and learn about the processes involved both in the facility and infrastructure out on the shelf.

The presentation from the Woodside team of engineers was great, providing some interesting insight into the gas process, existing and proposed infrastructure and opportunities, and some of the more water specific elements of the process.  We even got a free water bottle to take home!

Networking dinner

A networking dinner, opened by our WA Branch President, Rachel Evans, was held at the Hampton Harbour Boat & Sailing Club where Cr Peter Long, the City of Karratha Mayor provided us with a comprehensive overview of the infrastructure, mining and agricultural projects happening in the region within the next decade whilst enjoying a Karratha sunset.

Delegates also heard from Paul Young, WA President from Engineers Australia & Project Manager at Engenium and Jarod Fitzclarence, CEO of KAW Engineering, Karratha before closing remarks from WA Branch Vice President, Peter Spencer.

Day two kicked off with a Rock Art Tour to Murujuga National Park, where our Ranger, Conrad provided us with an Aboriginal Cultural Tour at Deep Gorge.

It was then onto Yara Pilbara Fertilisers where we were given a tour of the ammonia plant which uses the abundant natural gas and the Haber-Bosch process to produce 800,000 t/a of ammonia. It was interesting to hear that at least half the engineering effort on the site is in maintenance and optimising the many water systems including seawater cooling system, generator cooling systems, desalination plant and a remineralisation plant. The bulk of the ammonia is destined for fertiliser manufacture but some goes to the adjacent Technical Ammonia Nitrate (TAN) plant which produces explosives for the local mining industry.

Our group split into two with TOUR AQUA heading to Dampier Salt. At Dampier the salt is produced from seawater pumped into the first pond (Pond Zero) and flows through a series of primary ponds. In the eighth pond, the brine reaches the ‘salting’ point (sodium chloride saturation). At this stage it has been reduced to 11% of its original volume. Sixty five tonnes of sea water are pumped in for every one tonne of product salt. Dampier’s current evaporating areas are sufficient to produce 4,200,000 tonnes of salt per year.Dampier Salt put on a great tour of their facility with an opening presentation giving some facts on the Salt making process and the history of the facility itself, followed by a fully narrated drive around the facility with some stops at the ocean inlet, processing plant, shipping area/conveyor belt system and one of the final salt ponds for a cheesey photo opportunity.

The whole team at Dampier Salt were incredibly informative and helpful answering lots of enthusiastic questions from members, and we even got some free Dampier Salt to take home with us (and a thermos mug).  A great tour!

TOUR H2O were then off to Dampier Ports Authority & Karratha No.1 Advanced Wastewater Recycling Plant. At Dampier Ports Authority Charles Kretzmann, General Manager - Engineering and Infrastructure gave a presentation on the Pilbara Ports Authority (PPA) and we had a tour of the secure PPA control centre, viewing the Dampier Port facilities from their vantage point on the hill overlooking the harbour. The PPA consists of ports at Ashburton (Onslow), Dampier and Port Hedland, and employs 233 staff.

PPA is the world’s largest bulk export port authority, accounting for approximately 50% of the world’s iron ore exports, 75% of Australian’s iron ore exports, and 7.5% of the world’s LNG exports. In 2017/18 there were 15,894 total shipping movements with a throughput of 699.3 million tonnes (Mt) with an export product value of A$83.2 billion. PPA’s commodities by volume comprise of 93% iron ore, 4% LNG/LPG, 1% salt and 2% other.   The main customers are China, Japan, Korea and Singapore. PPA are trying diversification strategies into livestock, lithium and cruise shipping.

Current projects include optimising the port channels to increase shipping movements and tonnage that can be carried. Advanced technology is used to monitor the Port from the Dampier PPA control centre.

The final site tour was at Karratha No.1 Advanced Wastewater Recycling Plant. Commissioned in 2014 at a cost of $84 million, the facility has the capacity to produce up to 6 ML of high-quality recycled water and treat up to 10 ML per day of wastewater per day.  Currently the inflows are 2.5 ML/day, reuse 1.5 to 1.8 ML/day.

Quick Facts: conventional pond treatment followed by fine screens, UF membrane filtration and 2 stage disinfection: UV and chlorination. The City of Karratha is the main customer and uses the Class A recycled effluent for green space, sporting ovals, garden bed watering and the golf course in Karratha.

Whilst some delegates departed for home late Friday afternoon, an informal networking Churrasco Brazilian BBQ dinner was held at Onyx Bar for both local and remaining delegates.

AWA’s National President, Carmel Krogh, made the following observation about the tour: “It was an absolute privilege to be a part of this study tour. Not only did it give me a far greater personal appreciation of the challenges faced in this region, it also highlighted the magnitude of the competing demands for water. It was a great credit to the organisers that in the space of 2 days we could get such a great “snapshot” of those water issues with such significant economic and social impacts. Hopefully AWA can facilitate further opportunities for members to get out of their day-today comfort zones and consider new aspects of our industry”.


We would like to thank members of our event working group: Kathryn Heaton, Marni Alexander and Kat Rischbieth (Water Corporation) for their dedication to the WA Branch in assisting us to put the event together, with support from Rino Trolio and David Hawkins.

A special thank you also goes out to our site hosts: Brendon Archer, Guy Hayden, Merv Lockyer and Aaron Bowkett (Water Corporation, North West Region); Nikola Brasell, William Palmer and Russell Turner (Rio Tinto’s Dampier Port Operations); Kate Gauntlet, Natalie Brown, Carolyn Kerr, Joel Lekias and Chris Coffey (Woodside’s North West Shelf Visitor Centre), Alan Smith, Etienne de Schepper and Amy Caudwell (Yara Pilbara Fertilisers), Sarah-Jayne Morgan and Wayne Southee (Rio Tinto – Dampier Salt) and Charles Kretzmann and Katie Payne (Pilbara Ports Authority).

Thank you to our local service providers, Hampton Harbour Boat & Sailing Club, Letitia Low and staff from Bushlolly Café, Murujuga Aboriginal Corporation, Go West Charters and Fortesque Coaches as well as the many accommodation providers for our visiting delegates.

Our events would not be successful without our program partners. Thank you to:

SponsorsThis report was written by Kathryn Heaton, Rachel Evans and Peter Spencer (WA Branch Committee representatives), Kyllie Whitehead, WA Branch Manager and Carmel Krogh, AWA National President.

If you have any queries regarding this tour or wrap up report please contact Kyllie Whitehead, WA Branch Manager, email or tel 0448 146 222.