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Here’s how Arup helped an Indigenous community with water supply solutions

When it comes to ensuring remote communities have safe and reliable water supplies, thinking outside the box is a necessity. One innovative partnership has shown how this delivers sustainable solutions.

Presenting on Arup’s work in designing safe and reliable water supply solutions for an Indigenous community in far north Queensland at Ozwater’18, Arup Water Consultant Priyani Madan said initial efforts to supply water failed as a result of challenging environmental factors.

“Arup have been working with the Lama Lama community on the Port Stewart River since 2015. The community hasn’t had safe or reliable drinking water for over a decade now,” Madan said.

“They had a system that was set up in the early 2000s, but soon after that there was a cyclone, which affected their water source. The pump stopped working, the well was destroyed and, on top of that, the river floods during the wet season and dries up during the dry season.”

Madan said the community dug up a makeshift pond, but that water source is heavily polluted with high levels of E coli and iron.

“For the past few years, Arup have been working with the Indigenous organisations Yintingga Aboriginal Corporation (YAC), composed of members of the Lama Lama community, and the Centre of Appropriate Technology (CAT Ltd.), facilitated by the Engineers Without Borders Connect program.”

Solving the community’s water supply issues was a challenging task, Madan said, with a huge array of variables and safety considerations to take into account.

“The design process was tricky. There are incredibly high temperatures, risk of bushfires and risk of cyclones. We also had to design a system that was accessible from quite far away because during the wet season the river floods and there is danger from crocodiles,” Madan said.

“There is just about every risk you can imagine with this location. On top of that, there are limited services, so the design needed to run on solar. The solution also requires minimum maintenance as the community does not have extensive technical knowledge and requires low ongoing costs.”

Arup worked on the water intake design and the treatment solution, both of which needed to be customised for location constraints and reliability.

“For the water intake, we designed a submerged bore pump, but it is diagonal to the surface and retrievable from the top of the main river channel using a pulley system,” Madan said.

“It is also completely buried, unlike some of the systems they’ve had in the past, meaning that it can access water during wet and dry seasons. It is protected from the elements and safe to access during floods.”

Madan said the treatment solution needed to be appropriate for the location and adhere to cost constraints, in addition to minimising the use of chemicals.

“We ended up finding a filter that was being used at a nearby community. It’s an electricity-free, chemical-free filter, which runs on the pressure of the intake pumps,” she said.

“The water is pumped into the filter at high pressure, aerated, which oxidises the water, and then the precipitated iron will be filtered out. It also has an automatic backwash cycle. For the E coli, we have recommended a UV treatment system run on solar and battery. The proposed system uses a lot of the existing pipework and infrastructure they already have.”

Madan said it is crucial to take local constraints into consideration if the design is intended to last, and that partnering with Indigenous organisations and working with the community is key to ensuring reliable water supply.

“Working with Indigenous communities is all about employing appropriate technologies and making sure it’s right for the local communities by working closely with them. We had to really think outside of the box and maintain regular engagement,” she said.

“The community will be setting up a water working group. There will be a few water officers trained in the operation and maintenance of the system. Once it is constructed, members from YAC and CAT Ltd., as well as Arup, will be there to train the community members, so that it is completely self-operated by the community.”

Register for Ozwater’18 to hear more from Priyani Madan about adapting water supply solutions to suit local communities.