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How one small water utility boosts value for customers

A new report found residents serviced by a small NSW water utility pay well below the national median. How do they provide great value at a low cost?

Shoalhaven Water received strong ratings by the NSW Department of Primary Industries, Lands and Water Triple Bottom Line (TBL) framework. The TBL is a performance measure that allows councils and local water utilities to compare themselves with others and ensure they meet best practice guidelines.

Its commercial success can be attributed to a number of factors including their size, said Director of Shoalhaven Water Carmel Krogh.

“Because we’re in local government, we’re very close to our political leaders as well as our customers,” said Krogh.

Shoalhaven Water’s political and community connections allow them a broader understanding of the government and social needs of the Shoalhaven area.

“We are a small enough utility to be able to understand our customers, but large enough to have economies of scale as well,” she said.

“We can really focus on what we want to achieve as a business and do the very best that we can for our customers, while being aware of the external environment.”

Data showed that Shoalhaven residents pay on average $328 per quarter compared to the NSW median of $601 and the national median of $623.

Similarly, the operating cost per 100km of water main for Shoalhaven was less than the state median at $858 compared to the NSW average of $1120. They also saw fewer pipe breaks and chokes, with 13/100km compared to 38 in NSW.

Operating costs for water supply per property were lower as well, with Shoalhaven supply costing $278 per property, compared to the state and national medians of $440 and $485 respectively.

The low rates are the legacy of a history of good planning and infrastructure by the utility, Krogh said.

“It takes good management but also it’s a good area to be in, and we’re very fortunate with our source of supply,” she said.

“We don’t have some of the challenges that some of our western neighbours have in terms of having to rely on groundwater; we have good surface water supplies.”

The team at Shoalhaven Water also received high praise for their work from Shoalhaven Mayor Amanda Findley.

“We are so lucky to have such a talented and award-winning crew at Shoalhaven Water,” she said.

“They work hard to maintain high standards and ensure constant water quality and consistency.”