Parkes Shire Council: Thinking differently about blue and green infrastructure
Parkes Shire’s gold mining era is long past. However, Parkes Shire Council has secured the long-term supply of an equally precious resource, water, while building new natural capital, uplifting its sustainability skills and transforming the way its team approaches infrastructure delivery.
Parkes Shire, in the Central West of New South Wales, is home to around 15,000 people. Unlike most regional towns, Parkes is remote from its water sources. The Lachlan River and a borefield within the Upper Lachlan Alluvium, supply most of the town’s water needs and are more than 30 kilometres away and 125 metres below the town.
“Most regional towns develop near a permanent water source, and only need to look further afield when they outgrow their local supply,” says Parkes Shire Council’s Director of Infrastructure, Andrew Francis.
Parkes’ geography also lives up to Australia’s reputation as a wide brown land, and any green and outdoor recreational space requires regular municipal irrigation.
“Pumping our water uphill is energy intensive and costly. Neighbouring councils can have energy bills just one sixth of ours simply because they are sited adjacent to a river.”
With the production cost of recycled water half what it is to pump water uphill, Parkes Shire Council embarked on an ambitious overhaul of its water treatment facilities in 2014.
The first $80 million project saw the development of two new facilities to treat water and sewerage, together with an advanced water recycling facility, sewerage pumping station and rising main that conveys inflows to the new treatment plant.
The new sewerage treatment plant replaced the original facility constructed in 1936, while the new water treatment plant doubled the capacity of its predecessor to 16 million litres per day.
The recycled water scheme – which Council calls its “climate resilient water supply” and which reclaims around 250 million litres of wastewater each year – is more than an additional water source. Because it is local, it does not require additional energy-intensive pumping and avoids the release of large volumes of effluent into the environment.
The water recycling facility is powered by a 197-panel solar array that offsets energy consumption. The ultraviolet and chlorination stations at the facility were carefully sized so the facility can run during daylight hours, maximising solar energy use, with the balance sourced from off-peak electricity.
“Every drop of water we can recycle is worth up to three times what it would be for a utility that is adjacent its water source,” Andrew adds. “While this project came with a capital price tag, its cost to operate over a 20-year period will be a drop in the ocean by comparison.”
The projects – impressive in their own right – were complete in 2017 and were among the first for councils in Australia to be verified by the Infrastructure Sustainability Council with the IS Rating Scheme.
Sustainability in the infrastructure industry has advanced at a rapid rate in the following five years. But the lessons learnt by Parkes Shire Council show how certification can build internal capacity and transform the way councils think about sustainability.
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