As the largest rural water authority in the country serving the nation’s most extensive irrigated agricultural region, Goulburn-Murray Water (GMW) manages assets spanning 68,000 kilometres across northern Victoria. Valued at more than $5 billion, maintenance of these assets comes with a unique set of challenges.
Some of this infrastructure, used daily, to harvest, store and deliver water, ranks among the oldest in the country – our dams, weirs and channels have been in use for many decades and some in excess of a century. On the other hand, thanks to a $2 billion upgrade of the delivery system, funded by the Australian and Victorian governments, GMW’s asset base also features state-of-the art infrastructure.
As many of you know, we are cutting our costs by almost $20 million per annum for the next four years with future operating expenditure reduced by $14.4 million per annum. With this in mind, I want to describe to you the innovative framework GMW is drawing on to achieve these landmark budgets. And I know many of you will relate to our methods; farm businesses, although perhaps on a smaller scale, face similar challenges with ageing assets and complex budget decisions to make.
Throughout the year we undertake works with the most intense period at the end of the irrigation season to ensure our delivery system is running at peak efficiency when the season opens again on August 15. This multi-million dollar, annual program, employs local contractors wherever possible to undertake works from remodelling channel to refurbishing pump stations.
As the nature of our asset base changes thanks to modernisation, the way we prioritise maintenance needs must also evolve. A game changer in this space for GMW has been our Channel-by-Channel Framework which provides a range of data insights to make sure we have access to up-to-date and accurate information. This framework is crucial when it comes to ensuring our infrastructure is ‘fit for purpose’, for current use in the current climate. We now have the technology to apply years of data to more than 200 “pods”, or distinct sections of the GMID’s irrigation network, to identify common trends in water use and productivity. This information allows informed decisions on infrastructure needs for that specific location, and assists us in determining the most cost-effective maintenance across the region.
We start by considering operational needs and service performance, we then assess the condition of an asset, and finally we determine risks. To put it very simply, assets receiving the most use, in the worst condition will be replaced or maintained before the newest asset receiving the least use or an old asset, in poor condition but receiving little use. The cost of maintenance is compared with replacement of the asset and a risk assessment of the decision applied.
Our in-house engineering and planning expertise, allows GMW to apply a commercial focus on what we repair and maintain, how we do this, why and when. The ultimate goal is programmed schedules for each type of asset to achieve optimal, but affordable, asset life expectancy.
This year, winter works have been undertaken with a unique challenge we all face and that is to provide an essential service while practising social distancing. Our local contractors and GMW staff are adhering to strict government guidelines and as a side note, we ask customers and the community to avoid approaching our staff for a chat or to shake hands as many people do whilst going about their normal on-farm work.
We look forward to the season opening in less than a month.