Most readers will join me in embracing the end of 2020 as it fast approaches. I feel equally sure that anyone reflecting on 2020 will have mixed emotions about the past 12 months under a set of unprecedented circumstances.
In March, coronavirus (COVID-19) blindsided global communities. A feeling of vulnerability prevailed. Experts scrambled to predict the likely impact of the pandemic, its potential to disrupt economies and industries.
When the Australian Government identified agriculture as an essential service under its COVID-19 response, it was our green light to continue supplying communities with the lifeblood that fuels primary production across northern Victoria. From that point, our focus shifted from challenges to solutions and how our team would continue delivering water when and where it was needed, without face-to-face contact with our customers, stakeholders or our colleagues.
Balancing the safety of our staff with customer needs and adhering to Victorian Government advice, within a matter of days, more than 450 GMW staff were either working from home, or starting their workday from home. For some, that meant sharing an office with a spouse while home schooling children. For others, it meant isolation, with only virtual communication to rely on. The good news is that these challenges led to success.
In 2020, Goulburn-Murray Water’s (GMW) business as usual is worth celebrating. Our call centre alone has received 28,720 calls since March compared to the same time last year when we received 27,287 calls. Our water delivery consultants received 21,735 calls this year compared to 24,304 during the same time period last year. This year, we delivered more than labour 22,000 hours under a $3 million dollar program of Winter Works providing jobs for local contractors at a time when employment was needed most. Important maintenance and refurbishment was carried out to ensure the system remains affordable and efficient.
GMW’s proposal for a landmark reduction in our revenue requirements was endorsed in June enabling a roll-out of valuable changes to our tariff structure. As a result, most customers are now receiving a 10 per cent drop on their bills.
That brings me to the close-out of Australia’s largest ever irrigation modernisation project. In October, the GMW Connections team achieved its completion milestone. This $2 billion investment into our irrigation delivery system will save 429 gigalitres of water, annually (long-term average) once lost to the system.
The Connections Project built a modern, efficient irrigation network by decommissioning more than 1,700 kilometres of channel, remediating more than 300 km of channel, upgrading more than 9,500 outlets, rationalising more than 5650 outlets and modernising more than 7,600 landowners to achieve its water savings target.
Next year, irrigators will receive a share of 75 gigalitres of water savings achieved by the Project. Our team is in the final stages of planning to ensure that all eligible customers receive the correct amount of water shares or financial benefit. We will soon be communicating with our customers to provide more information on what they need to do. Please visit our website regularly for updates in the meantime.
Rapid transformation has taken place at GMW this year in the face of obvious challenges and I am proud of the progress we have made. While the transformation chapter is coming to an end, we understand the significance of the role GMW plays in the future prosperity and resilience of our region. We know that continuing to partner with our customers and stakeholders and embracing a culture of continuous improvement is pivotal right now and for future generations.
We have some exciting prospects for 2021 including the Water Efficiency Project that will further modernise pockets of the Goulburn Murray Irrigation District. This project has been submitted to the Australian Government for funding after the Water Minister Lisa Neville MP determined it would attract neutral or positive socio-impacts to our region.
As we approach the end of 2020, I’d like to thank my staff for their commitment and resilience in a year that has seen more challenges than we could have ever imagined 12 months ago. I would also like to thank our customers and stakeholders for working with us on a sometimes challenging journey in 2020.
COVID-19 has affected everyone in our regional communities, however our business continuity plans have demonstrated that even in a pandemic we can continue to deliver services and respond to our customers’ needs.
Wishing you and your families well for the festive season.