A cloud is hanging over Yass Valley Council’s commitment to replace much of the Yass Water Treatment Plant to address the town’s water supply issues of colour, taste, odour and hardness.

Local Member Wendy Tuckerman, Councillors and staff along with Department of Planning, Infrastructure & Environment (water) representatives held a workshop earlier this month ahead of consideration of the recommendations within the report before Councillors tonight (Wednesday, Dec 16).

Yass Valley Councillors will consider whether to push ahead with stage one of a proposed $31.9 million Water Treatment Plant upgrade project but without agreement from NSW DPIE on the more costly stages two and three.

If this is not resolved, it could leave ratepayers with a significant shortfall to cover costs similar to the raising of the dam wall or could see the components of the project shelved which were put forward by Yass Valley Council to DPIE to address water hardness in the town’s water supply.

The reports is asking Councillors to consider the option of an independent peer review to break the stalemate on options with DPIE. It’s the first time in two terms of local government that a peer review has been put forward as a strategic mechanism to further an issue before the state government for the people of Yass. The last time a peer review was used was to justify the reduction in minimum rural lot sizes from 80-40 hectares change, which was a successful process.

The recommendation before councillors includes:

The implementation of Stage 1 be progressed as a priority in advance of finalising discussions on Stages 2. Discussions continue with DPIE (Water) in parallel with the implementation of Stage 1 to resolve the design framework for any new or upgraded water treatment plant including an independent peer review of the technical options selection.

The report states: At this stage, DPIE (Water) do not agree with the comprehensive nature of the upgrade proposed by Council for a range of technical, operational and cost-related reasons e.g. Softening method (Reverse Osmosis verses Lime Softening) and New clarifiers and filters however there is agreement between Council and DPIE (Water) regarding Stage 1.

The Council report asks councillors to consider the impacts on local household water charges with any self-funding of the shortfall between the estimated cost and the available grant funding for a new water treatment plant. Alternatives water supply sources and the potential to reduce the need and/or scope for a new water treatment plant (including the timing of the delivery of any alternate source).

FINANCIAL IMPLICATIONS

In December 2018 Council determined to accept the grant of $1,200,000 for preparing a detailed design and final business case under the State Government’s Restart NSW Housing Acceleration Fund for the Yass Murrumbateman – Water Quality Improvement Project. For the preparation of Detailed Design and Business Case, funds from the Water Fund Reserve were allocated to commence the work in 2018/19, 2019/20 Operational Plan and also in 2020/21 Operational Plan. Funding for the construction will be the subject of a further application to the RestartNSW Fund on completion of this project. Maximum funding subject to further application to Restart NSW and its approval is $10 million, including the cost of this detailed design and business case preparation. Estimated Project Cost for the construction of the preferred option is $31.9 million. It is necessary to seek additional funding for construction while proceeding with this work.

The proposed Water Treatment Plant Upgrade is to reliably comply with the Australian Drinking Water Standards and deal effectively with the treatment of taste, odour and colour is based on three stages.

Below are the Stage Features with Base Cost Contingency include:

Stage1 Raw Water Pump Station, Bubble Plume Aeration & Urgent works at the treatment plant = $1.4M + $0.6M + $2.0M

Stage 2 New Water Treatment Facilities options costs at $19.0M, $7.6M or $26.6M

Stage 3 Rehabilitation of existing treatment units $3.3M $1.3M $4.6M

Options could TOTAL $23.7M, $9.5M or $33.2M

Council’s position is that the implementation of options other than a new water treatment plant will have significant risks with Water supply interruptions during refurbishment / cut-overs to the existing plant. The potential for cost escalations and delays due to unforeseen conditions with the existing water treatment plant. Increased length of project duration, including re-establishment costs with each stage progressive commissioning.

The raw water pump station upgrade and bubble plume aeration will benefit drinking water in the short term during extreme events and could readily precede future major upgrades. The funding provider, Housing Acceleration Fund, is agreeable to the added scope for Stage 1 subject to a business case prior to the release of any funds. It should be noted that the funding agreement with HAF is for the preparation of a detailed design and business case by Jun 30 2021. The report claims current delays make this target difficult to achieve.

The report also states – From the workshop discussions, there was general agreement that Stage 1 should be progressed as a priority. For any major project, it is not unreasonable to undertake construction in stages. Accordingly progressing with Stage 1 as a priority at this point is consistent with the Council resolution in May 2020. However, Stage 1 is by no means the solution to the current water quality problems of Yass, so it is essential that further discussions be held with DPIE (Water) in relation to Stage 2 and 3 of the project.