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30 November, 2020

Water treatment plant drought-proofs Ilfracombe

RESIDENTS of Ilfracombe have, for some time, been able to relate to the words of one of America’s Founding Fathers, Benjamin Franklin, who once said, “When the well is dry, we know the worth of water.”

By Hamish Hart

Security flows…Ian Wainwright (Xylem), Brian Krishna (Xylem), David Littleproud (Maranoa MP), Tony Rayner (Longreach Regional Mayor), Lachlan Millar (Gregory MP) and Gavin Starr (Xylem) came together for the opening of the Ilfracombe Desalination and Bore Water Treatment Plant.

Hopefully, those days are behind them, thanks to the recent opening of a desalination and water treatment plant in Ilfracombe that looks to put an end to any concerns regarding water shortages in the future.

Ilfracombe suffered severe water shortages in March 2015, causing the small Outback town to transition into level four water restrictions where a complete ban on sprinklers, hoses and dripper systems was implemented.

But a special project should have consigned those days to history. Funded through the Federal Government’s Drought Communities programme, the desalination plant was officially opened on Tuesday of last week by Longreach Regional Council Mayor, Tony Rayner, and Maranoa MP, David Littleproud.

In 2018, Longreach Regional Council engaged national water infrastructure company, Xylem, to undertake the Ilfracombe Bore Water Supply project to improve the town’s water security. The $1 million project was successfully commissioned in 2019.

“Today is a proud day for all of us,” Cr Rayner said during the opening. “Ilfracombe has stuck with us as we’ve negotiated many technical and logistical challenges to get to where we are.

“Many will remember the community situation in 2015 which was one of the reasons I was prompted to stand for council in 2016. Since then it has been our focus to have increased water security for all communities in the area.

“There aren’t too many communities in Queensland that can go into a summer like we are now.”

The plant draws bore water from the Great Artesian Basin to ensure it meets Australian Drinking Water (ADW) guidelines, and according to project manager, Glen Luscombe, utilising a reverse-osmosis system would provide a reliable barrier against chemical impurities.

“For the bore at Ilfracombe, there are a number of chemical contaminants that don’t meet ADW guidelines, and the plant is ideally suited to removing contaminants found in this particular bore, including excessive fluoride, boron, turbidity, alkalinity and salinity,” Mr Luscombe said.

After being cooled in temperatures suitable for drinking, water is pre-filtered using multimedia pressure filters to remove solids and contaminants five microns or larger.

Water is then passed to the reverse-osmosis membranes, which is considered a key process of the plant.

“The reverse-osmosis process uses the osmotic principle to separate small dissolved contaminants from the water, which is achieved using a semi-permeable membrane combined with high pressures,” Mr Luscombe said.

“Treated water is then passed on to a calcite filter to demineralise and stabilise the water, where it is then treated with UV, serving as a barrier to ensure microbial contaminants are deactivated.

“Water is then chlorinated to maintain sanitation throughout the town supply network and stored in the treated-water storage tanks.”

Water Plant operator, William Krcmar

The water treated through the desalination plant will be used as supplement supply to the Shannon and Murray MacMillan dams located near Ilfracombe.

“Water security is one of the big ticket items for Longreach Regional Council,” Cr Rayner said. “Through a mix of improvements to the dams, and the bore and water treatment plants, the Ilfracombe community is guaranteed good water security and supply.

“Even in the worst case scenario of both dams going dry, there is enough treated water to keep Ilfracombe out of level three restrictions and maintain good water security.”

Mr Littleproud said the opening of the plant would protect Ilfracombe from drought-related water shortages for the foreseeable future.

“During the drought, we need to empower local communities to build back better, and this plant is drought-proofing Ilfracombe,” he said. “It is something the community will benefit from.

“Drought doesn’t just hurt farmers. It hurts small businesses and the wider community, but with this funding, we can keep money flowing through areas that have been affected.

“Our regional councils are far superior to other States in that they are more forward-leaning to putting together proposals for Federal funds.

“This was never a Canberra-led solution. It was always a locally-led solution, and I congratulate the local council.

“This project will be a long-term legacy of the drought and will give secure water supply to Ilfracombe.”

Projects are underway to provide Longreach and Isisford with increased water storage.

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