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We're investigating what the future of our rural water supply network could look like, and we need your help!

Rural customers received an information pack from us that included a questionnaire to complete. We have had excellent results so far with over 420 questionnaires completed, this is a response rate of over 35%. There are some interim questionnaire results available via the yellow button to the right of this page.

We are keeping the questionnaire open to build on the great feedback we have received to date. If you have not yet completed it and still have a hardcopy you can complete and return it to us via mail, otherwise it can be done online below. Please do not complete the survey online if you have already sent it back to us via mail.

The next steps will be for us to prepare a summary of all of the feedback received so it can be used to develop options for each of the channel systems. Once these have been developed and costed, we will be in a position to have the next round of conversations with customers. We will be in contact when we are ready to progress to the next phase of consultation. We will also make a copy of the summary report available here so that you can see the results.

There are other resources on this page to provide additional context and answer some of the questions you have. Feel free to look around.

We also want to thank those who were able to attend the drop-in sessions during March 2024. Details are listed below.

Background

In August 2023, we welcomed a $3.7 million investment announcement by the Australian Government to develop a Detailed Business Case for a more efficient rural channel system. The funding complements our $2 million investment in the project.

The Coliban Water rural network supports lifestyle, agricultural and primary industry through 12 rural supply systems, comprising 360 kilometers of channels and 140 kilometers of pipelines. We typically supply between four and seven gigalitres of raw and recycled water to rural customers each year.

Originally built to supply the former booming mining industry and associated services, our rural water network is an ageing and leaky system that can now often be found passing through growing urban areas. In its current configuration it does not always support what’s best for the region.

The channels are largely unlined and inefficient. 33%, or an estimated 3.2 gigalitres, of water is lost each year due to leaks and seepage. Similar levels are also lost from private supply channels.

Building on the work completed in the Preliminary Business Case in October 2022, this investment will support engagement work with our rural customers to develop options to update the rural network.

These options will improve customer service levels and provide greater water efficiency, as well as deliver significant water savings.

Consultation

Input from rural customers will be critical to the development of the Detailed Business Case. We will consult in two phases over the next 12 months.

  • Phase 1 - In March 2024 customers received an information pack and questionnaire. The information provided will assist us to identify options, costings, and policy positions for updating the rural system.
  • Phase 2 - The feedback gathered in phase one will allow us to provide more detailed information to customers. To finalise the business case, we need to understand the level of interest, commitment, and expectation customers have for a more efficient system.

We encourage all of rural customers to participate and provide feedback. This will give us the best chance to build the strongest case possible for further funding.

Throughout the process we will be seeking advice from our Rural Customer Advisory Group.

Investigations

Technical investigations will be completed for each of the 12 channel systems. The findings will be combined with customer feedback and a range of options identified. These options may include:

1. No change – We do not receive any further funding and the system will remain as it is for the time being.

2. Modernisation – A rural piped supply will replace the existing channel system.

3. Alternate supply – Customers may be converted to another supply source (eg town water supply).

4. Rationalisation– If a system is not viable for modernisation, closure may need to be considered.

We anticipate we will have a better understanding of where each channel system sits after the first phase of customer consultation. While these investigations and customer conversations are underway, we do not anticipate any major changes to existing rural arrangements.

We have implemented some interim policy positions to support the investigation period that relate to licence renewal and permanent water trading. More information is outlined in a factsheet accessible via the yellow button on this page labelled 'Interim Policy Positions'.

Benefits

  • A more efficient rural supply system would be highly beneficial to the local community, with flow-on economic impacts to the broader economy.
  • Reviewing the rural supply system would enable the replacement of a network of open channels that are currently characterised by large losses of water through seepage and evaporation. Over 40 % of water supplied to the channels is lost before use.
  • An efficient rural supply network would benefit all Coliban Water customers (urban and rural).
  • A project like this may boost future agriculture by providing opportunities for expansion and support primary industries that are currently constrained by the availability, reliability, and quality of water.
  • The efficiency gained by replacing leaking channels with a piped system would result in water savings that may become available for productive or environmental purposes.
  • As part of the investigations we may consider rationalising parts of the system where practicable. This means people should only have water allocations for the water they expect to use. Part of this investigation will look at whether customers would be interested in reducing their allocation.

FUNDING

Federal funding

The Federal government has made money available for large-scale water savings projects. We have now progressed to the stage where we have funding to develop a Detailed Business Case for improving the efficiency of the system.

Customer funded

Our customers fund our investments and services. Every five years, our prices, investment, and service levels are reviewed by the Essential Services Commission (ESC). We prepare a Pricing Submission demonstrating that our prices and investment are prudent, meet our business requirements, and are fair regarding the impact on our customers and the community.

We have decided not to review rural customer pricing and services until we have completed the Preliminary and Detailed Business Cases. Therefore, rural pricing is on hold. As of 1 July 2022, rural prices will not increase (other than CPI).

Coliban Water is committed to continuing to provide a service to its wide base of customers, and this needs to be undertaken as part of a long-term sustainable water strategy.

Harcourt

Harcourt Rural Modernisation Project

A business case for the Harcourt Modernisation Project was completed in July 2011. The business case was endorsed by the then Victorian Minister for Water and approved by the then Victorian Treasurer in January 2012.

Highlighted benefits of the project included:

  • Estimated water savings of 950 megalitres per year.
  • Increased reliability of supply for Harcourt irrigators.
  • Improved capacity to respond to a future shortage in urban supplies.

Harcourt was chosen for modernisation as it had the highest water use of any of Coliban Water’s rural systems. In contrast to other systems used by small water users and hobby farmers, the Harcourt system is predominantly used for agriculture.

One of the unique drivers for Harcourt, was the link between this project and the Southern Interconnector/Castlemaine Link project. The Harcourt modernisation was part of a broader project to allow the transfer of water from Bendigo to Castlemaine, increase operational flexibility, and improve urban water security for the Coliban South system.

In modernising the Harcourt system, the following principles were used:

  • Customers were compensated for reducing their licence volume, or for exiting the system.
  • Pipe sizing allowed entitlements to be delivered over 18 weeks.
  • Customers were required to hold three days of water to accommodate pipeline maintenance.
  • Tanks were required for all customers with licenses equal to or less than five megalitres.
  • Customers are expected to pay for any works downstream of their meter, with project benefits expected to offset the upfront costs.

Once modernised, a termination fee was introduced for customers choosing to leave the system, to ensure that remaining customers would see no change to their existing tariffs due to a lower customer base. This fee does not apply where entitlement is traded within the system.

Drop-in sessions

We hosted a series of drop-in sessions in March 2024. Rural customers were encouraged to speak with us about the project and discuss their questionnaires.

Rural drop-in sessions March 2024