Collaboration creates an award-winning water system for remote community

Jennifer Shand Jennifer Shand Australasia Press Office,Sydney
8 June 2021

Designing a safe and reliable water supply for the Lama Lama people, the Traditional Owners of the Port Stewart River, presented multiple challenges for our water engineers – the remote community lives off-grid and is regularly threatened by bushfires, cyclones, extreme heat and floods which bring crocodiles into the river.

The final result – a bespoke, robust water intake and treatment system that uses solar power, has low ongoing costs and is low-tech needing minimum maintenance – has now been recognised with a major award.

The Arup team took on the project pro bono – designing a system that could attract construction funding – and worked in partnership with the Centre for Appropriate Technology Ltd. (CfAT), the Yintjingga Aboriginal Corporation (YAC) and Engineers Without Borders Australia.

The collaboration’s successful water system has received the National Infrastructure Project Innovation Award (Regional) at the Australian Water Awards.

This project is a great example of catalytic intervention by an engineering company that’s had a real social impact. The community had no other means to get a solution to its water supply issue. Arup brought that solution to the table. ” Andre Grant Team Leader Qld, Centre for Appropriate Technology

For more than 10 years after Cyclone Monica hit Far North Queensland, the Lama Lama people had relied on a small, portable petrol pump to extract untreated water from the Port Stewart River in the wet season, and from the riverbed sands in the dry. The improvised arrangements were unreliable and prone to contamination, and the high levels of iron and e. coli in the water were impacting hygiene and health. 

CfAT worked closely with Arup engineers to facilitate a 'co-design' process that ensured community voice and needs were included from the start.

People working around a large desk on a verandah in the outback in North Queensland People working around a large desk on a verandah in the outback in North Queensland
We co-designed the solution with CfAT, YAC and Engineers Without Borders Australia

We worked with the community, in engagement led by CfAT, to ensure we designed and built a system which overcame the issues and supplied clean and safe water, and crucially, could be managed and maintained by the local people. ” Priyani Madan Priyani Madan Water Engineer

“CfAT was critical to overcoming all the challenges, and its relationships ensured appropriate community engagement through the design process, enabling us to incorporate important local knowledge,” explained Senior Water Engineer Priyani Madan, who led the project with fellow Senior Water Engineer Sam Koci. 

The Arup solution was a solar-powered bore pump, designed to be submersed diagonally in the side of the river bed and encased under four metres of sand. This ensured the pump would remain intact during a cyclone and could extract water in the dry season. The pump can be maintained whatever the weather as it can be retrieved some distance away via a pulley system. The bore pump is connected to iron-removal filter technology which needs no electricity or chemicals, instead operating on pressure from the solar-powered pump, aerating the water utilising the Venturi effect.

Arup’s detailed designs helped CfAT and YAC source over $300,000 to construct the new water supply system. CfAT and its 100% indigenous owned engineering company, Ekistica, then managed the tendering and construction in collaboration with YAC. 

The Arup team supported the tender process and contract negotiations, and provided technical support during construction. Andre and Priyani assisted in commissioning the intake system and treatment plant, and worked with capacity building the community on the operations and maintenance regime.

Arup engineer Priyani Madan, right, with the project team working on site in the outback in Port Stewart, Far North Queensland Arup engineer Priyani Madan, right, with the project team working on site in the outback in Port Stewart, Far North Queensland
Arup engineer Priyani Madan, right, with the project team on site

The way we worked collaboratively on this project, led by CfAT, prioritising community engagement and appropriate technology, provides a blueprint for servicing remote indigenous communities as well as being scalable to larger projects. ” Priyani Madan Priyani Madan Water Engineer

“The system’s cyclone-proof credentials have since been tested – surviving two cyclones, and a wet season that saw unprecedented flooding. Yet the water kept flowing, enabling the evacuated Lama Lama people to return to country and get back to work doing what they do best – looking after their country, culture and future generations of young people by giving them hope of a future that doesn’t require them to abandon their traditional lands,” said Andre.

The AWA Awards recognise significant and innovative infrastructure projects within the water industry that drive prosperity and sustainability. Other Arup projects were 2021 Award finalists:

  • the ‘Torres Strait Islands Sustainable Water and Wastewater Management Plan’ (with Griffith University and Ganden Engineers & Project Managers) in the Infrastructure Project Innovation Award (Regional) category

  • The ‘Geospatial Planning Tool’ (with Sydney Water, Aurecon and GHD) in the Infrastructure Project Innovation Award (Metro) category, and

  • The ‘Global Challenge – Partnering to Invest, Influence and Tangibly Impact Sustainable Development Goal 6 (Clean water and sanitation)’ in the Organisational Excellence Award category.