View of river during the dry sesason; View of river during the dry sesason;

Port Stewart Water Supply Upgrade, Port Stewart, Far North Queensland

Helping an Indigenous community access safe, reliable drinking water

For over a decade the Lama Lama people, the Indigenous Traditional Owners of Port Stewart in Far North Queensland, had been struggling to source a safe and reliable supply of water. This had impacted on community health and quality of life as well as on livelihoods. 

In 2006 Cyclone Monica destroyed the original water intake and the community had been relying on a manually operated, low pressure, diesel pump to extract untreated water from the Port Stewart River.

In the dry season, water levels fell below the riverbed sand and the community had to excavate an improvised pond in the bed to enable them to continue pumping water. This was unreliable and prone to contamination with intermittent water quality testing presenting high levels of iron and E. coli. 

Indigenous organisation the Centre for Appropriate Technology (CfAT) had been working closely with the Lama Lama community for years to try and find a technical solution to the water supply issues. They had come up against a major blockage – they desperately needed engineering design to get funding – but without funding they could not get an engineering design. 

With the support of the Lama Lama people’s Yintjingga Aboriginal Corporation (YAC), CfAT approached Engineers Without Borders’ EWB Connect programme for assistance. They reached out to us for help.

Arup, through its pro bono Community Engagement programme, came on board to design a new water supply intake and treatment system. Using technology suitable for this remote, off-grid location, they now have a reliable, consistent source of water. 

Project Summary


$300,000 raised to build new infrastructure

50-100residentsin the Lama Lama community

20-45kLof water treated per day

The Lama Lama people were in a classic catch-22 situation. They had limited resources to deal with an infrastructure situation but needed design input upfront to figure out a solution. ” Andre Grant Team Leader Qld, CfAT Ltd

Out-of-the-box thinking

Designing for such an isolated community presented a variety of challenges and required innovative, out-of-the-box thinking. With extreme weather conditions in the region, the design had to be resilient against bushfires, extreme heat, cyclones and flooding, as well as remain accessible during the wet season when the river floods and crocodiles inhabit the river. Other local constraints included a lack of access to electricity, and as future maintenance would be undertaken by the local residents, the design needed to be suitable for a non-technical community.


Working with Indigenous communities is all about employing appropriate technologies and making sure it’s right for the local communities by working closely with them. We had to really think outside of the box and maintain regular engagement. ”

Priyani Madan Priyani Madan Water Engineer
Port Stewart Port Stewart

We created a system that uses solar powered submersible bore pumps to extract water from below the bed sands of the river. Designed to be submersed diagonally in the side of the river bed and buried underneath 4m of sand, the pump will remain more protected should another cyclone occur.

An innovative, low maintenance aeration filtration system, which is chemical-free and uses no electricity, will remove the high levels of iron found in the raw water source. A solar and battery powered UV system that disinfects the water for E. coli and bacteria, has been proposed as a future improvement.

We now have something everyone else in Australia takes for granted - a reliable water supply. Now we have that, we can pursue economic opportunities like improving our safari camp. ” Gavin Bassani Operations Manager, Yintingga Aboriginal Corporation

Immersed in culture and community

The critical success factor to overcoming the design and build challenges, was the long-term relationship with the community that was held by CfAT and the regular engagement they facilitated between Arup, YAC and the Lama Lama people on the ground living on country and relying on and operating the new water supply.  

This constant design feedback allowed important local knowledge to be incorporated and ensured a robust solution. To make sure of the ongoing success of the new system, we also worked with local community rangers to help train them on how to operate and maintain it. We did a hands-on walk-through of the system, followed by a participatory mapping exercise, trouble-shooting and creating a ‘checklist’ of regular maintenance tasks.  

It was important to us that the community have entire ownership of their water supply.


It was an amazing experience to get to know the community members and see the incredible people behind all the work we have done. It was clear this is so much more than just a water supply. I’ve never been prouder to see a project come to life. ” Priyani Madan Priyani Madan Water Engineer