Mitchell Water

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Mitchell Water
Mitchell Water
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Mitchell Water
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Improving Australia, delivering a need

There is no other resource in the world that so much depends on. It is more important than oil, gold, coal, or uranium, and without it we simply could not live. Although we are surrounded by it in our everyday life, many throughout the world are confronted with a lack of it, and when it comes to over abundances, the results could be equally devastating. What is this resource? It is water, of course.

Those that work to create the nexus of water pipelines that provide this essential element to Australia understand its importance. Mitchell Water has become one of the most – if not the most – important and largest dedicated water pipeline contractor. They have the ability to conduct the designing and surveying, and assess the environmental and cultural impact their projects can have. They have also become recognised for their abilities in the construction of water storages, pump stations, controls and communications.

“Mitchell Water is a design and construct contractor that builds water supply systems,” explains Ross Bennett, the Business Development Manager at Mitchell Water. “We create underground infrastructure – pipelines, pump stations, and reservoirs.” They employ anywhere from 250 individuals to 50 depending on their project load and size.

The company started just over 30 years ago, relates Bennett. Founder Lyell Mitchell and his sons first owned a small earth moving business. “They branched out from that initial stage into building water mains and saw that was a good business to be in.”

Wayne Mitchell eventually took over the company, developing it into a much larger, more dynamic organisation.  “It should be noted that Lyell Mitchell just passed this Christmas at the age of 79,” he says, with a note of sadness. With Mitchell Water as it is today, Lyell has defiantly left a legacy for both his family and the rest of Australia to enjoy.  “Mitchell Water is still considered a family type of business, not that it is still a Mitchell family operation. But in the day to day running of it we treat all of our employees as if they are part of the family.”

As the company has grown, they have taken on a more formal management structure, including a board of directors. Bennett sees this as a way of becoming more professional and ready for the industry. He says that in this new model the employees play a large role in the day to day running of the business. “As we have grown, we have changed a little,” he says. “We have a board of directors, and a well filled out upper management structure.”

Bennett has been involved with the company since 1982, and has seen many of the major developments in his 20 years. “It has been a while and a good ride so far,” he laughs comfortably.

Projects

“Mitchell Water has constructed some 10,000 kilometres of water supply systems in the last 10 years. Of recent projects, I think the Bega to Yellow Pinch pipeline was a difficult pipeline, because it went through some very rough country,” explains Bennett. The Merri Abba Bore Pipeline at Lake Cargelligo in New South Wales was another hard project that they had, but they met that challenge, again establishing themselves as a more-than-competent designer and developer of water infrastructure. “This project really typifies the type of project that our company does, it is often remote work, and long distance country pipelines, complete with pumping and storage systems along with the added benefit of water treatment.” It is this difficulty that has set them apart over the years, and has earned them respect and trust from their clients. “An added component to this project was 30 kilometres of High Voltage powerline systems to provide power to the pumps at the borefields and high lift main pumping station. Country Powerline Constructions really shone here and were a great subcontractor to work with. In fact, all of our subcontractors performed very well and dealt with the tyranny of distance without fault. Great relationships with our subcontractors and suppliers are a key to our success.”

“In the terms of the environment,” continues Bennett, “Mitchell Water is always evolving its abilities. We do this to constantly find new ways in which we can decrease our environmental footprint.” Also, being environmentally sustainable often has the added benefit of improving productivity.

“One of the exciting things that has recently evolved is our Vibratory Ploughing technology, the ‘Bullet Plow’. This method has minimum environmental disturbance,” Bennett says, going on to explain that the technology is a Mitchell Water Australia creation, and requires no surface stripping, will not cause soil erosion, is highly efficient, and is highly accurate thanks to onboard GPS guidance systems. He points out that it is also ideally suited for dealing with areas that contain sensitive and protected vegetation. “You don’t need to grade off the surface; it really is a semi-trenchless method of construction.” He describes that the implement used to create the space for the pipeline resembles a vibrating bullet. “So what you see on the surface is a nice neat cut, with no trench at all.” With this technology they are able to install polyethylene (PE) pipes that are up to 300 mm in diameter.

“The Cultural Heritage people are very keen to see this technology used, as are farmers,” Bennett says. By not moving artifacts during pipe installation, cultural heritage is preserved. By not damaging the topsoil in and around their areas of operation, Mitchell Water is insuring minimal impacts into the livelihoods of those working in the agricultural sector. This ability was put to use in some of their most recent projects. “We have just installed two projects in Northern Victoria, the East Loddon Stock & Domestic Pipeline Project, and the Mount Hope Pipeline Project. Farmers are coming to us wanting us to use the ‘Bullet Plow’ more and more – instead of open cut trenching.”

Challenges in the industry

Bennett says that one of the biggest challenges for Mitchell Water and anyone else working in the industry is the remoteness of many of their jobs. This puts stress on their workers, puts constraints on supplies, and presents a particular challenge when it comes to recruiting. “They know they will be working in the outlying districts,” he says.

“Of course one of the challenges we also have come up against is convincing people that water pipeline projects in rural areas are a good thing,” Bennett states. “I am not just saying that because we build water projects. The people that live there appreciate having water on tap 365 days a year. The improvements I have seen in some farming areas to the security of water and to peoples day to day lives as a result, has really given me a great sense of satisfaction.” At Mitchell Water, it is not just about having a successful company – it is about improving lives.

“The benefit there is also that we save great amounts of water in doing our job,” says Bennett. “When we complete a project we sometimes find that they are saving 90 to 95 per cent of the water they used to use. To put it another way, the water they used to use in one year can now last them 20 years.” This also increases the property values attached to the projects, as well as improves quality of life. “This really improves the social infrastructure, the economic infrastructure, and the environmental infrastructure. It’s a win, win, win situation.”

Mitchell Water does have an impressive resume of accomplishments, but that does not mean they are content to stagnate from now on. “We are increasing our capabilities in HDPE pipelines, and looking at enlarging our involvement with mining in Northern Australia,” says Bennett. “We are really hoping to see ourselves as beginning to play a major role in mining projects.” Mitchell Water has had previous engagements with the mining industry, delivering water and dealing with slurry. “I imagine that we will be very involved in that in the new future. We want to be taking care of the gas gathering and water for the mining industry across the eastern states, from design all the way through construction and even ongoing operation if required.”