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A legacy project


SA Water
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The North South Interconnection System Project (NSISP) is a $403 million upgrade of Adelaide’s water supply system. From start to finish, the project consisted of a range of works, and involved combining new and existing infrastructure to connect up the city’s northern and southern water supply networks. The goal was to form a single network that could deliver to homes and businesses across the whole of Adelaide.

The project was undertaken by SA Water, a government enterprise that delivers safe, sustainable and affordable water services to more than 1.5 million South Australian customers. SA Water has been serving the state for more than 150 years, and manages $13 billion worth of assets. Today, they employ more than 1500 people – all of them on the lookout for innovative ways to deliver efficient and responsive water and wastewater services to customers.

Two of those employees are Gary Neave and Mark Dedman, who both worked as Project Directors at different points in the development of the NSISP. Both come from decades-long careers in the construction and consulting industries, and both joined SA Water as part of the project team for the NSISP.

Building interconnection

According to both Gary and Mark, the NSISP was first discussed roughly 15 years ago. At the time, the city’s two metropolitan water supply networks were separated by the River Torrens. The southern network was supplied by a pipeline from River Murray, and delivered water to a couple reservoirs in the southern suburbs, as well as the majority of the CBD. The northern network was supplied by another pipeline from the River Murray, and fed into a number of reservoirs and treatment plants in the northern suburbs,.

According to Gary, that system presented a problem because it reduced flexibility of supply. It meant that most of the residents of metropolitan Adelaide had access to only one source of water – “and if there was a problem with that source, there was potentially a problem with their supply,” he explains.

In response to urban growth and growing water demand, SA Water started to think about connecting the two systems. Years of planning followed, until they eventually settled on the concept of a water transfer pipeline between two of the reservoirs – one in the south and one in the north. That pipeline was anticipated to cost around $1.1 billion.

Around the time of that concept, South Australia was experiencing a prolonged draught. SA Water responded by creating the Adelaide Desalination Plant in the southern suburbs – which already had the biggest reservoir, and the biggest treatment plant. Most of the forecast urban growth, however, was in the northern part of Adelaide.

SA Water needed to correct that inequity, and make that water available to all of metropolitan Adelaide. To do that in an affordable and efficient way while minimising impacts to traffic and the community, SA Water sought to make maximum use of the existing assets by creating integrated transfer pathways within the distribution network avoiding the need for a single transfer pipeline.

To deliver the NSISP, an integrated project team was assembled, with SA Water acting as the “lead deliverer” – which is not always a role a government body will take. Starting from the concept phase, Gary and Mark estimate the project took two years to plan. As that phase came to a close, the Adelaide Desalination Plant was commissioned and the timetable for delivery was moved up by roughly 18 months to accommodate it.

That deadline wasn’t the only challenge that faced the project. As the largest upgrade to the water distribution network ever undertaken in Adelaide, there were a lot of moving parts and a lot of expectations to manage. The project team had to construct four new pipes totalling 32 kilometres, and three new pump stations in residentially zoned areas. They also built five new valve stations and provided upgrades to 120 existing water network sites. Throughout this process, they had to work to minimise disruptions to the community, and they had to keep in constant communication with all their stakeholders.

Integration and collaboration

In addition to SA Water, the NSISP Project team included a number of contractors that represented the best in the industry. Mark describes the inter-team relationships as “extremely collaborative,” which was especially important given the accelerated timeline of the project. Aspects of the design had to happen in parallel to the delivery, so parts of the project had the potential to change on the fly.

“Our contractors were very supportive and flexible,” Mark says. “They embraced an open relationship. They were prepared to share any sort of learnings they acquired, or explain any challenges they encountered when delivering their individual package of work.”

According to Gary, that ability to “manage across project boundaries and be collaborative” was what SA Water was looking for when selecting their contractors. They even carried out selection workshops that assessed those behaviours. He says that due diligence paid off with the results they received.

SA Water also formed really close relationships with the other members of the project team, including the contract designers. Throughout the design process, SA Water collaborated with them to provide their own technical expertise and skills. They also brought in representatives from the construction team at an early stage so they could be part of framing the design.

“That lessens the opportunity for conflict later,” Gary explains. “We also brought in our commissioning team well before the commissioning stage, so they could be aware of the sort of issues they would face.”

“Throughout the course of the project’s lifecycle, those levels of integration and collaboration were key to moving forward,” he adds.

Finally, SA Water also worked closely with the public. Geographically, their work sites spanned 18 of the 19 local councils in Adelaide, and their work directly affected close to 30,000 people. At a very early stage, SA Water made it a priority to engage with the affected communities and take on board their views and concerns.

“We had a project that was pretty much vital to the future security of the water supply in Adelaide,” Mark says. “Initially, we thought that message alone might be enough to carry the day. We found very quickly that that wouldn’t be the case. We had some very early opposition from the community because they didn’t have enough knowledge, or enough opportunity to consider what it was we were doing.”

“We changed our approach very quickly,” he continues. “We learned that we needed to be collaborative with them as well as with our team. We had to play a little bit of catch-up, but ultimately we were able to bring their input to bear on the process.”

“We took the designers to community meetings,” Gary explains. “We made sure community had direct influence on the design, the construction, and the final completion of the project.”

Hard work paying off

The Project Management Achievement Awards (PMAA) are given by the Australian Institute of Project Management, and recognise industry leading businesses and government organisations across Australia. Their mission is to shine a spotlight on outstanding achievements in the realms of program and project management.

At the 2013 PMAA Awards, SA Water took out one of the top national awards, in the category for Construction and Engineering over $100 million. The winning project was the NSISP.

“From a project team perspective, it’s nice to be recognised,” Mark says. “We’ve had in excess of 3000 team members come through the project since its inception. A lot of people have worked very hard and put in a lot of effort to make sure we delivered this safely, on time and on budget.”

“So that award means a lot,” he says. “It’s a good acknowledgement of that effort.”

“There were times when the challenges of the project made people nervous about whether we would actually get there,” Gary adds. “But there was lot of hard work and a lot of commitment from some key people, who were then able to engage with the broader team and take them along on that journey. That award is a demonstration of the quality and commitment of those people.”

Gary also credits that award to the quality of the project’s outcomes. He says they were able to deliver some particularly outstanding technical achievements, especially given the challenges they faced.

“We ended up with some outstanding technical solutions,” he says. “We probably even exceeded expectations in terms of flexibility and the quality of output.”

Finally, Gary and Mark both credit the award to the lasting effect the NSISP will have on SA Water as a business and Adelaide as a city.

“The legacy of this project will be felt in the SA Water business for years to come,” Mark says. “It’s fundamentally changed the way the business thinks and operates, and the way it delivers water to its customers. The benefits of this project being delivered successfully will be realised for years to come. I think that’s pretty special.”

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