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Golden age pipeline set to be replaced

Water Corporation is seeking approvals under the EPBC Act to repurpose the 117-year old Goldfields Pipeline

The pipeline travels from Mundaring to Kalgoorlie-Boulder, Western Australia, and Water Corporation seeks to remove its aboveground parts and install new pipes below the ground over the next 50 years.

The 566 km Goldfields Pipeline forms part of the Goldfields and Agricultural Water Supply Scheme, which supplies water to 100,000 people in Western Australia. Completed in 1903, the century-old pipeline remains a monumental feat of engineering that was placed on the Australian National Heritage List in 2011 and received international recognition when designated an International Historic Civil Engineering Landmark in 2009.

Due to the heritage listing, the proposed removal of older sections requires referral to the Federal Department of Environment and Energy (DEE) for assessment under the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act). Water Corporation says the upgrades or replacements of these sections are necessary to ensure safe water supply considering the surviving pipeline is “not fit for purpose” and experience numerous “leaks and bursts.”

Replacement necessity

While some sections of the pipeline have been replaced in increments over the decades, more than 300 km of the original pipeline is still in service today. However, the remaining ageing pipeline will eventually need to be upgraded and replaced in entirety with underground pipe to meet modern performance, safety, security and cost requirements.

In accordance with its heritage listed status, the pipeline can’t simply be removed and discarded. A non-operational pipe cannot be left where it is as there is significant cost associated with aboveground pipeline maintenance; without regular maintenance, the non-operational pipeline could present safety risks to the public due to rusting and deterioration.

Due to the significant historical and cultural value in addition to the safety risks, Water Corporation is aiming to implement a strategy that will assure the safe operation of the pipeline while simultaneously protecting its heritage value.

Upgrade timeline

The upgrade works will happen progressively over the next 50 years with sections being prioritised for replacement depending on their age and condition. The construction program is based on a five-year outlook with a plan to replace approximately 8–10 km of pipeline per year at various locations.

The most recent replacement was completed in July 2017, where two sections of 10 km were each replaced to help prevent future leaks and breaks. Water Minister Dave Kelly said at the time that the project has employed up to 100 Western Australians, with the upcoming replacements anticipated to further increase the number of local contractors.

“Since the historic pipeline opened in 1903 it has been continuously upgraded to meet demand and maintain its status as a world class water supply scheme,” said Mr Kelly during the 2017 upgrades.

Public consideration

Throughout the proposal and planning process, Water Corporation has been consulting with the local community. The corporation received strong support from the local community in addition to ideas for the retention, repurposing and showcasing of the pipeline once it is no longer in use, which will be investigated further as the project commences.

The proposal, which was informed by these previous community consultations, opened for its public comment period as part of the EPBC Act referral process. The comment period closed on 6 February 2020, with Water Corporation now making necessary amendments to its renewal plan.

For more information visit the Water Corporation website.

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