As one of the most drought-affected areas of northern New South Wales, Walcha is a town firmly focused on water security. In 2022, Beca HunterH2O was asked to investigate new options for improved water resilience.

Real lessons for regional water projects

Following funding from the Australian and NSW Governments, we're helping Walcha to deliver the most important water infrastructure upgrade in decades. What else can be learned from water projects in regional areas?

For the 4,000 people of Walcha, a new off-creek water storage facility is providing peace of mind for the town’s future water supply, as well as tangible social and economic benefits.

The town’s existing water infrastructure has been unable to meet the needs of the community, resulting in significant impacts including severe water restrictions. The project is set to transform the regions water security and have a real and direct impact on people’s lives. The Walcha project is leaving a lasting impact, ensuring safe and reliable access to water for generations to come.

Mayor of Walcha, Eric Noakes, described the project as the number one priority for Walcha Council’ and 'one of the most important water infrastructure projects in the region’s history'.

The new 300 megalitre off-creek storage dam will supplement an 80 megalitre facility and is being built adjacent to a small tributary of the MacDonald River, 16 kilometres from the existing water treatment infrastructure.

Australian and New South Wales governments are funding the $11 million project. Now under construction and due for completion in late 2023, works include upgrades to a river offtake pumping station, upgrades to the water inlet structure, new access roads and fencing, and new pipework to connect the dam to the nearby town water supply pump station.

Reaching this phase of delivery has required extensive collaboration and innovation. A team of up to 30 water and engineering specialists from Beca HunterH2O worked closely with Walcha Council on the project, from an options study through to design, procurement, and project management.

"It’s been a privilege to help Walcha with this once-in-a-generation project. Years in the making, the brief included realising the opportunity to deliver local project and construction jobs, keeping families together and enhancing regional supply chain experience" - Peter Dennis, Beca HunterH2O

A clear and humbling brief

Beca HunterH2O General Manager, Peter Dennis, said the brief for the team was clear and humbling. "It’s been a privilege to help Walcha with this once-in-a-generation project," Peter said. "Years in the making, the brief included realising the opportunity to deliver local project and construction jobs, keeping families together and enhancing regional supply chain experience.

"From the start, and when we knew a larger off-creek storage facility was the best solution, we designed an approach to procurement that encouraged local, mid-tier contractors to participate in the main component including the dam wall construction.

"After a competitive market process, the main contract was awarded to a Tamworth contractor just one hour away, and many components were awarded to local Walcha businesses.

"The lessons from regional infrastructure projects like Walcha’s off-creek storage facility lie in the benefits of agile procurement.

"We find that an agile approach to procurement is a valuable option for our clients in other areas such as New Zealand, because water reforms and consolidation mean communities are focused on ensuring the local economic benefits of water infrastructure projects remain or are enhanced," Peter said.

Local presence, deep relationships

A key ingredient to Beca HunterH2O’s success has been its local presence which enabled deeper relationships and understanding of local issues.

"We are always on the ground where our clients need us. This is key – you can’t deliver regional projects solely via desktop from a city office thousands of kilometres away.

"Our team took the time to understand complex stakeholder needs and regional issues, ensuring three levels of government were considered and by addressing key environmental challenges up front. From our years of experience, we know you just can’t take water for granted in regional Australia.

"Through partnering with our client, not simply transacting, we worked together to enable faster decision making and the ability to overcome challenges such as supply chain delays caused by the pandemic," Peter said.

Beca HunterH2O remains committed to supporting towns like Walcha across Australia, learning from this valuable blueprint to guide a range of future water infrastructure projects.

Learn more about Beca HunterH2O and how we're shaping the future of water here.