Wannon Water to start $33m project to improve water taste in Port Fairy, Portland and Heywood

Visitors to Port Fairy won’t have to be warned to bring their own drinking water if a plan by Wannon Water is successful.

The water utility has announced it will start work on a $33-million project to improve the water quality in the popular south-west Victorian tourist destination, as well as in neighbouring Heywood and Portland.

All three towns have been the subject of long-running complaints about the taste of their drinking water, led by locals and Port Fairy holidaymakers.

As one tour guide to the town put it: “The drinking water in Port Fairy is simply horrendous … I recommend you bring your own water or buy it upon arrival”.

A petition that attracted more than 2,000 signatures in favour of a water pipeline from the Otways to be directed to Port Fairy was delivered to Wannon Water’s Warrnambool office in July.

However, the pipeline appears unlikely to be an option in the upgrade, according to Wannon Water managing director Andrew Jeffers.

“We haven’t ruled anything in or out, but, being pretty transparent, it’s pretty likely that treatment of localised groundwater would be the solution that probably goes forward,” Mr Jeffers said.

“It’s significantly less expensive.”

Why does the water taste the way it does?
Mineral salts and naturally occurring chemicals in the treated groundwater supplied to each of the towns imparts its own particular taste.

“There are differences in each of the communities in relation to the satisfaction with the taste of the water. There are also differences in the levels of mineral salts in the water,” Mr Jeffers said.

“Based on the feedback from our customers, these three towns are the ones that have the strongest feedback on the taste of the water, that’s why this is a priority for us.”

The Port Fairy Pipeline Supply Support Group’s John Konings says that while Port Fairy’s water is safe to drink, its “salinity, alkalinity and iron levels” contribute to the taste, as well as other associated problems around corrosion.

“[It’s] basically a situation of Port Fairy being a world-class tourism centre with a third-world-country water supply,” Mr Konings said.

Wannon Water has been studying the water quality issue in Port Fairy, Portland and Heywood since 2017 and found the towns’ groundwater significantly shortened the life span of hot water services, washing machines, piping and even kettles, as well as affecting resident health due to reticence to drink the water.

There are also the costs associated with bottled water or filtration systems.

A business case by Wannon Water’s board found improving the water quality in the towns “would deliver more than $47 million in health, economic and environmental benefits”.

So how long will this take?
Mr Jeffers is reluctant to put a timeframe on the project as only the first $16 million is funded.

He said that if Wannon Water could secure government funding for the remaining $17 million, all three towns could have their water quality improved sooner rather than later.

But if Wannon Water has to fund the full $33 million itself, then the towns will each have to wait their turn to have their local water treatment plants upgraded.

The initial $16 million will come from Wannon Water and is included in Wannon Water’s forward pricing estimate for customers, which is currently before the Essentials Services Commission for approval.