Engineers Without Borders (EWB) is working with remote communities to co-design fit-for-purpose and fit-for-place water supply systems.
Access to safe and reliable water is essential for health and quality of life, yet not all remote First Nations communities can access clean water.
The EWB Australia Engineering on Country (EoC) water program is working to ensure that First Nations communities in remote Queensland and Western Australia can access a safe, clean, reliable and climate-resilient water supply.
The communities will also be provided with the knowledge to safely operate and maintain their systems and the governance structure to support it long-term. Water safety planning and testing has already begun with communities in Far North Queensland.
An estimated 250,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are unable to reliably access safe and healthy water on their remote homelands and experience chronic and hygiene-related diseases at higher rates than other Australians.
Water contamination is considered a major cause. The remoteness of these communities makes routine water testing and infrastructure development challenging.
Lack of funding is another key factor; remote community water supply usually does not fall under public water service provision.
EWB is working with these communities to design and provide access to appropriate and sustainable community infrastructure and technology that improves their quality of life and their ability to pursue education, employment or income generating opportunities.
Facilitating two-way knowledge sharing and developing respectful relationships are essential in designing the right solutions. Key to this is building trust, nurturing relationships and working together in partnership so that First Nations people can live on, and care for, Country.
Community-owned water management
For more than fifteen years, water and sanitation have been a focus at EWB in Australia and overseas. EWB’s new EoC water program includes designing water supply and treatment facilities together that build on local Indigenous water knowledge of the area.
The program also includes understanding potential hazards and risks to the water supply that may exist and co-developing management and governance plans for water systems to manage these risks.
The risk to a water supply system is greatest when there is no regular monitoring and maintenance activities. EWB is working with community members to develop simple monitoring activities and plans for when maintenance, repairs and replacements of equipment may be needed.
Community members are also being provided with water-testing kits to routinely verify health and safety of the water supply. The kits deliver accuracy levels similar to that achieved by an accredited laboratory.
By designing these projects directly with Elders, rangers and other community members, the communities involved have ownership of the project and enjoy the benefits. This leads to community-managed water supply protection, testing, treatment, maintenance and operation.
The community water management plans are the beginning of a regular monitoring and maintenance regime that will continually improve the water supplies in each of the participating communities.
Starting in the north
The program commenced with water safety planning, infrastructure and testing in two communities located in Far North Queensland, alongside community partner, the Centre for Appropriate Technology (CfAT).
The initial focus is on communities of Cape York Peninsula in Far North Queensland. EWB and CfAT have been working with one remote community in improving its water supply for several years.
Over that time, there have been a number of challenges, including flooding that destroyed the previous water pump. Remote, place-based challenges have ongoing impacts on effective functionality of key water infrastructure. As a result, this remote community is regularly without water, revealing the critical importance of establishing monitoring and maintenance plans and training to keep the water system operational.
Initial works commenced in May 2022 with EWB’s First Nations Principal Water Advisor, Leah Sertorio, and CfAT’s Regional Manager, Andre Grant. Sertorio and Grant have been conducting water testing on the remote community’s water supply and supporting maintenance works to get the water treatment system up and running again.
The focus now is on convening community workshops which aim to test technical assumptions, review hazards and risks, and better understand community requirements and their unique water supply system. Fundamental to this process is integrating local water knowledge into how the water supply system is designed and operated.
An Indigenous Land Enterprise Infrastructure Fund grant, obtained through the Commonwealth National Indigenous Australians Agency, will enable some water supply upgrades. However, more funding support is urgently needed.
EWB Giving Day Appeal 2022
For 24 hours from midday 29 November 2022, all donations to the EWB Giving Day Appeal will be doubled. This is on account of support from philanthropists and organisations such as Bindy and David Koadlow, the Fell Foundation,and Abergeldie Complex Infrastructure.
By using this link to donate, you can double the impact of your contribution.