In welcome news for Port Fairy residents, south-west water authority Wannon Water is exploring several options for improving the taste and quality of the town's water supply as part of its Great Tasting Water project.
Wannon Water told The Standard it was developing a detailed business case for each of the options and while that process was in its early stages, it should be completed within the next few months.
The unusual taste of Port Fairy's tap water has been a long-standing issue for residents and visitors alike.
Along with Portland and Heywood, which are also addressed in the Great Tasting Water project, Port Fairy's water is sourced from a deep underground aquifer, which imparts a high concentration of mineral salts into the water. While it is perfectly potable - and some swear by its health benefits - the aroma and flavour have historically been an acquired taste.
Wannon Water managing director Andrew Jeffers said it was looking at four options for addressing the issue in Port Fairy.
"Connecting the town via a pipeline from Koroit; removing dissolved salts from the local groundwater; treating the water at the point of use; (or) treating sea water," Mr Jeffers said.
However The Standard understands that only two of the four options are seen as practicable solutions.
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Treating water at the point of use would mean helping Port Fairy residents to install reverse osmosis filtration systems in their own homes. In a letter to some Port Fairy residents, Mr Jeffers said Wannon Water viewed this option as "risky" and lacking many of the "potential benefits" of the other options.
Treating sea water has also been all but ruled out as "not realistic" due to "substantial cost and risk barriers", and given the plentiful supply of ground water from the current aquifer it would make little sense to use sea water.
The two remaining options are installing a reverse osmosis desalination plant to purify the ground water, or connect Port Fairy to the Otway supply system that serves many other south-west towns including Warrnambool.
Port Fairy resident and former Wimmera Mallee Water general manager John Konings favours the pipeline option, arguing it would be superior over the long term.
Mr Konings and his pipeline support group have done their own analyses of the desalination and pipeline options, and he said the cost worked out to be similar over the long term.
Mr Konings said the problems with the ground water went beyond taste, saying it was "notorious for corrosion of pipes, hot water services and appliances" in the town.
Part of Mr Konings' economic analysis for the pipeline relies on the assumption it could flow by gravity from Warrnambool or Koroit along the existing rail trail, which would avoid the need for expensive pumping infrastructure.
Mr Jeffers said that was not realistic.
"A suitable pipeline route would not flow by gravity from Warrnambool, and additional energy and infrastructure for pumping would be required.
"The water would need treating via filtration, chemical dosing and UV sterilization, adding around 15 per cent to the scale of operations at the Warrnambool treatment plant," he said.
The Standard understands a pipeline would be clearly the more expensive of the two options.
While the thirst for change appears strong among Port Fairy residents, it was only 15 years ago that locals rejected the opportunity to be connected to the Otway supply system.
Port Fairy had looked at extending the pipeline to service the town and the Glaxo - now Sun Pharma - factory, but residents ultimately voted against proceeding because of the impact on their water bills.
Mr Jeffers said this time around the cost of any potential project would not be borne by Port Fairy residents alone, saying "access to water that tastes good to most people is a broader equity issue".
Both the pipeline and the desalination plant would require significant government investment. A crucial part of the business case for either option will be for Wannon Water to show significant public desire and need for an upgrade, especially because Port Fairy's existing supply is perfectly healthy to drink.
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