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Rising sea levels, coral bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef, disastrous fires and floods... These are the things that generally spring to mind when most of us think about climate change.

But climate change is also a story about people, who feel its global impacts in very real, local ways.

In some towns in the South West and Great Southern, rainfall is so low due to climate change that the water flowing into our dams is simply no longer enough to support local needs. This is the case in places like Ravensthorpe, Cranbrook, and other water deficient declared towns. In these towns, we’re currently carting water so that the community has a reliable supply.

Climate change means we’ve had to plan for a future where streamflow into dams may no longer be a reliable water source for WA. Reducing our reliance on streamflow is a major part of our strategy to secure our water future. For example, almost half of Perth’s drinking water now comes from desalination, which is a climate-resilient water source.

We’re also working to reduce our business’ impact on climate change. Our target is to reduce our carbon footprint and increase our resource recovery. Here’s a few of the programs we’re running right now…

Producing renewable hydrogen and graphite from wastewater

Wastewater treatment produces a by-product called ‘biogas’. This gas is mostly made up of methane and carbon dioxide—two of the most potent greenhouse gases.

Where we can, we convert biogas into heat and energy to support our wastewater treatment plants’ processes. Right now, 20% of our Woodman Point plant’s electricity needs are provided by a biogas generator. At our Beenyup plant, the biogas generator will eventually provide the equivalent of 70% of the plant’s electricity needs. But in both instances, the excess biogas is usually burned off.

To make even better use of our biogas, we've partnered with local business, Hazer Group to convert our biogas into hydrogen and graphite. This is an Australian-first initiative and has the lowest-environmental impact for this type of process.

So, what will we do with all that hydrogen and graphite?

Green, premium hydrogen can be used as vehicle fuel and chemical feedstock. The graphite has many uses, including in the production of lithium-ion batteries, steel, aluminium. It can even be used to purify water.

We will collaborate with Hazer for the three-year construction and operation of their demonstration plant at our Woodman Point Wastewater Treatment Plant. The plant will be able to produce 100 tonnes of fuel grade hydrogen and 380 tonnes of graphite every year.

Transforming wastewater solids into natural fertiliser

When we treat wastewater, we also produce biosolids, which look like cakes of dirt. Biosolids are full of micro-organisms and solid particles that haven’t broken down during the treatment process. They are most often used as natural fertilisers and soil improvers.

We send our biosolids to farmers and gardeners who meet the specific criteria for use. In WA, we can only use biosolids for forestry and on broadacre crops such as wheat and canola.

Farmers and gardeners favour biosolids because they quickly bind to soil particles. This allows the nutrients to be slowly released to plants over a longer period of time.

Recharging our aquifers with treated wastewater

Groundwater makes up to 40 per cent of Perth’s drinking water supply. Inconsistent and reduced rainfall across WA means less water is soaking down into our aquifers. That's why we’ve come up with a more sustainable approach. We're starting to give back what we take.

Our Advanced Water Recycling Plant in Craigie started operating in 2017. It was the first of its kind in Australia. At this facility, we further treat our wastewater to drinking water standards. We then return the treated wastewater to top up our aquifers. In the aquifers, treated wastewater is stored and naturally filtered it until we need it.

Currently, groundwater replenishment makes up approximately 2% of our Integrated Water Supply Scheme in Perth.

At capacity, our Advanced Water Recycling Plant in Craigie can recycle 14 billion litres of water per year. We use some of this water to recharge the Leederville and Yarragadee Aquifers onsite. The remaining water is transferred to recharge bores drilled in Wanneroo and Neerabup.

We've nearly completed the second stage of our Groundwater Replenishment Scheme. This will allow us to increase the amount of recycled water we return to our aquifers in the metro area.

Driving down net vehicle greenhouse gas emissions

Managing our vehicle emissions is a crucial part of our environmental strategy. We currently have 30 hybrid electric vehicles across our fleet of 102 vehicles. We also offset the carbon emissions from our fleet at Leederville through a revegetation program.

Over the next five years, we will transition up to 40 per cent of our metropolitan fleet to electric vehicles (EV).

The first two EVs joined our fleet in June 2020. The two new Hyundai Konas are fully powered by an on-board battery and have the capacity to travel 449km on a single charge. Our employees are able to use the vehicles for day to day tasks in the metro area.

At the end of each EV fleet lease, we will pass the vehicles to the second hand car market. We hope this will support the local second hand EV market by improving affordability and stimulating greater demand.

Saluting the sun with solar power

We are embracing solar power at our buildings, borefields and pump stations across the state to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions.

Over the next three years, we will install 45,000 rooftop solar panels which will generate enough energy to power 4,400 households and will reduce our emissions by 18,000 tonnes per year.