As the final session of the annual 2010 Pacific Water and Wastewater Association conference on twinning drew to a close, the then CEO of Water PNG (Papua New Guinea), Patrick Amini turned around in his seat to Jim Keary, General Manager from Australia’s Hunter Water utility and said ‘how about we twin’. And that was the first move in kicking off another Asian Development Bank (ADB) sponsored twinning partnership aimed at improving the effectiveness of one partner by leveraging the expertise of the other.

Water PNG provides water and sanitation services in rural PNG covering 20 provincial towns, of which Lae is the biggest. Overall Water PNG has close to 30,000 connections and estimates its population served is about 350,000.

benefits_of_utility_partnerships_2.pngIt faces substantial obstacles in fulfilling its mandate because of terrain, water availability, network conditions, customer reluctance to pay and weak management information systems. Consequently, in teaming up with Hunter Water, regarded as a leading water utility in Australia, Water PNG signalled its priorities were to:
• Achieve consistent water quality testing
• Reduce Non-Revenue Water
• Enhance asset management
• Craft a Master Plan for Lae

These challenges are familiar to many water operators but the Water PNG situation is made tougher by having a country-wide mandate and operating numerous independent systems within a developing country.

WATER QUALITY AS THE 1ST PRIORITY

Work began in earnest in July 2011 when Hunter Water sent Andrea Swan, their water quality expert to Lae. She mentored Water PNG people in the Lae Operations Division in conducting a quick diagnostic of water quality practices, facilities and results. One challenge was the availability of a good laboratory and building one was the favoured option. Investigations revealed this was an expensive proposition. A breakthrough came through discussions with the local University (Unitech) testing laboratory in Lae. Unitech offered to move to full accreditation of their testing services and so provide Water PNG with the quality services they required. With quality testing facilities in place, Water PNG has been able to:
• Implement a monitoring program compliant with WHO Guidelines and PNG Department of Health
• Carry out monitoring frequency as required by regulators
• Report results to regulators in a timely manner
• Be responsive to any water quality issues raised.

Sampling methods and equipment used in the field by the operators were also assessed. This identified that with updated equipment field testing could be carried out to a higher level of accuracy. Subsequently, five field test instruments were purchased and commissioned. Now field testing provides real time results so operations staff can fine tune treatment processes without delay.

TACKLING NON-REVENUE WATERbenefits_of_utility_partnerships_3.png

Priority #2 was Non Revenue Water. It wasn’t practical within the time frame of the partnership to tackle NRW across all Water PNG’s locations so priority was given to the biggest – the City of Lae. They reportedly had NRW of 30%. After applying more robust testing, this figure jumped shockingly and sharply to 46%. At least with a confirmed starting point, Hunter and Water PNG could embark on a remedial program including:
• Calibration of input flow meters
• Survey of existence of meters
• Assessment of meters’ serviceability
• Replacement of failed meters
• Re-establishment of zone metering
• Upgraded operating procedures
• Training and mentoring

After only three months, the NRW was cut from 46% to 35% but the endemic practice of illegal connections continues to plague NRW reduction efforts. Nevertheless, the NRW program at Lae demonstrated what was possible and so it was cascaded into three other locations – Wewak, Mt. Hagen and Madang. Like Lae the first step was to assess actual NRW levels – Wewak was running at 32%, Mt Hagen at 54% while Madang was assessed at 32%.

Just like Lae, similar contributing factors – failed meters, illegal connections, overflows and more – were encountered. In all three situations, NRW reduction teams were set up, an action plan drafted and deadlines set. As a consequence of these actions, by December 2013 the NRW results in the three provincial towns were improving. This water saving translates into significant revenue gains for Water PNG and also means more can be spent on capital and maintenance programs to lower NRW further. Equally important lower NRW also converts into better water services to existing customers.

MANAGING ASSETS BETTER

Hunter experts originally went to Lae with the intention of reviewing Water PNG asset management practices but their priority became finding out why the assets were not performing as designed – all the reservoirs were empty and had not filled for many years. Initial investigations were complicated by a lack of operational data and instruments such as pressure gauges not working. The experts found that the operational practices at the major water pumping station were not appropriate as there were not enough operating pumps to meet customer demands. Pumps were also badly worn due to cavitation caused by the inappropriate operational practices and a lack of proper maintenance.

benefits_of_utility_partnerships_4.pngFortunately new senior staff had been appointed at Lae who were receptive to change and recognised that maintenance and equipment renewal was needed. It took time but new pumps were installed, some of the existing pumps were overhauled and new pumping rules put in place. The outcome was major reservoirs serving Lae now operate properly and store water for supplementing supply in peak times. Customers have got an improved and more secure water supply and storage of water in reservoirs has allowed Water PNG to review the operation of their back-up generators and delivered substantial savings in diesel costs.

Not only have assets been replaced or overhauled but now all assets are recorded in Water PNG’s asset register. Whilst the priority for the new maintenance staff has been to rectify the defective equipment they have started using the asset register to progressively schedule maintenance tasks for the new and overhauled equipment - based on advice from their suppliers and Hunter Water’s experts.

Operational data as well as equipment performance is now being recorded and reported to assist informed decision making both now and for the future.

Potential safety issues identified during the twinning are also being addressed such as replacement of switchboards and implementing improved work practice procedures for confined space entry.

New staff were the key to the improvements in asset management. Those appointed at Lae like Raka Taviri recognised the need to change and were prepared to lead the process, ably assisted by colleagues Imbu Palya and John Wavimbukie.

MASTER PLANNING

One of the key priorities put on the table by Water PNG at the start of the twinning was to make progress on a Master Plan for Lae. The last major upgrade of the water supply system had occurred a decade ago and parts of the sewer network were already overloaded. With considerable growth in Lae, it was very important to plan for the future.
Hunter Water, with Water PNG prepared a brief for preparation of a Master Plan for Lae. The brief was in four parts:
• Water Distribution
• Water Sources
• Wastewater Collection System
• Wastewater Treatment

Water PNG is now progressively preparing the Master Plan. A hydraulic model of the Lae water supply system was developed and used to help develop the water distribution master plan. Recommendations from that plan are already being implemented such as the purchasing of two new larger capacity low pressure pumps.

Water PNG has commenced work on the preparation of the remaining components of the Master Plan and this planning will turn into major benefits for people of Lae in the years ahead.

BENEFITS OF UTILITY PARTNERSHIPSbenefits_of_utility_partnerships_5.png

Hunter- Water PNG partnership has delivered tangible results that will live on well beyond the period both utilities have worked together. These benefits not only accrue to the organizations but also to the individuals who actively took part in the priority tasks. Here is what Raka Taviri current CEO of Water PNG had to say:

“Water PNG is facing major challenges and the twinning with Hunter Water has allowed us to make gains far quicker. The Hunter operations and technical specialists communicate easily with our staff and we will continue down this support path as it is the best way forward.”

Likewise, Hunter Water, as a leading utility organization supplying water and wastewater services to 550,000 people in the lower Hunter region of Australia has demonstrated its community service commitment by contributing in a very constructive way to Water PNG’s service delivery. More so, Hunter team members gained great job satisfaction from being able to share their collective knowledge in a quite different working and cultural environment. Alan Thornton, from Hunter Water points out:

benefits_of_utility_partnerships_6.png.jpg“”The experience of working as part of the Water PNG team delivering services to people in PNG is a highlight of my long career and the best way to build capability, as real learning comes from a hands-on understanding of the situation on the ground and having work colleagues who trust you. Success helps a lot as well.”

SUCCESS FACTORS IN WATER UTILITY TWINNING

Hunter - Water PNG is not the first of ADB sponsored partnerships so success factors are generally known. When the two possible partners first meet together, the likelihood of those factors being present is assessed by the facilitating agency (ADB) so as to provide assurance that the relationship is worth pursuing. No doubt, both principals also sound one another out.

The Hunter - Water PNG partnership confirmed the key success factors of:
• Commitment by the respective leaders of the two utilities;
• Job interest of recipient utility staff engaged in specific targeted tasks with a keenness to learn, adopt or adapt;
• Preparedness by the mentoring utility to release experienced executives with both the technical and managerial experience plus the capacity to handle cultural and operating differences;
• Realistic work program allowing sufficient time to build trust, absorb lessons and implement change;
• Setting of improvement targets as a professional way of working together with the added benefit that achieving targets evidences the value of the partnership to all stakeholders – utility customers, both partners, the facilitating agency (ADB), its donors and other utilities considering entering into twinning arrangements.

Implicit in these factors is the need for trust and respect between the two utility organizations. Hunter’s Jim Keary, in a reflective moment said ”Understanding how Water PNG operates and getting to know the key people and win their trust so we could work together took time and is not something that is easily put into a work program of activities and deadlines”.

This sentiment has been echoed in previous partnerships such as Cebu Water District of Philippines with City West Water –Australia and Davao Water District Philippines with Ranhill Utilities of Malaysia.

Trust depends in part on frequent communication. Water PNG visited Hunter operations on several occasions and Hunter executives were onsite in PNG for short periods about six times over the work plan period. One innovative arrangement set up between them was video conferencing used as a disciplined way of progress reporting and discussions and maximising executive time.

FACILITATING CHANGE – ROLE OF ADB

While both utilities freely invest executive and staff time to the agreed work plan, ADB provides the out of pocket costs associated with the exchange – namely the travel and accommodation for face to face meetings and onsite inspections. Furthermore, given the ADB’s twinning experiences, one of its program facilitators can advise on work program feasibility and moderate overly optimistic or pessimistic perceptions. If unexpected problems are encountered, ADB is in a position to flex arrangements such as a change of priority or time frame. Uppermost, is the clear shared objective by all stakeholders of improving utility performance through a great working experience of peer to peer knowledge exchange.1

For further information contact Alan Baird or Nils Van Dijk at waterutilitytwinning [at] adb [dot] org
 

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