Our Performance 2020-21
This was the third year we worked towards seven service outcomes customers told us they valued most and expected from us. We set ambitious targets with our customers’ expectations in mind, and we’re pleased to report that we met five out of seven outcomes, and also achieved our best performance overall so far for this price period.
Climate change continues to put pressure on our network and the availability of water, but we’ll continue to strive for all targets and take action where we need to do more. Even where we didn’t meet our target, we’ve made considerable progress towards doing so. Our performance for the seven outcomes for each year is presented in the table below.
A summary of the work we did in support of achieving each outcome in 2020-21 is provided below. We’re committed to achieving all targets but if we don’t meet any, we established a world-leading commitment to voluntarily return funds to customers via an annual community rebate. For any unmet target, we’ll voluntarily return a $1.5 million community rebate to customers through prices in the following year. Based on our performance in 2020-21, we’ll offset prices in 2021-22 by a $3 million reduction.
2020-21 was marked by the challenges of coronavirus (COVID-19). We organised ourselves rapidly to work remotely and our priorities were to:
- Continue providing essential water and sanitation services to customers
- Ensure we had appropriate support and flexibility options to offer residential and business customers financially impacted by coronavirus.
We know that dealing with water and sewerage issues at home and work makes life harder for customers, and is inconvenient and unpleasant, so we work towards guaranteed service levels every day as well as the seven annual performance promises summarised here.
If we don’t meet our guaranteed service levels, impacted households will automatically receive a rebate on their next bill. Rebates are $50, $300 or $1,000 depending on what happened. The timeframe for measuring these seven Price Submission outcomes is April 2020 to March 2021.
Outcomes we met
Safe Drinking Water
Target: 100% compliance with Safe Drinking Water Regulations 2015
Result: 100% compliance - achieved
Providing safe, high quality drinking water is our most important deliverable and we achieved 100% compliance with the Safe Drinking Water Regulations 2015. The regulations cover the way water quality tests are conducted and reported, and results for three water quality parameters:
- Escherichia coli bacteria (E.coli) - Generally found in the intestines of humans, birds and animals. E.coli is an indicator for potential contamination in the water supply.
- Trihalomethanes (THM) – A disinfection by-product that forms when natural organic matter in the water reacts with chlorine.
- Turbidity - Turbidity is a measure of water clarity, describes the amount of light scattered or blocked by suspended particles in a water sample. Clear water has low turbidity and cloudy or murky water has a higher turbidity.
We have a comprehensive water quality monitoring program that ensures the water we supply is high quality, safe and pleasant to drink. An independent laboratory collected and tested over 7,000 water samples this year, and we monitored and tested the water from over 1,200 randomly selected customer taps in 34 different water quality zones – achieving 100% compliance.
We also carried out additional, extensive water quality testing between Friday 28 and Sunday 30 August 2020, after a storm caused Melbourne Water’s Silvan Reservoir to lose power, resulting in undisinfected water entering the water supply network for a few hours early on the Friday morning. In response, and along with South East Water, we issued a precautionary Boil Water Advisory to 98 suburbs, while we worked with Melbourne Water to manage any risks to public health. This included increasing chlorination at our water storage tanks. The results of the water quality tests indicated the water was safe to drink and the precautionary Boil Water Advisory was lifted. Further details of the incident can be found here.
We continue to learn from every experience we have. We’re now working together with Melbourne Water, South East Water and City West Water to review and revamp our systems, processes, and communication approach to ensure our emergency response to incidents is the best it can be.
This year we also:
- Installed an additional seven chlorinators in our network to ensure we continue to maintain a multi-barrier approach to water quality
- Conducted routine inspections and maintenance of 12 water storage tanks
- Completed over 15,000 water audits in recycled water areas
- Cleaned over 600 kilometres of water mains, removing natural sediment that can cause complaints
- Passed the regulatory audit of our Drinking Water Quality Risk Management Plan with no non-conformances.
- Reviewed all our water quality controls as a precaution to manage any potential risk associated with coronavirus from the water supply source to customers. Drinking water in Australia is high quality and well treated and there’s no evidence that the coronavirus is transmitted by drinking water, or that drinking water will be affected by coronavirus.
We regularly report on water quality and more information can be found here.
Timely response and restoration
Target: 91% of customers’ water or sewerage service was restored within four hours
Result: 96.7% – achieved
You expect a fast response and effective restoration of your water and sewerage services if they’re interrupted. Our goal is to turn your water and sewerage services back on as quickly as possible, and our benchmark is to do this within four hours.
The seasonal challenge of getting to, and fixing emergency bursts and leaks quickly is ongoing as Melbourne experiences greater climate variability. To get on top of this, we continued to focus on service improvements, adjusting processes and procedures to a best practice level and implementing further training and awareness to contractors and staff.
To meet this target, we also:
- Revamped communications to customers impacted by our water main renewal works. The updated communications feature more visual information and iconography to make it easier for customers to understand. This has contributed to an increase in customer satisfaction for water main renewal works.
- Included real-time information about planned water and sewer works on our online Faults Map to give customers up to date information. This led to a reduced number of calls about these works as customers were able to access information easily for themselves.
- Optimised the seasonal escalation strategy introduced in 2019-20 by improving attendance time to faults and emergencies, which resulted in a positive impact to customers.
- Continued to work closely with our emergency maintenance contractors to improve their performance and restore customers’ water or sewerage services sooner.
- Strengthened relationships internally between teams, and with our emergency maintenance contractor, to enhance performance in the field and improve customer experience.
Fair access and assistance for all
Target: 89% of customers who have accessed our services believe we help customers experiencing difficulty paying for their water and sewerage services
Result: 93% - achieved
Customers have told us they value extra support for customers who struggle to pay for their water and sewerage services. Customers also expect us to improve awareness of, and access to, the support options available to customers experiencing financial difficulty. This year we received an extra $1.2 million to help meet this goal and to reach 150,000 customers over five years.
In 2020-21 our work changed significantly due to the impact of coronavirus on our customers. Building on the strong foundations of our well established WaterCare program, we developed and offered a range of new support packages for residential customers. For the first time we were also able to offer significant support options for commercial customers, and new tailored support options for rental providers (landlords). In anticipation of increased requests for support and call volumes, we trained new staff to ensure we were sufficiently resourced.
In 2020-21, we:
- Worked with 6,828 new customers in our WaterCare Support program, as well as an extra 7,746 customers who accessed our coronavirus-driven support options.
- Helped transition 5,359 customers back to mainstream payments after a period of time experiencing hardship.
The new support options we developed and offered customers (depending on their circumstances) included:
- Payment extensions up to six months, with up to two years after that to pay the balance.
- Tariff adjustments for customers who used more water due to the directive to stay at home.
- Proactively identified and contacted customers who may be eligible for a Utility Relief Grant.
- Additional flexibility for rental providers (landlords) whose rental income was impacted due to the moratorium on evictions.
- Waiving trade waste fees for small businesses impacted by coronavirus.
- Reducing fixed service charges for businesses impacted by coronavirus.
- Working with customers to jointly estimate how much water was used at their property, as we couldn’t access or read water meters at properties that had closed due to the coronavirus lockdown.
Coronavirus changed the way we reach customers
We found new ways to communicate and engage with our customers throughout 2020-21, including responding to the needs of those who were impacted by coronavirus. Due to lockdown restrictions, our primary communication and engagement channels were online. This included Council and community networks, financial counsellors and other stakeholders - sharing information, staying in touch and keeping abreast of the emerging issues facing the community. Improving our engagement with culturally and linguistically diverse communities was an important focus.
Key initiatives we undertook to raise awareness of the support available, and to improve access, included:
- Expanding the options customers could self-serve online including registering concessions and applying for Utility Relief Grants.
- Proactively calling customers who unexpectedly stopped paying bills, to check in and offer support options.
- Reaching 44,000 customers who may not be aware of our support through targeted communication approaches, engagement with trusted providers such as financial counsellors and emergency relief networks increased engagement with CALD communities’ services, including through
- Developing and sending stakeholder packs to 85 community organisations across our region, to ensure they were aware of the support we could offer to customers and communities they serve.
- Implementing a targeted social media campaign in English and other languages to geographically align with our quarterly bill cycle to reinforce messages of support on social media channels, as well in customers’ recent bills.
- Recommencing face to face engagement in early 2021 including a Bring Your Bills Day at Broadmeadows Community Hub
- Working with key culturally and linguistically diverse organisations in our region to build our understanding of the issues facing different communities and to seek feedback
- Attending community network meetings with local emergency relief networks, financial counsellors and organisations such as the Migrant Information Centre
- Holding a focus group with the Adult Migrant Education Service where we met community leaders
- Developing and sharing ‘Easy English’ brochures with key stakeholders, including financial counsellors and other advocates, and online.
- Supporting emergency relief and community organisations in the early stages of coronavirus by supplying toilet paper, hand sanitiser and emergency funding.
- Running a Community Water Conservation Grant program to fund plumbing improvements for local community centres and not-for-profit organisations – saving them money to channel into supporting community members
Modern flexible service
Target: 86% of customers are satisfied with their most recent interaction
Result: 87% - achieved
We are committed to providing the best service possible to our customers, creating great experiences, and ensuring customers are satisfied with each interaction they have with us.
The primary focus for the year was designing and implementing a suite of new products and services to support customers who were impacted by coronavirus.
Just under 9,500 residential and business customers contacted us for support. We listened to their needs and designed a range of products and services to allow greater flexibility in paying bills, while supporting them to apply for government grants and concession entitlements.
While responding to coronavirus, we continued to operate ‘business as usual’, and continually researched and implemented customer experience-led improvements.
- Mapping nearly 100 customer journeys. Journey maps bring to life the voice of our customers and help us understand their experience when interacting with us. This work enables us to identify the root cause of many pain points, and to develop and implement improvements.
- Establishing a common approach for managing complaints across the organisation to ensure the consistent handling and resolution of complaints.
- Removing customer pain points, improving communication with customers, and making it easier for customers to get what they need from us in the following areas:
- Improving website functionality
- Introducing proactive communications to make customers aware of potential water supply issues
- Simplifying online and phone self-service options
- Using the Snap Send Solve app to enable customers to report issues more easily
- Implementing new systems to speed up turnaround time of repairs out in the field and reduce impacts to customers.
Care for and protect the environment
Target: 31.5% reduction in carbon emissions (cumulative) compared to 2016-17 baseline of 34,083 tonnes CO2e
Result: 31.7% - achieved
We have pledged to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) by 64% by 1 July 2025. This Emissions Reduction Pledge is our response to lessening the impact of our energy intensive core services, which have significant environmental implications.
To reach this year’s goal and work towards our Emissions Reduction Pledge, we:
- Tendered for a second, larger food waste to energy facility to process food waste and create electricity, which will transform up to 150 tonnes of waste per day into 33,000 kWh of renewable energy – around 33% of our energy needs
- Started taking energy supply from Zero Emissions Water Ltd (ZEW), a large-scale solar farm in north west Victoria we purchase up to 25% of our energy needs from
- Approved a project to construct a 1,296kW floating solar system at our Wallan Sewage Treatment Plant that will also improve the quality of feedstock water for our Recycled Water Treatment Plant
- Conceptualised the installation of non-invasive large market ground-mounted solar systems at five sites
- Started exploring how we can harness more energy from our first food waste to energy facility.
Outcomes we did not meet
Reliable water and sewerage services
Target: Less than 0.96% of customers experienced three or more unexpected water or sewerage service interruptions this year
Result: 0.98% - not achieved
Our intention is to reduce service failures for customers who receive inconsistent levels of service. While we didn’t achieve the target, we targeted high fail areas and reduced the number of customers experiencing three or more unexpected interruptions by 35% compared to last year. Our actions included:
- Renewing 60km of aging and poor performing water mains
- Renewing 55km of aging and poor performing sewerage pipes
- Installing over 800 water valves to reduce the potential number of customers having their water interrupted
- Inspecting 210km of sewerage pipes to assess their condition and identify potential blockages
- Inspecting 1,650 house connection sewer branches to check the integrity of the pipes
- Renewing more than 1,300 house connection sewer branches which were impacting customers
- Rectifying over 1,000 valves and 250 hydrants to reduce the potential number of customers having their water interrupted
- Proving the location of over 2,000 valves and 1,200 hydrants that had been buried or moved, to reduce the potential number of customers having their water interrupted
- Identifying areas with a single source of supply that were suitable for introducing additional backup source of supply to reduce customer impacts
- Continuing field trials of a failure prediction model, using machine learning techniques to increase the likelihood of identifying assets to replace before they fail.
Our customers told us they wanted us to maintain service levels rather than increase bills by investing more to improve service levels.
We set the target of 0.96% based on a five-year historical average with performance measured on a rolling five-year average basis, to minimise the impact of annual weather variations. This year, due to the actions we took and favourable weather conditions, 0.58% of customers experienced three or more water and sewerage interruptions. This equates to 0.98% on a rolling five-year average basis.
As we didn’t meet the rolling five-year average target, we will return $1.5 million to customers via 2021-22 prices as promised in our Price Submission.
Water availability and conservation
Target: 213 litres of water used per person per day
Result: 214 litres per person per day – not achieved
This target reflects our customers’ expectations that we achieve ongoing efficiencies to help save water now for the future.
Our ambitious water usage annual target of 213 litres of water per person a day in 2020-21 is a holistic measure made up of the water:
- We buy from Melbourne Water
- Customers use at home and at work. The target 155 water conservation program encourages Melbourne households to use a maximum of 155 litres of water per person per day
- Used for firefighting and other authorised purposes
- Lost due to system leakage, bursts and leaking pipes.
Overall water use has decreased significantly in recent years - from 233 litres in 2018-19 to 221 litres per day in 2019-20, to 214 litres per day in 2020-21. While we didn’t meet our target, 214 litres of water per person per day is the second-best annual result since 2007. The reduction is largely attributed to mild summer temperatures, coronavirus-related restrictions particularly impacting our commercial and industrial customers, a significant reduction in network leaks (called non-revenue water) and activating water conservation campaigns targeted to residential customers.
We undertook the following programs and initiatives in support of meeting this target:
- Successfully piloted a showerhead exchange program, with 1,000 water-efficient showerheads provided to customers and an end-use study identifying opportunities for a larger roll-out in 2021-22
- Inducted 11 new schools into the School Water Efficiency Program (SWEP), bring the total number of participating schools to over 300
- Piloted a fun behaviour change program, Water Watchers, to help primary school aged children understand the importance of water conservation. Our Water Watchers are biodegradable, natural rubber toy characters that attach to bathroom taps, showerheads or the kitchen sink to remind families to “watch” their water use. The Water Watchers program rolled-out in the Maroondah area with over 45% of visitors to the web page ordering a Water Watcher. Results include 630 units ordered, 30,000 likes, comments and shares of social media advertisements, and approximately 330,000 people reached through Herald Sun promotion in the first week of the campaign. More information can be found here.
- Provided recycled water to over 36,000 properties, with significant investment across the recycled water network and treatment plants to increase reliability and production of recycled water
- Produced 212 million litres of recycled water for use by councils on public gardens and sporting ovals and for non-drinking purposes at homes
- Extended our recycled water main network to over 460 kilometres
- Conducted approximately 5,500 recycled water audits at customer properties, enabling greater use of recycled water in gardens, laundries and toilets
- Saved 669 million litres of water through proactive leak detection across 2,619 kilometres of water mains and pipes
- Installed an additional 71 network flow and pressure monitoring devices in our water supply network to identify leaks which aren’t visible from the surface. This means 23% of our water supply network is now monitored in real-time so we can investigate and repair leaks faster.
We will continue to strive for our ambitious water use target to support a secure water future for our community. The target for 2021-22 is 211 litres of water per person a day.
As this performance target wasn’t achieved, we will return $1.5 million to customers via 2021-22 prices, as promised in our Price Submission.