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Cleaner Seas Alliance

Helping keep the Barrier Reef 'great' - an eco-friendly solution for an ecological wonder of the world

Cairns Water (Cairns City Council)
Contract Value
$175M AUD
Project Duration
Estimated Completion
Service Lines/Product Description
  • Project Management
  • Instrumentation, Control & Electrical (ICE) Engineering
  • Procurement
  • Mechanical & ICE construction
  • Process Control Commissioning
Cairns, Queensland, Australia
Project Overview

The Cleaner Seas Project Alliance was an initiative by Cairns City Council which provided both increased capacity and enhanced treatment of wastewater from its major wastewater treatment plants. The project, which included $75.44 million in State Government funding, caters for a population of more than 200,000 people.

The Cleaner Seas project consisted of major upgrades to four of the largest wastewater treatment plants serving Cairns. Prior to upgrades, treatment plants did not meet with proposed future EPA licence conditions which featured low total nitrogen and phosphorous levels. The Cleaner Seas Alliance consisted of Cairns Water, UGL, CEC, SKM and GHD.

The Challenge

Tropical North Queensland is an important region for farming and tourism, and is home to one of the world’s natural wonders, the Great Barrier Reef.

Wastewater from agriculture and the growing population has increased levels of nitrogen and phosphorous in effluent. When discharged this impacts on marine life in local waterways and ultimately, the Great Barrier Reef.

The major objectives for the Alliance included:

  • Reduction in the nutrients being discharged to the Great Barrier Reef by up to 80%
  • Increasing the capacity of the treatment plants given the rapidly increasing population of Cairns and surrounds
  • Enabling the substitution of potable water with recycled water in areas adjacent the treatment plants
The Solution

Working across four sites simultaneously, UGL was also able to realise a number of benefits, including economies of scale in procurement, flexibility in assigning labour to minimise downtime, lower mobilisation costs for out-of-area specialists, an ability to apply lessons learnt from one site to others (especially during commissioning), and a condensed program resulting in overall reduced project overhead cost.

UGL’s scope of work in delivering this solution included alliance and construction management, electrical, instrumentation and control design, and also mechanical and electrical construction labour. More than 70 highly skilled personnel worked across all four sites, supported by UGL technical experts. Of particular note was the in-house process control and automation team and their ability to fully automate each plant, and full remote operability, thereby reducing site attendance requirements.

Key Outcomes and Benefits

UGL’s collaborative step-by-step approach to the project gave the Alliance certainty in achieving the necessary outcomes. This approach also ensured that the challenge of working on multiple sites, with concurrent design and construct at all four plants, would be successfully managed.

Despite the various challenges (including crocodiles) four sites presented, UGL’s labour force demonstrated the value of the company’s OH&S policies by achieving 590 days of LTI free construction works, equivalent to over 632,000 man hours.

Other key successes included:

  • Successfully delivered Target Out-turn Cost (TOC) for the four large treatment plants within forecast, a product of efficient, robust estimating, forecasting and cost control processes
  • 80% of the project team were mobilised within three months for this large regional project in order to meet a tight timeframe, thereby minimising the effects of the wet season on project delivery
  • Full plant and process automation and control by utilising water focussed, comprehensive in-house engineering and SCADA and control engineers

UGL’s outstanding achievements in this project were recognised through three awards:

  • Engineers Australia, ‘Control Systems and Communications, Engineering Excellence Award 2010’
  • Engineers Australia, Environment Engineering Excellence, High Commendation Award 2010 for Improving Sustainability’
  • Pace ZENITH, ‘Process Control, Excellence and Innovation Award Winner 2010’
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