More than 40,000 Indigenous Australians in 694 locations nationwide rely on groundwater for water supply and face challenges in accessing clean water that meets the Australian Drinking Water Guidelines. In the case of the community of Gillen Bore in the Northern Territory, they had access to bore water, with a new bore sunk in 2014. Despite this, they relied on the continued transport (150km round trip from Alice Springs) of potable water due to high salinity, hardness and low pH levels in the bore water. This is a costly and inefficient expense that nationally in 2017 cost the Australian government more than $13 million in transportation fees1.
Gilghi, which means “water” or “place of water” in the Barkindji Indigenous language, was three years in the making for client Ingkerreke Resource Services and was enabled by a $70 000 Municipal and Essential Services Special Purposes Grant from the Northern Territory Government.
Gilghi’s flexible design enables the system to meet larger supply requirements and different treatment challenges without adversely affecting the cost per litre. Comprising photovoltaic (PV) solar, batteries and a back-up diesel generator, Gilghi takes feed water from a range of sources, including bores, streams, brackish and saltwater, where it’s stored in an inlet tank before it passes through three stages of treatment:
Ordinarily, water treatment systems run continuously, but Gilghi makes smart use of available solar power to run the plant and charge the batteries during the day. This includes the development of a specialist electrical control system using multiple power sources to purify the water. This then feeds the clean water into the community’s reticulation system. The system can produce up to 28kL of potable water per day.
Gilghi adopts a ‘plug and play’ approach, with all components of the plant prototyped, assembled, connected and tested at Ampcontrol’s facility in Newcastle NSW. It is housed in a standard shipping container which only requires truck transportation and a forklift to install. Because of the modular design, the system can be expanded in the future if required.
The system has been well received by the community. Deployment of Gilghi has facilitated community ownership over their water supply, with local residents participating in the official opening in 2019 and using the site as a community meeting point. A local Indigenous artist, Kerry Preece, adorned the side of the container with an art piece titled ‘Honey Ant Dreaming’.
Gilghi has also presented new employment opportunities for the people of Gillen Bore, with a training program developed for local Indigenous people to operate and maintain the unit in an ongoing capacity.
Since the installation of the Gilghi unit, the people of Gillen Bore can turn on the tap and know that safe, clean drinking water will run straight into their glasses. Gilghi represents a revolutionary “turnkey” modular system that can significantly contribute to reaching the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 6 – ensuring access to clean water and sanitation for all by 2030.
The project was recognised by the Australian Water Association in 2020 as the New South Wales Infrastructure Project Innovation of the Year.
1The Productivity Commission’s 2017 Indigenous Expenditure Report