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Office of the Commissioner for Sustainability and the Environment

Indicator: Infrastructure

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Energy, water supply and sewerage infrastructure in the ACT are generally in good condition, well managed and provide high quality services when compared with other Australian jurisdictions. New and improved asset systems are in place for roads and stormwater infrastructure, however maintenance of these assets continues to be under-funded.

Infrastructure managers, and the ACT community, face large and increasing costs to maintain ageing assets at a condition that is acceptable to the community. The longer additional maintenance expenditure is deferred, the higher the eventual costs will be. On a more positive note, asset management plans are in place for each infrastructure type. The development and review of these plans is leading to improving knowledge of the asset base and increasing recognition of the need to implement proactive maintenance programs to complement the traditional reactive systems.

There is an urgent need to back these asset management plans and programs with increased funding if we are to:

  • maintain and replace existing ageing infrastructure, and
  • provide new infrastructure to meet the needs of a growing population, and
  • invest in new more ecologically sustainable forms of infrastructure, notably public transport.

The January 2003 bushfires had a significant impact on the infrastructure in the ACT, in particular on the electricity, gas, water supply and sewerage systems, private and public buildings, and heritage sites.

What the results tell us about the ACT

Road and traffic assets

Roads ACT manages the ACT road network which, at 30 June 2002, consisted of 2512 lane kilometres of Territorial roads and 3252 lane kilometres of Municipal roads. This is less than the total length of roads reported in the previous period, due to changed methods of estimating road length.

The age profile of Territorial roads, which has not been updated since 2000, shows that 75% of the network was built before 1980. For the Municipal Roads, 60% of the road network has surfacing greater than 10 years old and 33% has surfacing greater than 15 years old. This road network includes 1047 bridges and culverts, 60,000 streetlights, 206 traffic signals, about 220 kilometres of community paths and 505 kilometres of cycle paths. An accurate record of driveways and carparks has not been established.

The Strategic Study into Management of ACT Roads and Stormwater Assetsprovided condition ratings for various road and traffic assets in the ACT, based on the limited sample (approximately 5%) of assets carried out in 2001 (see Table 1).

Since the previous reporting period the condition of Territorial roads remained steady, while Municipal roads deteriorated. The condition of bridges, culverts and community paths improved, while that of streetlights and traffic signals was unchanged. The current reporting period saw the condition ratings for driveways, car parks, line markings and directional signs provided for the first time.

Table 1: Condition of roads and traffic assets
Asset Proportion of asset in each category
Very poor Poor Fair Good Excellent
Territorial roads 7% 24% 31% 32% 6%
Municipal roads 6% 28% 35% 29% 2%
Bridges and culverts 5% 5% 15% 70% 5%
Community paths 5% 10% 20% 35% 30%
Driveways 5% 10% 25% 15% 45%
Carparks 5% 10% 15% 30% 40%
Street lights 10% 15% 40% 25% 10%
Traffic signals 5% 5% 45% 40% 5%
Line marking 5% 10% 25% 60% 0%
Directional signals 5% 5% 15% 75% 0%

Source: Strategic Study into Management of ACT Roads and Stormwater Assets – Final Report May 2001. The condition assessment is based on the sample surveys of assets done in 2001.

Roads asset management

The Draft Asset Management Plan, produced by Roads ACT in 2000, was used as a data source for the previous report. Since then, ACT Roads has reviewed and finalised the Asset Management Plan (September 2003). Roads ACT is committed to review the environmental and financial aspects of this plan in 2003–04 to make it an effective tool for planning and maintaining all Roads ACT's assets.

The Plan currently in use identifies practices and performance targets for asset management. It shows that target performance-based standards for infrastructure are not being met due to significant Page 2 under-funding of maintenance and rehabilitation. For example, maintenance targets have been set to treat 8–10% of Territory roads and 7–10% of Municipal roads per annum. However, under the current funding arrangements, only 6% of the Territorial and 5% of the Municipal network are treated each year – a significant shortfall.

A systematic proactive approach to maintenance is needed to prevent further deterioration of infrastructure assets and significant increase in eventual rehabilitation costs that would entail. The Asset Management Planprovides performance-based targets in this regard, however additional funding is needed if these targets are to be achieved (see Table 2).

Table 2: Target and actual road spending
Territorial Municipal
Percentage of roads to be treated 8% 7%
Target spending (total) $8,845,000 $6,630,000
Programmed spending $7,800,000 $5,500,000
Routine spending $1,045,000 $1,030,000
Average actual spending (total) $6,880,000 $4,930,000

Source: Data supplied by Roads ACT 2003

The need for additional funding is also underpinned by factors key to maintaining a road network that meets relevant standards and community needs.

These include:

  • safety, especially in the context of accidental damage claims and litigation
  • the cost of maintaining assets at an acceptable level of service to the community
  • increasing costs to maintain an ageing asset
  • large and increasing capital investment to restore asset condition
  • the level and number of complaints and other community feedback.

Water supply and sewerage assets

Water infrastructure in the ACT comprises three separate systems: a water supply system, a sewerage system and a stormwater system. The water supply and sewerage assets are owned by ACTEW Corporation and operated by ActewAGL. The stormwater assets are owned and managed by Roads ACT. The condition of the assets varies depending on age, usage and environment.

Overall, the condition of the water supply and sewerage assets can be considered good to very good; while the condition of the stormwater assets is fair to good.

Stormwater infrastructure

The ACT stormwater infrastructure includes 3077 kilometres of pipes and 335 kilometres of channels and floodways, as well as 60,000 sumps, 90 gross pollutant traps and numerous ponds, weirs and basins. The condition of the stormwater assets surveyed (a new survey of dams and weirs is yet to be conducted) is mostly fair to good (see Table 3).

Table 3: Condition of stormwater assets, 2001
Asset Proportion of asset in each category
Very poor Poor Fair Good Excellent
Above ground (channels, etc.) 5% 25% 30% 30% 10%
Below ground (pipes, etc.) 20% 15% 10% 45% 10%

Source: Strategic Study into Management of ACT Roads and Stormwater Assets – Final Report , May 2001.

This overall assessment of condition is on the physical asset and not on its capacity. There are areas in Canberra North, Central and South where the pipe capacity does not meet current needs. With about one-third of the above- and belowground stormwater network in poor or very poor condition, there is a clear need to improve maintenance of these assets.

Maintenance of the stormwater infrastructure is guided by Roads ACT's Asset Management Plan. The Plan identifies the need to move to a fully planned, proactive maintenance regime. Targets for programmed maintenance of dams are being met. However, current maintenance practices for above- and below-ground stormwater assets are largely reactive and do not meet the targets set out in the Plan.

Water supply infrastructure

Details of the ACT’s water supply assets, as at 30 June 2002, are shown in Table 4.

Table 4: Water supply assets, ACT
Asset Quantity Replacement value Capacity Weighted average age Useful life
Dams 4 $230,227,000 215GL 33 years 150 years
Bulk supply mains 422 km $342,410,000 various 24 years 100 years
Water treatment plants 2 $47,989,000 500ML/day 29 years 30 years
Water reticulation mains 2,471 km $462,208,000 various 27 years 80 years
Water reservoirs 51 $102,734,000 920ML 32 years 90 years
Water pump stations 23 $9,360,500 various 26 years 35 years
Hydrants 25,439 $16,618,000 various 27 years 80 years
Water services 103,808 $125,420,000 various 27 years 80 years
Water meters 102,242 $16,618,000 various 5 years 12 years

Source: Data supplied by ActewAGL 2003

The capacity of the water supply infrastructure is limited by the capacity of the water treatment plants to meet the maximum daily demand of the reticulation system (see Table 5).

Table 5: Water demands, consumption and availability
Maximum 2000–01 2001–02 2002–03
Stored volume 215GL 175.3GL 157.1GL 95.7GL
Maximum daily demand 500ML* 392ML 416ML 367ML
Total annual consumption 62.8GL 65.9GL 65.6GL

*This figure reflects the combined capacity of the Stromlo and Googong Treatment Plants. The temporary closure of the Stromlo Treatment Plant following the January 2003 bushfires cut capacity to 180ML/day.

This maximum daily demand generally occurs only for short periods during hot and dry summer days. There is, however, some limited buffer capacity available within the service reservoirs that allows the maximum daily demand to exceed the treatment plant capacities for short periods of about one to two days, depending on actual demand.

Sewerage system

Details of the sewerage assets, as at 30 June 2002, are shown in Table 6.

Table 6: Sewerage assets, ACT, as at 30 June 2002
Asset Quantity Replacement value Capacity Weighted average age Useful life
Sewerage service lines 97,398 $126,617,400 various 27 years 80 years
Reticulation mains 2,678km $670,860,885 various 27 years 80 years
Trunk sewers 184km $243,781,380 various 30 years 90 years
Sewer tunnels 25km $120,960,000 various 30 years 100 years
Sewer pipe bridges 14 $5,428,500 n/a 30 years 90 years
Major sewer structures 13 $10,680,000 n/a 30 years 90 years
Rising mains 35km $5,375,200 various 30 years 80 years
Sewage pump stations 28 $7,977,400 various 26 years 40 years

Like the water supply infrastructure, the sewerage system is designed to handle peak flows. These occur only during wet weather conditions when rainwater flows into the sewers. These peak conditions occur rarely and the pipe network is designed to accommodate a one-in-ten-year event without risk of overflowing. The sewage treatment plants, however, operate best under steady flow conditions and are not sized to handle the rare peak wet weather flows. Flow attenuation of peak flows is needed to ensure flow bypasses do not occur. At the Lower Molonglo Water Quality Control Centre this flow attenuation occurs in the trunk sewers at the inlet to the plant and in the bypass control dam where by-pass flow is stored for treatment after the peak flows have passed. The capacity of the Lower Molonglo Water Quality Control Centre is 109 megalitres per day.

During the reporting period the maximum daily inflows into the plant were:

  • 2000–01: 151.4 ML/day
  • 2001–02: 190.6 ML/day
  • 2002–03: 116.0 ML/day

The replacement values of the water supply and sewerage system assets at 30 June 2002 were $1358 million and $1541 million respectively. Both capital and operational expenditure on water supply infrastructure increased during the reporting period. Operational expenditure on the sewerage infrastructure was steady, while there was no clear trend in capital expenditure (see Table 7).

Table 7: Capital and operational expenditure by infrastructure type
Type Expenditure type 2000–01 2001–02 2002–03
$ % of total value $ % of total value $ % of total value
Water supply CAPEX $5.6m 0.41 $6.9m 0.51 $7.5m 0.55
OPEX $24.5m 1.80 $26.0m 1.91 $32.3m 2.38
Sewerage CAPEX $7.1m 0.46 $4.0m 0.26 $5.2m 0.34
OPEX $29.4m 1.91 $30.0m 1.95 $29.1m 1.89

Source: Data supplied by ActewAGL 2003 CAPEX = capital expenditure; OPEX = operational expenditure

In line with all other water utilities in Australia the age of water supply and sewerage assets of ActewAGL is beginning to show, and they will need increasing levels of maintenance and renewal in the future.

While the weighted average age of most of the assets is less than half of their expected useful lives, there is an increasing number of assets, in the older parts of Canberra, that are 70 to 80 years old and are thus approaching the end of their useful lives. Other assets, small sewer mains in particular, built in the 'boom days' of the 1970s are starting to fail prematurely due to poor construction standards and intrusion of tree roots and are thus needing an extraordinarily high level of maintenance and replacement.

In addition, the expected population growth rate of about 1% per annum will require the continuing expansion of networks in greenfield areas, such as Gungahlin, and the replacement and augmentation of network assets in in-fill or re-development areas, such as Kingston. Continuing growth will also require augmentations to the Lower Molonglo Water Quality Control Centre and the probable construction of a new water supply dam and associated treatment plant and distribution assets. The timing of these works is still uncertain and will be affected by the impact of proposed demand management measures and the uptake of treated effluent re-use initiatives.

ActewAGL's asset management plan

ActewAGL employs a comprehensive Asset Management Plan to manage its capital, operating and maintenance programs, risk assessment and future needs assessment for its infrastructure assets. This Plan contains a major maintenance program, and a preventive maintenance program and also makes provision for reactive maintenance activities on its assets.

In 2003 the Independent Competition and Regulatory Commission appointed independent consultants to review Actew's electricity and water services.

In undertaking the review, the consultants made a number of broad observations on ACTEW's asset management practices, including that:

  • assets are at, or in some cases are better, than the condition to be expected for their age
  • ACTEW is generally performing above the average performance of comparable water utilities in Australia and provides a high standard of service (ICRC 2003: pp. 67-68).

The Plan sets out the asset management strategy along with the proposed capital, operating and maintenance programs for the next 20 years. Underlying these programs are assumptions on growth rate, demand and asset performance as well as associated risks.

The major issues of concern for future infrastructure, at this time, are:

  • the ACT Government's development strategy
  • the timing and location of the next water supply dam
  • the introduction of an environmentally effective and economically viable effluent reuse strategy and its impacts on both the existing and future water supply and sewerage systems
  • the ageing of existing infrastructure assets.

All these are monitored continuously and the Plan is reviewed annually to reflect any necessary changes to future programs.

Electricity network

ActewAGL's electricity network (see Tables 8, 9 and 10) remained in good condition and performed well, compared with other Australian electricity distribution businesses. The overall performance and planned maintenance programs are subject to continual analysis and review.

According to the ActewAGL Supplementary Report 2001–02, the range of useful life for the electricity system assets is 5 to 60 years. In 2001–02 ActewAGL undertook a total re-engineering of all work processes, a review of all design standards and material standards. These were precursory to developing and implementing the Works Management System in the third quarter of 2002. At the time of writing, the Works Management System was still being settled in but was providing useful and improved information for asset management.

Table 8: Electricity infrastructure
2000–01 2001–02 2002–03
Customers 135,579 137,820 139,883
Mains in service(km) – overhead
132kV 160 160 159
66kV 8 8 7
22kV 24 24 34**
11kV 1,355 1,355 1,034**
Low voltage* 1,300 1,300 1,262**
Mains in service(km) – underground
132kV 3 3 3
22kV 2 2 2
11kV 1,310 1,333 1,189**
Low voltage* 950 989 922
Electricity substations 4,014 4,014 ** 4,339

*Lengths of low voltage mains do not include LV service cables and conductors; ** Implementation of new asset recording and management systems has resulted in more accurate data, hence the significant variations for 2002–03; Source: ActewAGL Annual Report 2002–03

Table 9: Electricity system assets, as at 30 June
Finance category 2001 2002 2003
At cost $474,98,000 $489,872,000 $499,107,000
Accumulated depreciation ($16,275,000) ($37,894,000) ($58,847,000)
Total $458,700,000 $451,978,000 $440,260,000
Construction in progress $8,459,000 $9,599,000 $22,182,000
Net book value $467,160,000 $461,577,000 $462,444,000

Source: ActewAGL Supplementary Report 2001–02 ; ActewAGL Financial Report 2003

Table 10: Electricity system maintenance expenditure
Finance category 2000–01 2001–02 2002–03
Maintenance expenditure $7,900,000 $7,400,000 $8,600,000
% NBV assets 1.68 1.618 1.85

Source: Data supplied by ActewAGL 2003

ACT gas network

The ACT gas network (see Tables 11, 12 and 13) is relatively new and in good condition. Agility (a subsidiary of AGL) maintains the network under an asset management and services contract.

Maintenance is carried out in accordance with established maintenance programs and procedures for reactive maintenance. Asset management is reviewed annually and prepared by Agility in accordance with their technical policies, industry standards, Australian standards, safety and operating plan requirements. Details of the gas supply infrastructure are shown in Table 11.

Table 11: Gas infrastructure
2000–01 2001–02 2002–03*
Customers 84,571 88,711 92,656
Length of mains (km) 3,520 3,583 3,624
Qty gas supplied (TJ) 3,665# 6,628 6,715
Trunk receiving stations 3 5 5
District regulating stations 69 74 79

* Includes ACT and Queanbeyan; # Quantity of gas supplied for the nine months to 30 June 2001; Source: ActewAGL Annual Report 2002–03 ; additional data supplied by ActewAGL

Table 12: Gas system assets, as at June 30
Finance category 2001 2002 2003
At cost $203,732 $216,042 $225,511
Accumulated depreciation ($4,124) ($9,808) ($15,677)
Net book value $199,608 $206,234 $209,834

Source: ActewAGL Supplementary Report 2001–02 ; ActewAGL Financial Report 2003

Table 13: Gas system maintenance expenditure
Finance category 2000–01 2001–02 2002–03
Maintenance expenditure $3,700,000* $3,700,000* $3,700,000*
% NBV assets 1.85 1.79 1.76

*Maintenance expenditure is based on Final Decision of ICRC , published November 2000 (expressed in 2000–01 dollars); Source: Data supplied by ActewAGL 2003; the range of useful life for the gas system assets is 15 to 80 years. Data on average weighted age were not provided.

Education assets

In 2002 there were 138 schools in the ACT. Of these, 95 were government schools, 30 were Catholic non-government schools and 13 were independent non-government schools; 93 were primary schools, 28 secondary schools and 12 were combined primary and secondary schools.

Maintenance costs for government schools were $4.9 million in 2000–01, $4.8 million in 2001–02 and $5.4 million in 2002–03. Information on the age and condition of the education infrastructure or the adequacy of maintenance expenditure was not available.


At June 2003, there were 70 places and 10 objects entered in the ACT Heritage Places Register. There were 446 places on the Interim Register, of which 424 were Aboriginal places, with an additional 185 Aboriginal places still being assessed. The Register is available on the Environment ACT web site at < >.

There is no consistent and continuing data collection or monitoring process for assessing the condition of natural and cultural heritage places in the ACT. In each year of the reporting period, the ACT Heritage Grants Program funded 20 to 30 projects to help the community conserve and promote the heritage of the ACT. Projects are generally funded at a level of under $10,000 and involve some financial or in-kind support from the applicants. New ACT Heritage legislation was drafted during the reporting period. If passed it will provide improved offence provisions, and incentives for protection of heritage.

Bushfire impacts and response

In response to the bushfires that hit Canberra on 18 January 2003, ActewAGL convened its crisis management team for the first time. At the height of the crisis 37,500 customers were without electricity and 6500 customers were without natural gas supply. The damage to the ACT energy and water infrastructure was substantial.

Damage includes:

  • both Canberra’s water treatment plants
  • the roof was blown off the Chapman reservoir
  • the Lower Molonglo Water Quality Control Centre, Canberra’s major sewerage treatment plant, was able to treat only 5% of sewage flow
  • 28 distributional substations
  • 780 high and low voltage poles
  • a number of gas meters and services.

Electricity, natural gas, water supply and sewerage services were restored to all customers within 10 days, however ongoing remedial works continued for months. The total financial impact of the bushfires on ActewAGL was $1.7 million.

The cost of repairing the damage caused by the bushfires on the ACT road network is estimated at $2,577,000. The bushfires also had an impact on other types of infrastructure including: 583 major buildings, including urban and rural homes; businesses, community, educational research facilities (notably the Stromlo observatory); ACT Government facilities and assets; and equestrian and other sporting facilities.

The Cotter Bridge was burnt out and there were numerous other planned and unplanned road closures. The Director of ACT Roads was appointed to the ACT Emergency Management Committee and served as infrastructure recovery coordinator. An infrastructure recovery sub-plan and subcommittee were formed within the Bushfire Recovery Taskforce. Restoring the infrastructure after the fires required extraordinary maintenance expenditure. The implications this has on routine and programmed maintenance will need to be monitored in the future.

There was no significant impact from the January 2003 bushfires on the Territory's dams other than the water supply dams. The grass cover on the embankment slopes was burnt on the Point Hut Pond and the Lower Stranger and Tuggeranong Dams.

Sustainability implications

Current water, energy and transport infrastructure is not sustainable. Water is a major material flow through the urban system. It is also inefficiently used: potable water is used for all domestic uses with the exception of a few effluent reuse and greywater systems.

Transport infrastructure continues to be based around private motor vehicle use. While the ACT's energy is predominantly sourced from nonrenewable sources, renewable sources are being developed. A mini-hydro facility is in place at Mt Stromlo treatment plant and another is being constructed at Googong. Wind monitoring towers have been erected at sites identified for possible wind power generation projects. However, considerable technical and financial analysis is needed before ActewAGL will commit to a significant wind energy development.

At June 2003, 4675 ActewAGL customers subscribed to the GreenChoice program. If subscription numbers continue to grow, this will force ActewAGL to purchase a greater proportion of its energy from renewable sources, which in turn may stimulate development of new renewable energy infrastructure.

If we fail to adequately maintain our infrastructure we will commit future generations to poorer quality of infrastructure and/or higher maintenance costs. A research study conducted for the Canberra Spatial Planfound that (in response to the statement ‘In the future, it is likely to cost considerably more to provide and maintain infrastructure as roads, stormwater and sewerage to the same standard as today) 81.6% of people were prepared to pay more for infrastructure, while only 3.3% were prepared to accept reduced standards (Artcraft Research 2002).

Data sources and references

Data supplied by ACT Roads; Department of Education, Youth and Family Services; and ActewAGL.

Robinson, P and Cayton B 2001, Strategic Study Into Management of ACT Roads and Stormwater Assets – Executive Summary , ARRB Transport Research, Melbourne, for ACT Roads and Stormwater.

ActewAGL Annual Report 2002–03 .

ActewAGL Financial Report 2003 .

ActewAGL Supplementary Report 2002 .

Artcraft Research 2002, Final Report on a Quantitative Research Study on the Canberra Spatial Plan , 1 November 2002, Artcraft Research, Canberra < inalreport1.pdf  >.

Independent Competition and Regulatory Commission 2003, Draft Report and Draft Price Decision – Investigation into prices for water and wastewater services in the ACT (December 2003), ICRC, Canberra.

McLeod, R 2003, Inquiry into the Operational Response to the January 2003 Bushfires , ACT Government, Canberra.

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