Sydney Water network cracks under pressure of drought; leak jobs taking weeks to resolve
By Paige Cockburn, Fri 10 Aug 2018
Sydney Water says it is drowning in leaks across the city due to the NSW drought, with some pipes spurting water for weeks before being repaired.
As customers become furious about the water wastage, the utility company has urged patience as their teams experience a high workload due to dry soil.
"I can see occasionally ... our leaks have run for longer than others," Sydney Water's network manager Gary Hurley said.
"I'd apologise to any customer who gets frustrated in trying to get an issue resolved.
"I would appeal to people's patience."
But Steve Batten in Leichhardt said his patience ran out recently, when a leaking pipe on Flood Street gushed water for 50 days.
"When NSW is in drought, it is pretty piss weak that this wastage continues," he said.
Mr Batten took a basic measure of how much water was being lost and the result Ã¢â¬â at least 3 litres of water per minute.
He made numerous reports to Sydney Water and even took the matter direct to his local state member.
Finally it was fixed but Mr Hurley said the wait time was "exceptional".
"We don't get it right all the time."
The complaints about long delays and water wastage have continued to flood in, with many people taking issue with Sydney Water's performance.
Nic Spencer in Beverly Hills said he had water cascading down his street for four weeks.
"We are in one of our worst droughts ever and farmers are committing suicide because of the intense stress of no rain," he said.
"[But] we have water pouring down our street ... I called again today, for the third time to be told that it 'may' be repaired next week as it is 'not a priority'."
Michelle Kondoulis in Rydalmere was also in disbelief after an almost week-long wait for water bubbling from the road to be addressed.
"What are we waiting for? That's a hell of a lot of water going to waste every minute, hour, day," she said.
"We had what looked like a bubbler running constantly.
"Nothing [for almost a week] despite using snap, send, solve, calling and talking to their Facebook page."
So why all the leaks and cracks now?
Sydney went into a rainfall deficit in 2016 and that deficit has gradually become worse and worse with soil moisture now at a very reduced level.
And when moisture in soil changes, pipes start to shift and move.
"It can eventually work weaknesses into pipes which can result in increases in leaks and breaks," Mr Hurley said.
"It's been building ... now quite deep levels of the soil are moving."
Mr Hurley said he understands that in the drought, which now covers 100 per cent of NSW, people will have increased expectations of the company.
"Organisations like ours will be looked at to lead the way," he said.
"That's the way it should be."
In response, Sydney Water has beefed up their frontline and maintenance teams by taking on extra contractor crews.
Customers often cannot understand how problems might take days or weeks to resolve but Mr Hurley said the consequences of shutting the water off can be far reaching.
"If we shut it down, it may impact schools, commercial premises, companies, or a large number of customers," Mr Hurley said.
"Sometimes that leads to leaks running a little bit longer than what we would desire but in our view that's in the greater good in terms of maintaining supply to the wider community."
Mr Hurley made the assurance that Sydney Water was a strong performer when it came to minimising leaks.
"My understanding is that we are still at the top end of the acceptable range."
© 2018 ABC