At the edge of the cliff: planning for Australia’s ageing infrastructure

With so much of Australia’s water and sewerage infrastructure built before the 1970s, many water, wastewater and stormwater assets are reaching the end of their expected 50-year lifecycle – a phenomenon known as the ‘infrastructure cliff’. Risks associated with ageing infrastructure are compounded by pressure caused by Australia’s ever-growing population, and the impact of increasingly frequent extreme weather events. This makes it more important than ever for utilities to assess the condition of their assets, and to develop a maintenance and repair program to ensure infrastructure assets can service the community for the future. 


Earlier this year, Infrastructure Australia released its Australian Infrastructure Audit 2019 – a comprehensive analysis of Australia’s infrastructure. The report identified that addressing Australia’s ageing infrastructure is fast becoming an urgent issue, and cited pressures such as our growing population; a rise in the number of single-person occupied homes, which is expected to increase by more than 60 per cent by 2036; and the increasing frequency of extreme weather events caused by our changing climate.

However, despite these trends, Australia ranks below average for infrastructure investment among other countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

Investing in the future

According to John Adamo, Far North Queensland Operations and Business Development Manager for Interflow – Australasia’s leading solution provider for water infrastructure works – investing in water asset renewal is more important than ever.

“Assets across Australia are fast approaching the ‘infrastructure cliff’ – the end of their 50-year life expectancy,” Mr Adamo said.

“The infrastructure boom went for about 30 years, so the infrastructure cliff will span over about 20 years, depending on what part of Australia you’re in.

“However, many councils don’t have the funds to jump on repairing things; they need to program the work when the funds are available. But a lot of councils are struggling to establish a program of works that will ensure they rehabilitate the correct sewers, before their sewers actually collapse or stop working.”

Currently, about 196 businesses and local government supply water and wastewater services to Australia’s cities and towns, and a number of smaller operators provide local and specialised services, including to remote communities.

Get the picture

Infrastructure Australia’s report warns that not renewing assets when their condition is compromised can lead to significant financial and service costs in the longer-term. However, it identified that asset owners are lacking information about the age, condition and capacity of urban water assets to make informed decisions. And what is known is not publicly reported in a consistent manner.

Mr Adamo said the best way for asset owners to better understand the structural condition and serviceability of its sewer pipes was to carry out an assessment.

“Interflow works with its clients to carry out a condition assessment, which is a program to clean and conduct CCTV inspections, of the sewer lines using remotely operated cameras,” Mr Adamo said.

“In doing that we come up with a WASA wind cam  report, which categorises the condition of the sewer lines on a 1:5 basis, with one being in good condition and five needing urgent and extensive repair.

“This enables councils to put together a program of works for coming years; so this year’s works are based on last year’s assessments, and the condition assessments that get done this year will inform next year’s rehabilitation.

“This will give asset owners the information they need to address issues before they become significant faults, while receiving maximum value from existing infrastructure, and delivering reliable services to their customers into the future.”

The building blocks of innovation

By consistently challenging the status quo, Interflow has been dedicated to solving its customers’ problems under its core values of Honesty, Reliability and Competence. Handed down throughout each generation, this philosophy has been the cornerstone of the company’s success and will continue to be the building blocks for sustaining its rich heritage of innovation.

To find out more about Interflow’s solutions for water infrastructure networks, contact us and we’ll assist you with your project needs.

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