An engineer who played a key role in developing and rationalising Victorian water authorities in the 1990s has returned to chair the group managing the controversial Connections project.
The $2billion irrigation upgrade, formerly known as Foodbowl Modernisation, is implementing new technology and rebuilding channels around thousands of rural properties in northern Victoria.
The project, overseen by Goulburn-Murray Water, almost stalled several years ago and had to get a major reboot from the Victorian Government to get it back on track.
Former Goulburn Valley Water technical services director Peter McManamon has been appointed chair of the project control group, following the departure of inaugural chair Mike Walsh.
It’s his job to deliver the project on time and on budget.
Mr McManamon, 63, has read something of the history of the project and is not fazed by the challenge in working towards the 2020 completion date.
He said he had managed difficult projects, knew something about working in rural areas and still had some good contacts in the industry.
‘‘I like a challenge,’’ Mr McManamon said.
‘‘Before I took this on, I looked at it. It has ‘good bones’. It was starting to recover.
‘‘It’s not like taking over a basket case. It was on the mend, had good prospects going forward and we could over-deliver on the outcomes.’’
Mr McManamon was working in Queensland when former chair Mike Walsh contacted him.
‘‘Mike had plans to move on and he rang me and told me he was going. He said, ‘Do you know anyone interested?’
‘‘I thought it was something I could add value to.
‘‘It was an interesting project for me. It was a great region to live in. I have friends here. It’s still very close to my heart.’’
He will be reporting to both the Goulburn-Murray Water board and Victorian Water Minister Lisa Neville, and said he was comfortable with the arrangement.
He doesn’t see a ‘two masters’ problem.
‘‘When you run a project like this and the PCG, you have to run it as a project, not necessarily as a bureaucracy; that sort of reporting line makes sense, we know we have to fit within a G-MW strategy and a state government strategy.
‘‘In Queensland I reported to two ministers.’’
The project control group includes Pat McNamara representing G-MW, Richard Anderson from the VFF and senior bureaucrat Campbell Fitzpatrick.
Mr McManamon is confident of meeting the 2020 completion date and will be doing his best to finish early.
He had almost retired after a hectic five years on a Queensland project.
He worked for Goulburn Valley Water between 1990 and 1999 when the former Shepparton Water Board was changing from a single city water authority into a regional body.
GV Water eventually enveloped a large number of smaller towns, upgrading treatment plants and introducing efficiencies, tackling historical issues and transforming water and waste in northern Victoria from Wallan to the Murray River.
He had the opportunity of working with former GV Water chief executive officer Laurie Gleeson, who had a reputation for driving more efficient authorities.
Mr McManamon recalls learning a strong work ethic, persistence, listening to people and getting an outcome for your business or organisation.
‘‘He loved his staff and looked after his people. He was super passionate; managed his own business effectively and wanted to give the best for the Goulburn Valley.’’
After GV Water, Mr McManamon went to Grampians Water in his first role as chief executive officer.
‘‘It was said to be among the worst performing authorities in Victoria and I thought, ‘I couldn’t do worse!’,’’ he recalled.
Part of his role was supervising the Wimmera Mallee pipeline construction, which was crucial for many farmers and residents, and was a 10-year program delivered in five years.
‘‘We had to merge two businesses there and so ended up managing a rural and urban business.’’
After Horsham he moved to Queensland, where the south-east region was grappling with drought and there was a multi-billion dollar attempt to bolster the water supplies.
He set up a special purpose body, Link Water Projects, constructing about $4billion of infrastructure over about four years.
After constructing the project it transitioned into a statutory authority to manage bulk water delivery for the region.
Full steam ahead
The Connections project has installed 6511 modernised meters, remediated 245km of channel and decommissioned almost 1000km of channel.
Connections Project Control Group chair Peter McManamon said crews had been working on up to 100 sites across the Goulburn Murray Irrigation District, and they were hiring local contractors and companies wherever possible.
‘‘Winter works this year focused on channel remediation, installation of pipelines, modernising meters and installing automation,’’ Mr McManamon said.
‘‘The focus is now on rolling out reconfiguration plans for about 60 per cent of works that they are implementing.
‘‘The team is continuing to progress well and has already delivered about 20 per cent of the desktop concept reconfiguration plans as part of their contract.’’
Mr McManamon said the project was concentrating on more transparency in decision making by publishing operating rules and a new landowner guide, and showing channel-by-channel assessments on the website.