Providing better tasting water in Portland, Heywood and Port Fairy

Residents in Portland, Heywood and Port Fairy will soon have great tasting water flowing from their taps, thanks to research from the Institute for Health Transformation’s Deakin Health Economics (DHE) and Global Centre for Preventive Health and Nutrition (GLOBE).

Dr Jaithri Ananthapavan, Stream Lead, Economics of Obesity

Researchers from DHE and GLOBE partnered with residents of the Portland, Heywood and Port Fairy communities to better understand their health experiences, says Dr Jaithri Ananthapavan, leader of DHE’s economics of obesity research stream.

‘We know that people living in rural and regional communities typically experience more overweight and obesity and have poorer health outcomes than people who live in urban or suburban areas,’ she says.

‘We found that the poor taste of water, in these communities, was driving people away from drinking tap water.’

‘Instead, they tended to consume less healthy alternative, such as sugary drinks.’

The economics of obesity research stream was then engaged by Wannon Regional Water Corporation (Wannon Water), to undertake modelling that would demonstrate the potential benefits of improving the poor taste of water, which was caused by high levels of salt.

‘Our modelling demonstrated that if water consumption increased in these communities to match Victorian averages and the consumption of other beverages reduced by the same amount, the potential health and healthcare cost savings were in the region of $17M over the lifetime of the 2018 population in the communities of Portland, Heywood and Port Fairy,’ Jaithri says.

The team worked with Wannon Water to incorporate their findings into a business case, titled Great Tasting Water, that also demonstrated the impacts on local industries and household assets, including appliance corrosion due to the salts in the water, and dental health outcomes.

‘The uniqueness of this business case has been applauded by the water industry. This was truly a team effort with collaboration between Deakin University, GHD consulting and Wannon Water who were passionate about improving health outcomes in the communities they serve.’ Jaithri says.

‘We’ve highlighted the need for business cases to better consider the cultural, health and economic impacts of water aesthetics in regional and remote communities across Australia,’ says Dr Jaithri Ananthapavan. The Wannon Water Board formally endorsed the Great Tasting Water business case and allocated $16M to implement changes that will improve the taste of water in at least one community by 2026.

Project team:

  • Dr Jaithri Ananthapavan
  • Ms Phuong Nguyen
  • Dr Kristy Bolton
  • Ms Penny Fraser
  • Mr Andrew Brown
  • Emeritus Professor Marj Moodie
  • Professor Steven Allender