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 (IHT)’s Deakin Health Economics (DHE) and Global Centre for Preventive Health and Nutrition (GLOBE) research domains, which has contributed to a federal budget commitment of $26.1 million.

The funding from the National Water Grid Fund will support Wannon Water to improve the water quality, and taste, for Portland, Heywood and Port Fairy.

The exciting announcement has followed years of business case development, community and stakeholder engagement, research and planning undertaken by Wannon Water, IHT researchers and GHD consulting, says Ian Bail, General Manager Strategic Services at Wannon Water.

“Wannon Water is now effectively fully funded to deliver the program, including a previous commitment from Wannon Water and support from the Victorian Department of Health,” he said.

“This funding has given us the certainty to deliver this exciting project and its many benefits for those communities.”

According to Mr Bail, the obesity impact modelling delivered by IHT was key to successfully mounting the case for investment.

“IHT brought innovation, expertise and enthusiasm to the project, which they have supported for many years.”

The collaboration began in 2016 with IHT’s Whole of Systems Trial of Prevention Strategies (WHO STOPS) project. WHO STOPS saw IHT health economists and systems thinking experts collaborate with community members to identify the causes of unhealthy weight, and co-design sustainable local solutions that make healthy choices easy choices in the regional Victorian town of Portland.

Portland residents told the IHT researchers that their tap water’s taste deterred them from drinking water, says lead researcher and IHT researcher Professor Steve Allender.

“To date, the towns have been supplied with deep ground water, which is high in natural mineral salts. While the water is safe to drink, the community told us that the water’s taste led them to consume sugary drinks instead,” he says.

Sugar-sweetened beverages are a major driver of overweight and obesity, says IHT’s Dr Jaithri Ananthapavan, who leads IHT’s economics of obesity research.

“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,” she says.

“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 public health outcomes in the communities they serve.”

“The funding commitment is a major win for the residents of Portland, Heywood and Port Fairy”, says Professor Allender.

“This investment in great tasting water will improve public health outcomes for residents of these communities in western Victoria for years to come.”