Morgan Pauly, Strategy and City Shaping Analyst at Sydney Water joins us this month as our guest blogger. Morgan attended the WSAA Members Meeting as part of her WSAA Young Utility Leaders role. Here are her takeaways.

Image: Kevin Young, Managing Director, Sydney Water, Morgan Pauly, Strategy and City Shaping Analyst, Sydney Water and Adam Lovell, Executive Director, WSAA.

I recently found myself sitting in a room with our leaders. Leaders of an industry I joined only a few short years ago. I am still not quite sure how I managed to get a seat in that room, but I was asked to write about my experience so here it goes.

When I was offered the opportunity to participate in the WSAA Personal Development Program for young utility members I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I had recently moved from operations to strategy and city shaping, so I was eager to gain a more holistic perspective of the urban water industry. I’m aware that working for a large water utility means it’s easy to get trapped in a bit of a “bubble”. I had hoped that this WSAA program would lead to industry-wide exposure and a broader perspective.

So fast forward a couple of months. Here I was sitting in a room full of Water Corporation staff as they quizzed Kevin Young (Managing Director of Sydney Water), Louise Dudley (Chief Executive Officer of Queensland Urban Utilities) and Pat McCafferty (Managing Director of Yarra Valley Water) on the future direction of the water industry. Exposure to an industry-wide perspective? Yep, tick that box.

What surprised me first was how quickly familiar themes started to emerge: changing customer expectations, the role of the water sector in liveability and shaping our cities, innovation and of course drought. It was clear almost immediately, urban water utilities across Australia share many of the same challenges we are facing. We’re all in this together! So it’s of little surprise that we’ve built a strong culture of collaboration. By tapping into the diversity of experiences and perspectives from across Australia (and around the world) we are better positioned to overcome these challenges. Even still, it was refreshing to hear our leaders so openly sharing their ideas, setbacks and successes.

I have previously thought of challenges as obstacles to navigate around, collisions to avoid. But I saw our leaders taking a different view. They saw the challenges we’re facing as opportunities. Opportunities to drive change, ensuring that they would leave this industry in a better place than when they joined it.

We have so much to gain by learning from each other. And if you want to look at ways to increase the resilience of your water supply in the face of a drying climate, turn to the west! (Apparently, they banned the word drought in Water Corporation a while back. Now it’s just called climate change).

I come from eastern Australia, where the words “recycled water” and “drinking” rarely share the same sentence. But the rapid reduction in rainfall over the past few decades have led Water Corporation to secure Perth’s water supply with a combination of desalination, recycled water and groundwater. But groundwater is a finite supply, so that afternoon I had the privilege of touring Water Corporation’s Groundwater Replenishment Plant, part of Australia’s first planned potable reuse project.

Despite my background in engineering and the impressive technology at the plant, the most interesting part of the tour for me was understanding the path to community acceptance. It seemed like the key to their success was something to do with their long-term approach, focus on education through face-to-face engagement and consistent transparency. They welcomed media, schools and community groups through their visitor centre and trial site, educating them about the process along the way. It proved effective, and after our tour they had gained my support as well!

The next day it was time to get down to business. At the WSAA Annual General Meeting we welcomed some new members to the WSAA Board. This included Terri Benson from South East Water and Jason Devitt from Mackay Regional Council as new elected members, along with Pat McCafferty, Kevin Young, Louise Dudley and David Harris (from WaterNSW) who were re-elected.

We also got a quick update on some of the great work that WSAA has been up, including the Submission to the New Zealand Government on urban water governance in Australia, a review of the National Performance Report for urban water utilities, an update of the progress on the sustainable development goals and the Health and Safety Priority Work Program.

Image: WSAA sharks at work. Sue Murphy, CEO, Water Corporation, Jim Bentley, Managing Director, Hunter Water and Terri Benson, Managing Director, South East Water.

In the spirit of trying something new WSAA set up a Shark Tank! And we dived straight into it with our WSAA MD Sharks - Jim Bentley, Sue Murphy and Terri Benson. Innovative water saving ideas from around the world were pitched to the panel. The ideas were great – from a kid’s game aiming to incentivise families to save water to new technology for detecting and repairing leaks. But the favourite with the sharks, was a new filter medium to generate more efficiencies at treatment plants. This would create efficiencies without impacting our customers at all.

That afternoon we had a chance to hear from the Clontarf Foundation, which partners with Water Corporation to support Aboriginal boys on their journeys through school and the workforce. It was inspiring to hear about the lives that have been changed through this program and how Water Corporation staff have embraced it.

I know Water Corporation is not alone in the way they contribute to the community. This is another one of the great things about our industry. We are an industry that is driven to do the right thing. Whether it’s written into our Acts, articulated in our mission statements, or simply the vision we hold for ourselves. So much of the work I see us all doing focuses on leaving our communities more prosperous, liveable and better for our customers and communities.

Finally it was time to bid farewell to Sue Murphy, after a decade at the helm of Water Corporation, and thank her for her contribution WSAA and the broader industry.

When I first landed in Perth I hoped that I would obtain a broader understanding of our urban water industry, but I left with so much more. I have a greater appreciation of the level of support and collaboration that takes place across the industry. We’re an industry that attracts good people, who are working towards better outcomes for our customers and communities. We embrace innovation and we’re striving to continuously improve. But most importantly, I am so inspired by the opportunities that are ahead of us.

4 Dec 2018

Morgan Pauly

Morgan Pauly

Senior Strategy Advisor