Together with my fellow Young Utility Leaders (YULs) Samantha Rinortner, Marzieh Lotfollahi, Ali Ahmadi, we attended Ozwater’22 held in Brisbane.
This years’ theme was Our Water Journey which celebrated the evolution of the water sector from its rich history, where we are now and what possibilities lie in our future.
On the first day of Ozwater’22, we participated in The Great Debate: Our water sector needs more leaders and less experts hosted by the Peter Cullen Water and Environment Trust and on the second day we attended the three sessions hosted by WSAA. Together we reflect and report on these sessions, highlight our key learnings and reflect on our own water journeys and experiences.
For my part, I participated as a WSAA Young Utility Leader as well as representing Urban Utilities Young Water Professionals by running an exhibition stall. I attended presentations from various streams and themes, including some of my personal favourites on resource recovery, sustainable futures and contaminants of emerging concern. It was great to hear how the water and wastewater industry will be affected by the Brisbane Cross River Rail project and the Brisbane Olympics in 2032, both daunting and exciting prospects for those of us living in Brissy. Although my social stamina was tested across the three days, it was inspiring to be able to have casual conversations with industry professionals and I enjoyed learning just how important it is to nurture and support our emerging young professionals and leaders within our industry. Overall, Ozwater’22 was by far my favourite conference that I’ve attended.
- Chantal Keane
Session One: Reaching Net Zero and Fast – Lofty ambition or essential goal? How to overcome roadblocks?
From the wide selection of eight streams to choose from on the Wednesday morning the WSAA session on reaching Net Zero was the most intriguing for me. Not surprisingly, by 10:40am, there wasn’t a spare seat in the room.
Roch Cheroux, WSAA Chair and Managing Director, Sydney Water; Adam Lovell, Executive Director, WSAA; and Danielle Francis, Manager Liveable Communities, WSAA highlighted interesting points in the introduction to the session. Notable insights included; “You can’t manage what you can’t measure”; 11% of companies have still not yet started taking action towards their 2050 carbon goals and despite there still being a small percentage of customers who do not agree that the climate is changing, that customers are willing to pay for offsetting carbon at a minimum.
Following the introduction, Roch Cheroux spoke to the impressive action that Sydney Water has been taking. It was truly inspiring to hear about Sydney Water’s openness in trying innovative technologies to take them closer to their 2030 goals.
Steve Capewell, Managing Director, Goulburn Valley Water emphasised how biogas and hydrogen will be a big focus for Goulburn Valley Water. Greater Goulburn is also home to farmers, agriculture, and food processing sectors, who are all aware of—and want to act on—the impact their industries have on carbon emissions. He highlighted that this isn’t an issue we can address in silos, we must be holistic in our approaches.
Tracey Slatter, Managing Director, Barwon Water addressed an important point, that although customers are willing to pay, there is still a driver to keep bills steady and ongoing battles with addressing affordability.
Louise Dudley, Chief Executive Officer, Urban Utilities also had a strong customer focus driver. She emphasised that customers are asking for the reductions in emissions now.
Jon Lamonte, Chief Executive Officer, Watercare highlighted how nitrous oxide is a problem pollutant with monitoring indicating that the problem is worse than the modelling predicted. He also highlighted how electric fleet vehicle ‘battery swaps’ can be a way of combating concerns with fleet reliability and could soon become an industry standard for electric vehicle manufacturers.
To sum up the panel discussion, there was an emphasis on our role as leaders within our utilities, partnerships between industries, utilities and water corporations and addressing the race to Net Zero. My key takeaways from the panel discussions were:
“We can’t do this alone.”
“We need partnerships, both within the industry and with other industry partners.”
“Investing in climate change adaptation is critical. It doesn’t end after reaching the 2050 target, it will always continue on.”
- Samantha Rinortner
Session two: Towards resilience: building back better
WSAA’s second session focussed on resilience. It was split into two parts; the first part of the session focused on the current challenges our industry is facing, and the second part was about our way forward and how we can deal with these challenges.
Adam Lovell gave the opening remarks and invited speakers for the first session: David Ryan, Chief Executive, SA Water; Neil Brennan, Chief Executive, Seqwater and Brie Jowett, Manager Water and Wastewater - Operations, Tweed Shire Council. The speakers shared recent challenges facing their organisations including climate change, supply chain issues and COVID-19. Each speaker shared examples illustrating how these challenges affect our sector, such as the recent 1 in 300 year flood event in South Australia that took out 300km of railway connecting west to east, exacerbating supply chain issues that already existed due to COVID-19 and geopolitical issues. The speakers also spoke about the lessons learned from dealing with these challenges. People, processes, assets, and communities were identified as crucial elements for recovery and resilience, with David Ryan stating that the “future involves co-creating with our people and whatever that future looks like, we need to work with our people.”
Neil Brennan spoke about the importance of having the right processes for emergencies and how important it is to train staff in dealing with significant events like the recent floods in Queensland. Brie Jowett spoke about building assets that are resilient to climate. Ms Jowett used an example of a switchboard, which is crucial in operating a wastewater treatment plant in charge of serving 85,000 people in the shire, that was built with the possibility of floods in mind. This important asset remained functional in the most recent flood. Jowett further shared the importance of community resilience and said “engineering and financial resources are limited; therefore, we need to focus on community and culture of resilience.”
During the second session, Dr Nina Di Lorenzo, Managing Director, Melbourne Water encouraged delegates to look at resilience from the angle of long-term public health benefits, stressing the importance of integrated water management, and that, “nobody holds all the cards in their hand and we need to work with our partners - this is the decade that matters and our effort here determines the next 100 years.”
Pat McCafferty, Managing Director, Yarra Valley Water reflected that in creating the company’s strategy there was a strong focus on Sustainable Development Goals, with the three pillars of the strategy being customers, communities and the environment. Pat recognised people and culture; efficiency; safety and wellbeing; and digital enablement as the key drivers for achieving Yarra Valley Water’s vision. Darren Cleary, Managing Director, Hunter Water spoke about drought resilience and the work that Hunter Water is doing, whilst emphasising the importance of approaching challenges based on community needs.
Attending this session was insightful and it gave me a greater appreciation of the challenges our industry faces. Whilst evident that it is no small feat to overcome these challenges, being a part of this session gave me the confidence that our sector will remain resilient through difficulties—as we always have—by continuing to share lessons learned and through collaboration. Our responsibility as a sector is far greater than just providing water and wastewater services. Our decisions directly impact the health of our community and our environment and by placing our customers at the heart of our decision making, we can ensure a bright and resilient future.
- Ali Ahmadi
Session three: Digital innovation in the urban water industry
Lara Olsen, Managing Director, South East Water, started the session by providing a snapshot of South East Water's digital transformation journey. Lara spoke about how they are looking at digital innovation from many different aspects regarding what digital can do for their customers, staff, and the environment. South East Water has installed 30,000 IoT-enabled digital meters in households across Melbourne's southeast, providing customers with transparency, choice, and control. So far, the new technology has helped customers find leaks they didn't know they had, saving on average $150 in usage charges and reducing water wastage. The digital meters have also provided South East Water with near real-time water use information, helping them operate the assets more efficiently and detect leaks before they turn into bursts.
Jo Murdoch, Managing Director, North East Water, continued the session with a case study on their early warning program in Lake Hume. Due to heavy rain washing off ash and debris into waterways near bushfire grounds, large algae blooms presented a challenge for this utility. To overcome this challenge, North East Water in collaboration with their major stakeholders and CSIRO, designed a program to identify early warning data that triggers an alert and enables parties to formulate a response in a coordinated way. In partnership with the CSIRO innovative satellite early works, this program has launched a water quality monitoring pontoon in Lake Hume. This device is equipped with an algae bloom early warning sensor and temperature sensors which will monitor changes in the water condition over the next 12 months. This program hopes to help inform better decisions and mitigation strategies to preserve water quality and biodiversity.
The first panel discussion started with Francois Gouws, Managing Director, Trility providing tangible examples of how digital innovation has improved customer outcomes, business efficiency, and employee experience, especially in field operations. He indicated that most of their digital investment and innovation originates from safety, bringing enormous benefits to everyone in the business. The panel discussion continued with Maree Lang, Managing Director of Greater Western Water – an organisation formed recently by bringing together Western Water and City West Water. Ms Lang talked about the enablers in her company's digital journey through the integration process.
Peter Grevatt from Water Research Foundation continued the conversation by presenting two case studies on how digital solutions are optimising service delivery. The first case study was about Greater Cincinnati, one of more than 800 cities in the United States, challenged to find a solution to manage combined sewer overflows (CSOs). The Water-Energy Nexus research project was the second case study presented focusing on the co-dependency of water and energy and how systems can be designed and engineered to be sustainable and efficient.
Lastly, we heard from Jamie Mills, Chair of BIM4Water. He talked about his organisation's mission to lead the digital transformation of the water sector through Better Information Management and provided an overview of BIM4Water task groups, their functionality, and workstreams.
- Marzieh Lotfollahi
A massive thank you to WSAA for providing us with the Young Utility Leaders program, for supporting us on our water journey and our participation at Ozwater’22 - with our heads full of new ideas and our hearts full of stronger connections with new friends, we will fondly look back on Ozwater ’22 and we look forward to the next one!
- Chantal Keane, Samantha Rinortner, Marzieh Lotfollahi and Ali Ahmadi