From Esther Cooper, TasWater
Overall the OzWater experience was insightful, motivating and fun! The connection to country and our First Nations communities had a profound and humbling impact from the beginning. Each presentation we attended and every networking opportunity gave insight into different ways of working and thinking.  I think I speak for all the Young Utility Leader’s of 2022/23 when I say we came away from the conference with learnings to implement, renewed enthusiasm for the industry we work in and passion for improving ourselves and our utilities. Personally, I look forward to the challenge of writing a paper and, hopefully, presenting at OzWater’24! 

From Kate Buckley, Seqwater (WSAA Workshop - PRW)
WSAA’s Purified Recycled Water (PRW) workshop welcomed 3 international panellists, Ryan Yuen; Manisha Kothari; and Amos Branch, to discuss the future of PRW and how Australia can prepare for it. Danielle Francis from WSAA opened the workshop by providing an overview of PRW in Australia and worldwide. More than 35 cities around the world have explored or adopted PRW in water supply systems, so why is PRW still perceived as ‘radical’ or ‘novel’ in Australia?

Ryan Yuen, from PUB, Singapore's National Water Agency, outlined Singapore’s PRW journey dating back to the 1970’s and highlighted the following as key factors in NEWater’s success: strong political endorsement; clear public communication (e.g., good branding / choice of words); media partnership; and public education. In Ryan’s closing remarks, he emphasised that NEWater is an ongoing journey – it requires ongoing communication, ongoing public education, and new innovations like NEWBrew (craft beer made with NEWater).

Manisha Kothari, from the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, identified PRW as one of the eight tools available to meet San Francisco’s water security challenges. For me, the most interesting takeaway from Manisha’s presentation stemmed from her response to a question about PRW taste and community support - people will always prefer what’s familiar, you can increase community buy-in by adding nutrients back into PRW to match the taste of their everyday drinking water.

As an Australian now working for Carollo Engineers in California, Amos Branch discussed how Australia should prepare for PRW based on his experience in the US. With controlling hazards and improving efficiency as ongoing themes in reuse research, Amos suggested that we think about reuse sources as catchments to consider all the ‘weird and wonderful’ contaminants that can end up in a system. Amos stressed the importance of establishing regulations now to avoid the rush to implement new regulations during drought and enable effective community education and communication. 

The workshop concluded with a brief discussion from Danielle about the PRW Action List. Attendees were asked to prioritise actions via an online poll and the three panellists shared key takeaways.

From Ricardo Kobas, Barwon Water (WSAA Session - A new National Water Initiative)
A common thread throughout all presentations was the continuing need to actively engage stakeholders ranging from Federal and State parliaments down to local communities and grassroots organisations. An updated National Water Initiative (NWI) should look to build on the existing framework from 2007 by tackling both ongoing and arising issues.

Speakers covered key topics relevant to the NWI including the need for securing water into the future by diversifying sources and changing the linear manner in which most people thought about water. Reuse and recycling would have to become more prominent and underperforming assets and strategies updated to ensure reliability, quality and affordability. By decoupling consumption from economic growth and utilising circular economy principles, carbon emissions could be cut and toxic contaminants prevented from entering water streams.

In relation to First Nations communities, Purple House shared a powerful presentation on providing dialysis services to remote communities that brought to light the real-world impact of water inequality we face in Australia. Resourcing, harsh conditions and distance all contribute to the challenge of providing clean water to these communities.

Closing the morning was a presentation highlighting the need to build capacity and capabilities of workers in the water industry. By promoting itself as an interesting and exciting place to work the water sector can secure its future as the industry we to become and progress beyond the industry we are now.

From Elliot Cichero, Sydney Water (WSAA Session - Getting to net zero)
The session began with a strong focus on the water industry’s shared ambition of reducing carbon emissions and environmental benefits as we all work towards our individual Net Zero and sustainability targets. It was encouraging to hear about the partnership between Melbourne Water, Severn Trent Water UK and Aarhus Denmark on finding ways to minimise emissions created by water and wastewater treatment, particularly in the areas where it is hardest to reduce. The panel spoke of the benefits of sharing information, trials and process improvements with each other – aligning with the theme for the conference ‘United by Water’. The mood in the room was encouraging, with questions highlighting that we as a water industry are all on this journey together, and we all need to keep a weather eye on the future as we provide our day-to-day services.

The second part of the session focussed on moving ‘Beyond Net Zero’, incorporating a view on circular economy and environmental health. A case study that stuck with me was the ‘Blue Heart’ on the Sunshine Coast, highlighting the role that the water industry has to play in providing amenity to the community through natural waterways – acknowledging the historical connection the Maroochy River has with the surrounding environment, and preparing for a future that can best serve the community in the context of a changing climate and hydrological processes. The audience again were encouraged by the innovation and collaboration on show, and the room was left with a greater appreciation of the work being done on the edges of innovation within the industry – truly ‘united by water’.

From Liz Duguid, Water Corporation (WSAA Session - Supporting customers through the cost of living crisis)
The final WSAA session presented a great example of a simple but extremely powerful idea which has the potential to have real impact on our customers. The One Stop One Shop Hub provides vulnerable customers with the opportunity to need only tell their story of once. For example, after contacting their bank, the person might then receive a call from their telecommunication provider, energy providers and water service provider. All without needing to tell their story again, something which might otherwise be painful or uncomfortable for them to do.

The cost of living (or cost of "surviving") crisis is very real and not going away anytime soon. So the more organisations that get on board with initiatives like this, the more people in vulnerable situations can be given a helping hand and prevent much worse outcomes. 

From Lachlan Glascodine, Melbourne Water (Pride in Water)
This year Pride in Water took over the AWA stand on Friday morning. Pride in Water, co-founded by Jacqui Moon and Brendan Moore, is a network created to facilitate a more inclusive water industry for LGBTQIA+ staff, contractors, customers and our broader community. The morning saw people from across the water industry and Australia join and connect over a shared passion for inclusion and positive change. Many discussions around what action is happening in this space were had, highlighting potential opportunities to collaborate. Enthusiasm to better progress LGBTQIA+ inclusion in the sector was evident.

We were joined by many of the executive leadership across the water industry, which was powerful to see. There was recognition that we have an immense opportunity to address LGBTQIA+ inclusion, while supporting the industry to create a safe and more welcoming environment to all regardless of sex, gender identity, or sexual orientation. It will be great to see Pride in Water continue to feature at OzWater conferences each year, we look for to seeing a bigger turn out in Melbourne in 2024.


30 May 2023

Rose Nguyen

Rose Nguyen

Communications Advisor