Reflections on QWater'23

Reflections on QWater'23

Reflections on QWater'23
Date: 15-Nov-2023

Walking as One

The QWater’23 Conference held on 9-10 November 2023 at the Hilton Hotel in Brisbane kicked off with two excellent keynote speakers highlighting the stark differences between First Nations “Bama” cultural ecosystem thinking and the colonial mindset around water planning.

Dr Ruth Link, Yalanji Woman and Director at Yilki Guludun Tagai (YGT) Law & Biocultural Knowledge, shared the First Nations concept of intergenerational responsibility and the importance for water planning to include the physical and sacred world, where the western system focuses on the human world. Dr Link believes we can leverage the junction between the western and “Bama” way of life and shared stories about projects to nurse the Waju Budja (Mitchell River) back to health including a river change stories project to align science with traditional knowledge.

Quandamooka man Cameron Costello shared his vision of Australia being recognised as a global leader in First Nations water sector development and warned not to “bluewash” the 2032 Olympic Games.

Uncle Charles Passy said we are all fruit off the same tree, and together we can fix water problems by healing the land.

The keynotes were followed by Dainishi Latimer from DRDMW talking about their work to improve outcomes for First Nations people. In July, the Department announced $12 million in funding for a First Nations Strategy with three key themes: access to safe drinking water, culturally appropriate engagement and two-way learning and capacity building. 

Michelle Bordignon (DRDMW) and Bianca Graham from Sunwater reflected on lessons learned from the Rookwood Indigenous Land Use Agreement journey. While not a regulatory requirement for this project, they believed that it was the right thing to do. The ILUA had three key themes: culture, language and employment.

Tahlia Rossi from Water Technology Inc talked about their work building First Nations knowledge into technical waterway and landscape management programs on Mandandariji Country near St George with a focus on engagement practices and protocols and the co-design process.

Our Sustainability Journey

The session on Our Sustainability Journey was another highlight, with Alice Strazzabosco from Arup delivering an excellent presentation on the low carbon water cycle and steps to net zero. While we are doing well in mapping scope 1 (direct) and scope 2 (indirect from electricity use) emissions, there is more work to be done on fugitive emissions mapping – something that is difficult to track and currently not regulated. Alice’s presentation sparked some interesting questions around scope 3 emissions… as an example, 59% of Unitywater’s scope 3 emissions are from the purchase of bulk water, but these would already be reflected as scope 1 and 2 emissions for Seqwater so there is the risk of doubling up in accounting. 

Amanda Binks and Kelcey Miller from Unitywater presented on the Water Resource Recovery Plant of the future with five environmental sustainability goals: waterway health, climate action, resource recover / circular economy, value every drop and being nature positive. They see opportunities in improved trade waste management, process improvements and effluent polishing. 

Chantal Keane shined again, delivering a presentation on the 60-year journey to a flushability standard. Some of the stats around wet wipes are incredible, with UU removing 120 tonnes of wipes per year. Chantal’s research was done using a 1.2km replica sewer main at UU’s Innovation Centre, and the UU lab is now set up to test products against the flushability standard.

Resilient Communities Session

Letisha Lim and Emma Natty from Sunwater talked about community engagement to ensure public safety around their recreational facilities, not only for the safety of visitors but also for staff as first responders to the 100+ incidences (including some fatalities) each year. Their work include advertising drives like the 2021 “Check things out before you get in” and the 2023 “Don’t end up dead wrong” campaigns. Sunwater also attends many community events with a structured program of outreach and engagement – the water flume is a popular engagement tool to show people how water movements can be dangerous and drag you down. Their top tips for engagement: partner with other community groups for greater reach, understand your communities, diversify engagement tools and apply lessons learned.

Finally, Samantha Guy from Arup delivered an interesting presentation on community expectations, equity and water security on Iama Island in the Torres Strait where the community was keen to investigate a new storage lagoon. Iama Island currently gets drinking water from desalination, but the community prefers to drink rainwater. The project looked at community drivers and objectives with a focus on community participation.

Leadership and Culture

Day 2 commenced with the same energy, with a Senior Leaders Panel which discussed safety, workforce, leadership and culture.  Concurrent sessions then followed, with insights on strategic thinking and a review of the range of tools used across many of the urban water businesses. The poster pitch finalised the morning with KPMG’s Sophie Guest challenging the use of Cost-Benefit Analysis techniques over Real Options Analysis.  

The last split sessions of the day then investigated workforce readiness and safety innovation. Janice Wilson from Double Black Diamond Solutions and King Intrapaiboon from Unitywater followed the progress of a transitional project where operation of an asset returned to the owner. The final presenter for the session then shared insights from Unitywater’s 2022 review and simplification of its current workforce capability model and how that led to an uplift in training, as did the strategic workforce planning exercise which used critical job categories as opposed to functions. 

This post is by no means a full reflection on the great presentations delivered across two days – keep an eye out for AWA updates to read more about the others.

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