Working collaboratively

R Kulkarni, A Mills, K Crouch, S Lowe
Publication Date (Web): 16 October 2018

A case study delving deeper into how a water utility working with the local community, council, indegenious people and contractors can add broader-value to the social, economic and environmental aspects at Maleny.


Being mindful of community interests, population growth, and environmentally sound locations in sensitive areas, water security zones and water supply sources to the SEQ region, Unitywater – a water retailer authority engaged early into partnership with the local community, SCC, regulators and contractors in developing an innovative infrastructure solution to provide sewage treatment services to the Maleny community. Comprising a modern treatment technology and a natural purification process for disposal of treated effluent. In 2012, Unitywater negotiated a lease for a farm land, which provided a kick-start to develop an irrigated forest (IF) and treatmnet wetland (TW) site within the Maleny Community Precinct (MCP). This was made possible due to keen participation shown by the local community and vested stakeholders. After all, an example is better than percept.


Understanding sustainability values deeply rooted in stakeholders’ participation and in community engagement, some key elements for reaching out to, and eductaing the community included:
• Identification of key stakeholders
• Working closely with the Jinibara People
• Develop key messages and presenting project vision at local events
• Media clippings and news articles
• Partnership with local community groups, namely:
• Maleny Green Hills
• Maleny Golf Club
• Friends of Pattemore House 
• Barung Landcare
• Lake Baroon Catchment Group

Under the Caloundra City Plan, 2014, the development application required public notification due to the impact of the project site being in the rural zone. There was only one notification received from a local environmental group that favoured the proposed development.


Unitywater has held several tree planting day events with the local communities and conducted educational tours to promote interest in the ‘green engineering’ solution:
• 22 March 2013: Unitywater staff joined Jinibara elders in celebrating the collaborative approach by planting the last native wetland plants.
• World Environment Day - 5 June 2013: Nearly 2,500 native seedlings planted by local community members, bush-care volunteers including school children from Maleny River School.
• 5 September 2013: SCC’s ‘Kids in Action Program’ led to engageing 350 students to plant approximately 1,000 native seedlings.
• 7 May 2015: Goulburn Malwaree Council.
• June 2015 and May 2016: Both events supported plantation to the vunerable Richmond Birdwing Butterfly.
• 12 October 2016: Approximately 30 water industry delegated from IWA’s World Water Congress.

It is estimated that over one thousand visitors have visited the site since commissioning.


Unitywater has established over 80,000 plants of 140 different types grown on a contour-based pattern. The TW site has resulted in 80% dense coverage. The IF and TW site has created a microcosm for many of the different wildlife wetland habitat in the precinct.

A four-year biodiversity study with the local university recommended a habitat condition rating of ‘moderate’ and a conservation value rating of ‘low to moderate’, which is set to improve as the site matures.


Community benefits
• STP upgraded to meet future growth and quality compliance.
• Environmental protection to the Obi Obi Creek via a multi-barrier approach.
• Native vegetation gain by reforestation.
• Creation of a sustainable multi-purpose community assets for locals and visitors to enjoy.
• Improvements in biodiversity and aesthetics to make Maleny a ‘liveable’ rural town.
• Overall increase in nursery sales – an example of creating circular economy.
• Reputational benefits for Unitywater from community and from stakeholders.
• 3Rs – Recover, Reuse, and Recycle achieved.

Other benefits
• Early approval of the development application through a trans-disciplinary approach.
• Early mitigation of risks prior to it becoming a hindering issue.
• AWA Queensland’s Water Award in 2014 and a UN Environmental Award in 2015.
• One of the key target identified under Sustainable Development Goal (SDG6) achieved.


• It is important to first recognise indigenous people’s rights over their traditional lands and motivating them to become ‘partners’ in any proposed development.
• A multi-disciplinary approach where engineers co-operated with local bush-care groups, indigenous people, regulators, council staff and contractors.
• Opening the site to the public is likely to raise a few challenges:-
• People/pets coming in contact with treated effluent;
• Easement traversing, slope stability, landslips and erosion aspects; 
• Potential for vegetation fire; 
• Pests and diseases; and
• A mechanism to track visitor numbers and collect feedback.
• Ongoing maintenance and functionality of the community’s valued asset is more important than habitat/biodiversity improvements.
• Better engagement from the community in continuum decision-making processes.
• Scalability, operation, maintenance and renewal of a nature-based treatment solution – ‘a new territory’ for the business to adapt. 
• Open, shallow water encourages recontamination of the reuse water and promotes growth of algae, weeds and birdlife that destroy wetland plants.
• Dealing with an engaged community can be ‘exciting’ but sometimes challenging, as opposed to the stress and difficulties faced with a hostile community.

This case-study was presented at the Brisbane Ozwater Conference in May 2018.


Ramraj Kulkarni is a wastewater engineer planning sewage treatment plant upgrades in Unitywater.

Andrew Mills project managed the Maleny STP and treatment wetland and irrigated forest construction.

Kylie Crouch focuses on environmental planning, sustainability, and total water cycle solutions.

Scott Lowe is an Environmental Advisor with Unitywater.


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