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What’s your Water Story: QLD Branch

Getting to know the new and returning committee members that were elected this June onto the QLD AWA and YWP subcommittee branch.

Many thanks to Natalie Muir, Jeff Ballard, Olivia Newman, Alice Strazzabosco, Lachlan Guthrie, Laurence Marano and Valentina Velez Rivera for sharing part of their water story.


What drew you into the water industry?  

Valentina: I grew up in a country with abundant water resources, mighty rivers, many wetlands, and strong rainy seasons. However, ironically, we have experienced water shortages and sometimes water consumption restrictions, even in the wet season, due to inadequate water management practices. Thus, I realised how important and meaningful it can be to work in the water industry.

Olivia: I stumbled into the water industry by accident. After 15 years in the civil side of project delivery in mainly roads, bridges and drainage, I was given an opportunity for a Program Director role in the water sector. With my civil experience I thought I would be slotted into the network and pipeline portfolio, but alas no. 

I was given the Sewage Treatment Plant portfolio to look after. With no treatment experience it was a great opportunity to learn new things, ask the silly questions and challenge the norm. I have now been in the water sector for 10 years and held various roles and have loved the variety of what I have contributed to from bulk water to water and waste water treatment and truly see that water is the lifeblood of the community.

Jeff: I have always had an interest in anything to do with water – creeks, rivers, channels.

Natalie: I actually think AWA can take a bit of credit for this. I studied environmental engineering and was really drawn to water through my studies. I enjoyed the foundational subjects on water, I took as many water related electives as I could, and did my thesis on biosolids. In my final year, one of the lecturers was after some volunteers to help out at an AWA BNR conference at the Exhibition Centre. We stuffed satchels, helped with registration and then were able to get along to a couple of sessions. From there, I knew I wanted to work in the water industry – I only applied for graduate roles with water authorities, so it’s not by chance that I ended up here! And I’ve been a member of AWA and a passionate part of the water industry for 24 years!
Lachlan: My sense of fairness, everybody needs and has a right to safe and affordable water services, so I thought I should help provide them.

Laurence:  My affinity with water stems from growing up in the Burdekin shire, where I witnessed its importance to the wider community, including industry and agriculture. As my career has progressed, my increased engagement with the industry has continued through project scope diversity and the responsibility of providing a critical service to the community.


Who or what do you draw inspiration from?  

Lachlan: Having spent time with people who have a lot less and going through years of illness myself, I am grateful for what I have, most of which I didn’t earn. I think a responsibility to give back goes hand in hand with gratitude.

Laurence: I’ve had numerous formal and informal mentors, with a broad background. The common trait amongst them was that they were genuine, passionate, and willing to share their knowledge and lessons learnt. I also love a good underdog story - Moneyball is a favourite movie of mine.

Natalie: Probably from a fairly wide range of sources. I love participating in AWA and FIDIC events and am inspired by our peers. I listen to podcasts and draw inspiration from those that have overcome challenges, or those who are shaking things up in other industries. I’m inspired by people who have gone before us and have shaped the world. And I also get inspired by the little things that happen in the community that really showcase the best of humanity (like the support that comes from a community in times of adversity). I suppose I like to keep my eyes and mind open to opportunities and information and draw inspiration through that.

Jeff: I draw my inspiration from my friends and family who share an interest in the industry.


What do you like to do in your spare time?  

Jeff: I like to ride mountain bikes and go hiking.

Lachlan: A funny answer would be that I have a four-month-old, what is spare time?! The answer I wish was honest would be running and being active, but the honest answer is playing Zelda and watching basketball.

Natalie: I love hanging out in nature – so camping, hiking and mountain biking are my things. I am also a MTB coach and spend time on Sundays coaching kids – I love seeing the smiles on their faces as their confidence and skills grow. And of course, I love to just hang with my boys – my husband and seven-year-old son.

Laurence: Playing sports satisfies my competitive nature. However, I’m finding it increasingly difficult to get to the gym, court, footy field or golf course with a three-year-old and a ten-month-old at home. So, I am predominately confined to coaching the North Queensland Cowboys and Arsenal from my armchair.

If you were a breed of dog, which would you be and why?  

Lachlan: Probably a beagle, I like to start digging rabbit holes without knowing where they will end up

Natalie: I used to have a beagle. She was pretty cruisy, loved to just hang out with people and enjoyed treats…so that kinda sounds like me. Although I don’t think my eyes are quite as sad!

Jeff: A dingo because they like to roam.

Laurence:  Probably a kelpie – I like to keep my ‘sheep’ in line and work efficiently, and at the end of the day I like to rest and appreciate what I have accomplished.


What do you believe is currently the greatest challenge for your part of the water industry? 

Alice: My area of expertise is the nexus between water and energy. I believe changing how water and wastewater utilities manage their energy consumption is one of the many challenges this industry is currently facing. Adopting an innovative energy approach is necessary to address the industry’s greenhouse gas emissions, to manage rising energy costs and to increase reliability. Incorporating energy efficiency practises, adopting behind the meter renewable energy technologies and participating in load shifting and demand response programs will be necessary measures to adopt to contain costs and decarbonise water services. 

Lachlan: Australia provides great services to most, but often forgets about people on the fringes. I would like to help them get more recognition.

Natalie: Reimagining how we do things to meet the challenges of climate change. The water industry is really great at innovating, but we need more than incremental innovation, we need disruption and redesign to move towards a circular economy and sustainable solutions.

Jeff: Developing and keeping skilled and experienced water specialists in regional Queensland.

Laurence:  Introducing district re-use or stormwater harvesting schemes, which has social benefits but will also assist in lowering potable demands and offset capacity-based capital works. The key point being that recognising that longer-term social benefits may outweigh short-term investment pain.


How do you consider your organisation benefits from most by being a corporate member of the Australian Water Association? 

Natalie: Development opportunities for staff through events (attending and presenting) and networking. Awards are always great too – recognition for our project teams who work so hard, and a great way to showcase the exciting things happening in the water industry.

Laurence: I’ve experienced the benefits of corporate membership firsthand – it has enabled me to attend events and be a part of initiatives, which has kept me connected to the wider industry.

Lachlan: As a research institute it is vital that we stay connected with industry and the AWA is an excellent vehicle for that.

Jeff: The exposure to learning and networking opportunities.


What messages would you like to give to your colleagues in the Queensland water sector? 

Lachlan: Please come over and have a chat

Laurence: Take pride in, and promote, your role of managing the world’s most precious resource. 

Natalie: I think the water sector is pretty awesome. We work every day to provide safe water and sanitation services to millions at an affordable price. But I also think we’re too modest. There is so much great work that happens that we just take for granted. So I would say - be brave, be bold and be loud! Tell everyone about how great the sector is and all the amazing things we do! 

Jeff: Get involved with AWA to make connections with likeminded people.