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Young water professional creates connections in China

Interacting with water professionals from around the world can provide a new perspective on your own work, as the Australian Water Association’s 2018 Young Water Professional of the Year Katrin Doederer discovered on a recent trip to China.

A research fellow at the University of Queensland, Doederer received the Young Water Professional (YWP) award not only for her work on improving drinking water treatment processes but because of her willingness to share her expertise and drive the industry forward.

“We need to transmit knowledge. We don’t want to get stuck and always do the same thing – we want to improve,” she said.

The week-long work experience trip, organised by TRILITY, was part of the YWP prize and gave Doederer the chance to learn more about the Chinese water industry and the Beijing region in particular.

Along with checking out some of the city’s sites, Doederer visited Beijing Enterprises Water Group (BEWG) drinking water and wastewater treatment plants, a desalination plant and the company’s headquarters, where she met members of BEWG’s executive team.

“Even though we have big cultural differences, what I found so important about the trip was it brought people together,” Doederer said.

“When I met the people from BEWG, we were able to exchange ideas and discuss different problems. It was a good opportunity to connect on a human level.”

Doederer was particularly impressed with BEWG’s Daoxianghu Lake Reclaimed Water Plant, which is the first fully underground sewage treatment plant in northern China. Although her expertise is in drinking water, she said learning more about wastewater treatment gave her new insights she can apply to her own work.

“It’s easy to get stuck in the one thing you do, whether that’s operations or technical stuff. When you visit other places, it really opens your mind – you get a more holistic view,” she said.

“There’s a way we do things in Australia, but there’s another way of doing things. It’s not about whether it’s a better or worse way, it’s about opening your mind to new things and change.”

While the Chinese facilities she visited use similar treatment processes to their Australian counterparts, Doederer said she noticed a focus on sustainability that the local industry could learn from.

The underground Daoxianghu plant, for example, is covered by green space, while solar helps power one of the drinking water treatment sites.

"They also have a herb garden and grow their own food, which makes the plant a pleasant place to be,” Doederer said.

“There’s a big pollution issue in China, so the government is pushing for more green thinking … It was really nice to see the application of renewable energies on site and see that they’re going in that direction.”

Solar panels help power one of BEWG's drinking water treatment plants.

TRILITY Operations Manager and South Australian (SA) 2017 Young Water Professional of the Year Adam Medlock was also on the trip, and Doederer said the pair made connections across state lines.

“He’s from SA and I’m from Queensland, so the trip brought two YWP from Australia together as well,” Doderer said.

“We had really good discussions and it was very enlightening for me. We probably have the same background knowledge but I’m a researcher who works with water utilities and he’s with a service provider, so it was great to exchange ideas.”

Despite language barriers and cultural differences, Doederer said no matter where you are in the world, water professionals share the same dedication to providing clean and safe water.

“It doesn’t matter which country you go to, people are very passionate and understand water is something that is very precious,” she said.

“It doesn’t matter if they aren’t using exactly the same technology we have here; it’s about sharing that passion and knowledge.”

As the 2018 YWP of the Year, Doederer will be presenting part of her work at the Australian Water Association conference, Ozwater’19, in Melbourne in May.

She will discuss how the principles of wastewater treatment can be used for potable water treatment.

“I really enjoy communicating and bringing the industry forward – I want to spread the word about different technologies that can make a difference,” she said.

“Being involved with the Australian Water Association as a YWP doesn’t just help me grow, but also helps the next generation coming through.”

To learn more about the AWA’s Young Water Professional program or to enter the 2019 Young Water Professional of the Year award, click here.