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Carmel Krogh OAM on the future of Australia's water sector

Australian Water Association (AWA) President-elect and Director of Shoalhaven Water, Carmel Krogh, has been awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) for service to civil engineering.

Carmel has been a member of the AWA since 1989 and a National Board Member since 2013. She will take up her position as Association President at Ozwater’19 in May.

We spoke to Carmel about her career highlights, how the water sector is evolving and what she would like to achieve during her term as President.

Australian Water Association (AWA): Congratulations on receiving a Medal of the Order of Australia. What does this recognition mean to you?

Krogh: It is so special. To receive an honour like this gives such a mix of emotions; I cried when I received the first email asking me if I was willing to accept it. It is so humbling that someone would think enough of my career to nominate me.

I hope the recognition that comes with such an honour reflects on the achievements of the water industry and gives some inspiration to young practitioners thinking about a career in water.

AWA: How did you get your start in the water industry?

Krogh: When I finished school I wanted to work as well as go to university (I guess you could say I wanted it all!). I landed a role as a trainee engineer at the Water Board in Sydney – we were called POGS (Professional Officer General Scale) back then – and went to uni at night.

I think from those early days I was hooked on the industry. There was such a sense of purpose and camaraderie and I have been involved ever since.

AWA: You were the first female civil engineering graduate at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS). What advice would you give to women wanting a career in engineering and the water sector in particular?

Krogh: Go for it! It’s a wonderful place to be; I can’t think of a better career. But also enjoy it and find the niche job that gives you a buzz.

AWA: How has the sector changed since you started your career?

Krogh: The sense of purpose and camaraderie hasn’t changed but the pace of everything has. This “immediacy” of reactions to issues presents both challenges and opportunities.

I remember doing my master’s thesis on a Compaq computer and any time I had to change a detail on a graph, I had to start from scratch. It’s hard to imagine that today. But with improvements in technology also comes different challenges.

I find more of my time now is spent responding to misinformation. The ease with which social media can spread messages means that we need to be far better at communicating than all those years ago when I was trained as an engineer.

AWA: How do you see the water sector evolving over the next 5 years?

Krogh: I think the new wave of internet of things (IoT) devices and technology will have a significant impact on how we think about why, how and when we do all sorts of things. One of the challenges I see is to shift our emphasis from collecting data to managing information and creating real knowledge.

A lot of the push from technology companies at the moment is about the “things” rather than how we deal with the information we will be collecting. There will be a whole new cohort of professionals needed to deal with new types of decision making.

Carmel Krogh speaking at Ozwater'18. Carmel Krogh speaking at Ozwater'18.

AWA: What do you enjoy most about your current role as the Director of Shoalhaven Water?

Krogh: The variety of things and people that I get to deal with. No day is the same – I can spend time on an issue that is seemingly so trivial but important to a customer, up to making multi-million-dollar decisions.

I also have the privilege of working with such a great bunch of people. It is a pleasure to come to work every day.

AWA: What have been the highlights of your career so far?

Krogh: Shoalhaven Water won the 2017 Large Employer of the Year in the New South Wales Training awards. This meant so much to me because it recognised the operations trainee program that we started nine years previously, and all the work put into proactively dealing with an aging workforce.

It was one of those rare times in your career that you can look back and say, “This is what we said we were going to do and we did it”. I am proud of the fact that over 70% of our trainees have gained full-time work with us. I also take great pride in our trainee engineering program where I believe we are punching above our weight.

Another career highlight for me is the international work I did with AusAID, where I was privileged to be able to be involved firsthand in numerous projects in countries with less opportunities than we have.

AWA: You’ve gained a lot of regional experience in your water career. What challenges do our regional centres face in the management of their water?

Krogh: There are so many challenges: attracting and retaining staff; the economics of having lower population density; and the tyranny of large travel distances for consistent standards. But there are also great opportunities, and we shouldn’t shy away from trying to make our regions as strong as possible.

AWA: What do you think are the big issues the water sector should be focusing on?

Krogh: We now have a very significant drought in many areas and floods in others, and there has been a great deal of media attention given to our management of water. If ever there was a time when we should be maturing our directions for the future of water management in Australia, it is now.

We need to collectively look to technology and innovation to make better decisions about the why, how and when of water capture, reuse and environmental management. In Australia we have leading institutions in water research and implementation at all levels. The challenge for us all is how to translate that knowledge into non-political, sustainable decisions for the future.

AWA: You will be taking over as President of the AWA in May. Do you have any goals for the Association you would like to see implemented during your term?

Krogh: I would really like to strengthen the connections with regional areas of Australia. The AWA has fantastic volunteers and members from everywhere, but sometimes it is a bit more difficult for our regional members to be involved.

I hope that as President I can demonstrate the value we place on every one of our diverse members, wherever or whoever they are.

Fellow AWA member Professor Zhiguo Yuan was also recognised in the 2019 Australia Day honours list. Read our Q&A with Zhiguo here.