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Meet the Queensland Water Professional of the Year 2018

In the lead up to Ozwater’19 and the announcement of the Australian Water Professional of the Year, the Australian Water Association (AWA)’s Queensland Branch sat down with the 2018 Queensland Water Professional of the Year, Richard Savage.

Richard Savage is a Technical Director in the Water Systems team at GHD in Brisbane. He has a keen interest in operations optimisation, leveraging new insights through smart data analytics, non-revenue water measurement and management and all the good principles of water stewardship.

What drew you to the water industry?

I had set my sights on a career in engineering geology, mainly because I really enjoyed those courses at university. On completing my two years of National Service in South Africa, everything looked good for a graduate geotechnical engineer role with consulting engineers BKS (now AECOM) in Durban. Alas, or maybe fortuitously, it was then decided that the firm needed grad engineers to work on a large water resources modelling contract in Pretoria. So without setting foot in the Durban office, I was off to Pretoria.

It proved to be a wonderful start; I worked with an amazing group of professionals and learnt a lot about regional scale resource management, hydrology and the interpretation of reams of modelling run outputs! I also joined a group of about 20 client and consulting personnel on a 2000 km trip in an Air Force troop carrier helicopter down the Orange River, from the foothills of Lesotho to the river mouth at Alexander Bay. We stopped at all the dams, weirs and irrigation schemes (and select pubs) on the way!

Who or what do you draw inspiration from?

Many things and many people, rather like a global collective. I was taught at a young age to respect and value the people around me, and I think out of that I have learnt there is inspiration all around us, we just have to open our eyes, ears and minds to the potential and the opportunity. The creativity in the human spirit never ceases to astound and inspire me, from artists to musicians, doctors, scientists, sociologists, environmentalists, engineers and architects – need I go on? Media in all its forms helps me stay in touch (in a minute way) with what these incredible people are doing, and their work confirms how little I know and how much I still have to learn. That’s inspiration!

What do you like to do in your spare time?

I am generally an outdoors sort of person, so I enjoy anything from gardening to home improvements, as well as bushwalking, camping, or an early morning beach walk. I try to stay reasonably fit by road running and cycling and definitely function better on a bit of a physical workload. Indoors, I am known to entertain a vast audience of none playing my guitar and have started venturing into the world of amps, loop pedals and recording (don’t watch this space!). I also do a bit of watercolour painting, have dabbled in pastels and oils, and can see why so many part-time artists are now working in acrylics! Aside from that, I very predictably enjoy a good barbeque with family, friends and a frosty.

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

Hmm, this is a tough one – people and their dogs! Well I’m not an alsatian, nor a rottweiler, nor a Doberman, nor a poodle (or its myriad relatives), nor a husky, nor a sausage dog. I guess I would be a labrador-Jack Russell-Staffordshire terrier cross, and yes, we have had those three in our family over the years!

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

Looking inward, I am concerned by the loss of value proposition of consulting engineers to their clients. Obviously there are exceptions, but procurement rules and practice, amongst other things, have driven the industry to a commoditised level, where clients are frustrated by levels of service and quality, and consulting engineers are commercially stretched with limited opportunity to invest in new ideas, approaches and high performing services. We talk the talk, sometimes walk the talk, but could often do so much more. This is despite the incredible work that the sector does, from client personnel, to consultants, academics, industry and contractors. I think it underpins the low levels of awareness in the general public of the work the sector does to secure the safe and reliable supply of drinking water and treatment of sewage.

Looking out, we desperately need to develop a sense of value of water in our communities. Drought stricken farmers would understand this, but in the urban areas of Australia, we are so accustomed to the incredible service levels we enjoy that the notion of a world without water is not given a moment’s thought. It doesn’t help that the cost of water makes it the lowest cost essential commodity of any we consume. Water in all its forms is precious and our approach to its management should reflect this. As an association dedicated to serving the water sector, we need to reach out beyond our cohort to tell the water story, to motivate people and industries to use less and to limit actions that pollute our resources.

How does your organisation benefit from being a corporate member of the Australian Water Association?

There are obvious direct benefits of corporate membership, but a significant one is the discount offered to employees for general membership. Corporate membership works well for businesses with multiple offices around the country, allowing employees to connect at AWA events such as Ozwater. I think corporate membership also establishes the business as one that is prepared to invest in the sector and the principles that guide AWA’s work, namely to share, connect and inspire.

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

I was deeply honoured to receive this award, partly because I am acutely aware of how much so many people do, beyond the call of duty, to nurture and secure the water resources in our state, and to deliver related services in often very difficult circumstances. I am in their debt. All I can do is play my part to the best of my ability, knowing that everyone else out there is doing the same.

This article appeared in the April 2019 edition of Queensland Source.