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Reimagining our water future

With National Water Week upon us, the 2021 Australian Stockholm Junior Water Prize which is proudly supported by Xylem, gives high school students around Australia the opportunity to engage with real-world water challenges and propose sustainable solutions .

2020 prize judge and University of South Australia (UniSA) Director of Research and Innovation Services Jodieann Dawe shares her thoughts on why the prize is important for the water sector and why water research is integral to ‘rethinking our water future’.

“Prizes like the Australian Stockholm Junior Water Award are beneficial in so many ways, not just for the participants, but for the whole of industry and the community,” Dawe said.

“It’s important for the education sector; it provides the ability to promote water and encourages young people to think about the Sustainable Development Goals, environmental impact and how they can be part of the solution.

“It raises awareness of the fact that young students have the ability to make a difference.”

While requiring the support of schools and educators, Dawe said engagement with the prize is an excellent way of engaging young talent with water related issues, and retaining students through university courses congruent with water sector professions.

“It’s important to recognise the role schools and teachers play in this prize as well. It wouldn’t be possible without the support of educators to promote the prize in schools and to encourage the students to get involved,” Dawe said.

“It teaches students some foundation skills for life. It teaches them self-discipline, it takes a lot of work and planning. It introduces technical entrepreneurship and organisation skills, too.

“Participants gain an insight into the types of career paths that are available to them. It’s an excellent motivator, particularly in terms of promoting STEM avenues for young people, young women in particular.

“Young people are very enterprising, they tend to think more laterally and, as a result, develop lateral solutions. These are the types of minds the water industry and community need going forward.”

Dawe said this year’s National Water Week provides an excellent opportunity to promote the Australian Stockholm Junior Water Prize, but also to promote water research avenues.

“The theme of this year’s National Water Week is about how we can reimagine the way we use and reuse water to ensure there’s enough of it in the future,” she said.

“Research is a critical piece in ensuring that our community practices and approaches, as well as government policies and industry enterprise, are underpinned by evidence and demonstrated methodologies.

“It helps to ensure we are implementing initiatives that will succeed in achieving water security and safe water for now and into the future.”

Dawe said Australia is in a strong pedigree in terms of water research due to investment over many decades, which has provided a solid foundation and commitment to investment in research within the Australian water industry. But was quick to point out that investment in research needs to be maintained to enable it to continue to address current and emerging issues in water health and security.

“This has been assisted by key member organisations, including the Australian Water Association, WSAA and WaterRA, that have supported the formation of critical collaborations between our universities, research organisations, water utilities and governments,” Dawe said.

“This has enabled the codesign of critical research and the translation of research findings that will have a real impact on the way we use and reuse our scarce water supplies, limit the environmental impact of water treatment, manage water assets for the future, but also and most importantly ensure the safety and well being of our community and environment.”

As the Director of Research and Innovation Services at UniSA and a member of the SA Committee AWA, Dawe has the opportunity to see the high quality research that is currently underway.

“Some of the key projects that are already having an impact for our water and community security include the ColoSSoS Project (Collaboration on Sewage Surveillance of SARS-CoV-2 Project), which is being led by WaterRA with water utilities, health departments and research institutions,” Dawe said.

“Also the research into incorporating sludge into cement-based composites to conserve the natural resources and save the disposal cost, which is both good for the environment and good for water utilities.”
Dawe said UniSA partners with industries, local councils, governments, communities and other research organisations to address the important knowledge gaps and problems of our natural and built environments.

“The University of South Australia’s Scarce Resources and Circular Economy (ScaRCE) undertakes research across three major research strands to support improved environmental and socio-economic sustainability,” Dawe said.

These include smart Infrastructure and built environments, environmentally sensitive and resilient communities, and natural resources and environmental resilience, and includes more than 50 full-time academic staff and over 100 PhD students.

“In addition to this, developing our Higher Degree Research students is a critical area in building capacity for a vibrant and sustainable workforce for the water industry. There is a vibrant PhD program that supports the water industry and UniSA also offers Masters of Engineering,” Dawe said.

“And while these higher degree research options may be some way off for high school students participating in the Stockholm Junior Water Prize, igniting interest in bright young people and retaining them through the university pipeline is an important part of creating a stronger water industry.”