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Virtual plant tour boosts remote water learning

Melbourne Water is offering a unique and engaging new water learning experience with the launch of virtual excursions and webinars of the Western Treatment Plant for school and university groups.

Face-to-face tours of the world-renowned treatment plant have been running for decades, but for the first time students can experience an immersive, virtual tour of Melbourne’s largest sewage treatment site from their classroom or home.

With National Water Week fast approaching, Melbourne Water Education Lead Yvonne Cabuang said the virtual excursions and webinars are an excellent way for the community to experience and learn about the water cycle and site, without actually being there.

“Our presentation covers everything from the key stages of the sewage treatment process, to explaining the world-renowned wetland, biodiversity and heritage values of the site,” she said.

“From century-old paddocks to bubbling sewage treatment ponds, students can check out 360-degree views and watch videos of the treatment process.”

While the launch coincides with a broader lack of access to site tours due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Cabuang said the motivation for creating an online experience was to ensure everyone, everywhere, could learn about the importance of the urban water cycle.

“The Western Treatment Plant is one of our most popular tour sites. We will still be running face-to-face tours, but given the current environment, now’s the perfect time to start offering these virtual excursions,” she said.

“In the past, we’ve been limited in the amount of bookings we could take throughout the year. The motivation was really about taking the huge interest from schools and the community and making learning available and accessible at any time.”

Available on app

Further to the virtual tour available via the Melbourne Water website, the utility has also created a 3D experience through the Western Treatment Plant augmented reality app.

“Once you’ve downloaded the app, it pops up a doorway wherever you are, utilising the camera on your device. You can virtually step into the treatment plant using your phone or tablet,” Cabuang said.

“One moment you are in your lounge room, and then all of a sudden you are walking through the plant. It's all blended reality, it's fun and very engaging.”

Cabuang said the move to virtual tours and 3D experiences is a natural extension of Melbourne Water’s aims to support and guide students and the community through the water cycle process.

“Melbourne Water is very invested in schools and community coming on a journey. And the virtual tours are part of our wider education program, which is focused on helping people understand the story of water and how our urban water cycle works,” she said.

“We want people to come and be inspired. The aim is to spark curiosity about water, how the urban water cycle is managed, and to educate them about the importance of water conservation. It’s also a way of starting a conversation around resource recovery.

“Everyone knows we need water to live, but the tours help to explain the process behind our most precious resource. Ideally, we are aiming for a really well-educated community that understands water, knows how to help in conserving it, and is able to make good decisions.”

Community learning

While Melbourne Water will be collaborating with other water authorities to coordinate a series of online events for National Water Week, Cabuang said the virtual tours are a great way for schools and universities to get involved in water learning.

“I’d encourage any school, university or community group looking for ways to get involved in National Water Week to book one of our virtual excursions,” she said.

“It’s a great way to learn the whole story about the urban water cycle, helping students understand how we manage our water, and hopefully preparing them to participate in decisions around water in the future.”