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Reimagining our Water Future at Ozwater ‘21

Ozwater ’21 “Reimaging our Water Future”, held at the Adelaide Convention Centre on the traditional lands of the Kaurna Aboriginal people, defied expectations, with a record-breaking number of delegates and trade exhibitors coming together in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, to participate in the largest water conference in the southern hemisphere. We embraced the coming together. We shared and planted new ideas. We challenged the status quo. We inspired each other. We have seen from our industry peers and from our keynote speakers, what can be achieved when you put your mind to something, with the support and collaboration from industry partners.

There are few events as spirited and inspiring as the AWA’s most esteemed event of the year, Ozwater. This year’s Ozwater event, “Reimaging our Water Future”, continued to defy expectations, with a record-breaking number of delegates and trade exhibitors coming together in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, to participate in the largest water conference in the southern hemisphere. Ozwater ’21 was held at the Adelaide Convention Centre, on the traditional lands of the Kaurna Aboriginal people.

After a jam-packed, day-long program attended by our young water professionals, all Ozwater attendees were officially welcomed to the conference with a smoking ceremony outside the Adelaide Convention Centre. This is an ancient Aboriginal custom which involves smouldering various native plants to produce herbal smoke, believed to have cleansing properties and the ability to ward off bad spirits. With the scene now set for an incredible 3-day program, AWA CEO, Corinne Cheeseman, kicked off the event with a Welcome Network Evening. This was the perfect opportunity for like-minded water industry leaders, water professionals, young water professionals and students to meet friends, colleagues, and acquaintances (past, present, new and future!) before the main event.  The buzz of people connecting was felt throughout the entire atrium, as conversation, canapes and drinks were shared looking over the picturesque views of the Karrawirra Parri (River Torrens).

The program was diverse, featuring over 130 technical presentations and 80 pitch presentations, across the three days. The circular economy and its link to the Sustainable Development Goals, digital transformation and innovation were key topics of interest, along with the management of biosolids, new developments in water and wastewater treatment and asset management. Our Water Leaders attended the Directors Program, which posed challenging and thought-provoking discussions on cybersecurity risk management and the water energy nexus, which is about thinking differently about how industries meet their customers’ water and energy needs and exploring risks to water security, reducing demand, innovative and forward-thinking approaches to exercising financial due diligence and how to take full advantage of water reuse and energy recovery while creating new partnerships and business models. Delegates were invited to attend site tours, including the Kangaroo Creek Dam Safety Upgrade Post Construction Tour, the Operations Control Centre Walking Tour and the Adelaide Desalination Plant, Zero Cost Energy Future and Recreational Access to Reservoir Reserves Tour. And if that wasn’t enough to stimulate the brain into top gear, there was a choice of seven workshops and panel sessions to attend, in the afternoon, covering a broad range of topics from Channelling LGBTIQ+ Change in the Australian Water Industry, to Tackling Human Rights and Modern Slavery Risks in our Supply Chains, to Incorporating World View into our Water Future – Perspectives from Aotearoa New Zealand and Australia (and much more).

A Gala Dinner was held on the evening of Day 1, attended by over 900 delegates, trade exhibitors, sponsors, and industry partners. This was an opportunity to celebrate water industry award finalists and see a glimpse into the ground-breaking and innovative work they are delivering towards our life-sustaining water industry. A very hearty and sincere congratulations goes out to all of those organisations and individuals who were shortlisted and winners. I don’t think we can forget the emotion and enthusiasm from Student Water Prize winner, Zhiyao Wang (sponsored by Guidera O’Connor). This passion and determination gives me confidence that the future water industry will be in great hands.

Congratulations to the Ozwater organising committee who, aside from pulling off an amazing event, managed to select perhaps the most motivational and engaging keynote speakers that I have ever had the privilege to listen to. If you haven’t yet had the opportunity to hear these keynote speakers, then I wholeheartedly encourage you to look them up on You Tube. Watch them with your friends and family. Open up a discussion around their successes and motivations. What drives them? How did they get to be where they are today? Our incredible keynote speakers were:

Gitanjali Rao – a 15-year-old high school student was honoured as Forbes “30 Under 30 in Science” in 2019 and “Kid of the Year” for her innovations and global STEM workshops. Gitanjali has just released a new book “Young Innovator’s Guide to STEM” (released on 16 March 2021), which guides students, educators, or teachers with a prescribed 5 step innovation process. Gitanjali shared with us, humanitarian products that she has developed, patented, and released, including:

  • “Tethys” – an early lead detection tool, in response to the Flint (Michigan) lead crisis in drinking water
  • “Epione” – a device for early diagnosis of prescription opioid addiction using genetic engineering
  • “Kindly” – an anti-cyberbullying service using AI and Natural Language Processing.

What a great role model for our children and teenagers! With so much behind her, at such a young age, we look forward to hearing more about this gifted and compassionate young STEM advocate. Perhaps she will be the next generation’s “Elon Musk” – and help us to pioneer new technologies and solutions to help us overcome some of the challenges we are facing today. The world certainly is Gitanjali’s oyster.

We also got to hear from:

Michael Fox who spoke to us about Reimaging our Food Future by developing deliciously meaty food made out of mushrooms, through his award-winning food label, Fable.

Simon Griffiths Co-founder and CEO of Who Gives a Crap, who presented his talk, The Business of Making a Difference, sharing the story of Who Gives a Crap and the lessons learnt from running a purpose led business.

Tim Jarvis AM who shared leadership lessons he has learned throughout his various expeditions, including retracing Shackleton’s footsteps in 2007. Tim related problem solving, teamwork, change management and goal setting while undertaking extreme endeavours and how they can be applied to any business or person in his audience, through his extreme and precarious expeditions.

Tanya Hosch spoke to us about Thriving Through Inclusion. Tanya, an Indigenous Australian, was 2021 South Australian of the Year. She shared her story about how she has risen up to achieve many great successes through inclusion and diversity, such as joining the AFL as the first ever Indigenous person, and being the second-ever women in their Executive ranks. She is also a member of the Indigenous Advisory Group of the NAB, a Board Director of Circus Oz and the Australian Film, Television and Radio School and a member of the Referendum Council that led the process and final recommendation that resulted in The Statement from the Heart in May 2017.

Professor Veena Sahajwalla shared her story Waste as a Valuable Resource, and how she has pioneered the high temperature transformation of waste in the production of a new generation of ‘green materials’. In 2018, Veena launched the world’s first e-waste micro factory and in 2019, she launched her plastics micro factory, a recycling technology breakthrough. She is turning waste into valuable materials that could be used in 3D printing and the construction industry.

We said farewell to our beloved and exceptional AWA President, Carmel Krogh and we welcomed in our esteemed new AWA President, Louise Dudley, who will lead the direction of AWA alongside Corrine Cheeseman and the Board of Directors, over the next two years. We also welcomed in a new Board, comprised of Carmel Krough OAM, Louise Dudley, Jim Athanas, Peter Dennis, Kate Draper, Dr Sandra Hall, Karlene Maywald, Shelley Shepherd, Daniel Sullivan and Kevin Werksman.

To Principal Sponsors, SA Water and Government of South Australia, thank you for hosting such an outstanding Ozwater ’21. You certainly put on a spectacular show with your Tasting Australia 2021 Festival, which conveniently coincided with Ozwater ’21. Many who attended the conference also enjoyed the opportunity to explore one of Adelaide’s many splendid vineyards in the Barossa Valley, Adelaide Hills, Clare Valley and McLaren Vale. Some ventured home with special cuts of meat from renowned butchers. Others managed to squeeze in a round of golf.

A very special acknowledgement and thank you to our trade exhibitors and to our sponsors. Without your participation, this magnificent event would not be possible.

It was a great opportunity to travel from across the country and come together face to face, after a long period of lock down and restrictions. We embraced the coming together. We shared and planted new ideas. We challenged the status quo. We inspired each other to open up and consider new technologies that have now been tried and tested. We have seen from our industry peers and from our keynote speakers, what can be achieved when you put your mind to something, with the support and collaboration from industry partners. And we look forward to doing it all over again in 2022, here in Brisbane.