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Queensland’s Journey to Origin Victory, and Net Zero!

It was a sell out crowd on Origin night in Brisbane. The stands were filled and there was a buzz in the air as the anticipation of the night ahead lingered in the air. But hang on, this wasn’t Suncorp stadium, this was The Precinct, where the Australian Water Association's Queensland Branch was hosting their June technical event. The theme was "The Journey to Net Zero", and we had a really exciting line up of speakers to explore this very interesting topic.

The Origin theme was weaved throughout the night - with Paul Arnold, CEO of Urban Utilities donning his Queensland scarf (“it was cold!”) as he welcomed everyone to the Urban Utilities hosted event, on the lands of the Turrbal and Juggera people. Paul talked about the importance of achieving net zero carbon and nutrients. He reflected on his observations since joining Urban Utilities of the collaborative nature of the water industry and implored us all to work together as we solve these important challenges.

Emcee for the evening, Natalie Muir, AWA QLD Branch Committee member and Regional Director for Environment & Geosciences at Stantec, provided some context to the topic. She talked of the changing the climate, that climate pledges now cover 88% of global emissions, but that the time is here to act and deliver on those pledges. She provided an overview of some of the relevant topics and Queensland presentations at Ozwater which were demonstrating action - all within the context of collaboration and with the community at heart.

It was time for our first speaker - Amanda Binks, Strategic Infrastructure Manager at Unitywater. Amanda's "player profile" tells us she is a Queenslander and considers herself a bit of an allrounder, so probably a Centre in the footy terms! Amanda talked about Unitywater's commitment to net zero carbon and net zero nutrients by 2050. She talked about the complexity of what it means across the entire organisation and how Unitywater had mapped their projects and initiatives to ensure how each one contributes to these goals.

Amanda also talked about the importance of innovation on the journey. "We don't yet know all the answers - we need new approaches to solve these challenges", she said. Unitywater has an organisation-wide innovation process which is aiming to encourage staff to put forward their ideas to address the challenges. Some of these ideas are already coming to life, including the Oyster Reef restoration trial which is contributing to the goal of net zero nutrients to waterways, and also providing co benefits around erosion protection and shoreline stabilisation, increased biodiversity and fisheries value. Amanda concluded her presentation by talking about the Blue Heart project, which is taking land that will be inundated by climate change impacts, and transforming it into a site which provides flood mitigation, biodiversity improvements, blue carbon, recreational and other co-benefits.

Our next speaker, Chris Bulloch, Executive Leader, Integrated Solutions at Urban Utilities was one of the few blues supporters in the audience, and sees himself as a fullback, reading the play and working across the team to make connections. He talked about the journey in relation to nutrient reduction into Moreton Bay since the release of "The Moreton Bay Study" in 1999. The targets related to the reduction of point source nutrient loads have been successful, with the water quality in the Bay being the best it's been in 50 years. However, sediment loads are still problematic and sediment pollution is worsening every year.

In Urban Utilities, this is shaping some different thinking. "The solutions that we've used in the past won't help our aquatic environments. We need to reshape the water cycle so that the ecosystems which we depend on remain healthy", Chris said. Urban Utilities has been working with the Department of Environment and Science on the regulation and mechanisms for offsets and setting the science based targets for sediment reduction and Nutrient Net Zero (NNZ).

Kathy Baker, Manager, Service Sustainability at City of Gold Coast, was the final player on our team. She's a staunch Maroon supporter and sees herself as a Five-Eighth, in the midst of the action, directing play. Kathy's presentation was about Carbon Accounting and the associated challenges. She talked about the carbon accounting framework and emissions boundaries and the challenges associated with obtaining data. As a Council based water utility, the emissions boundary was not constrained to the water business, but instead is part of the overall Council emissions profile. Council's emissions profile is dominated by fugitive emissions from landfills, with wastewater treatment comprising 5% of scope 1 emissions. Construction materials top the list of scope 3 emissions and are a key area of focus for Council.

Kathy commented on the scale of the data execise. The challenges that Kathy and her team of "data nerds" faced were in applying the frameworks to the water business (there is no "off the shelf" solution), sourcing and obtaining accurate information to be able to calculate emissions, and the emissions factors used by the NGERSs framework, which don’t seem to accurately reflect the impact of decarbonisation initiatives. Despite the challenges, City of Gold Coast has identified some initial opportunities on their decarbonisation plan and will be working hard to execute on them.

The presentations were followed by a Q&A session where the discussion focused on the cultural changes needed to support the journey to net zero and the mechanisms needed to ensure assessment of alternatives in the early stages of the project lifecycle can adequately reflect the carbon and nutrient reductions as well as additional co-benefits.

The evening concluded with some further networking and refreshments. A big thank you to our speakers for sharing their journeys with us. Thanks also to Urban Utilites for hosting the event, and to the organising committee of Will Spiers, Jo Johnson, Christian Truscott, Carlie Sargent, Zhan Patterson and Jessica Kiely for pulling together a great event.