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NSW YWP Regional Water Night – November 2022

 

The NSW Young Water Professionals hosted the first Regional Multi-Hub Event on Wednesday November 23rd 2022. An innovative concept, the event involved 4 centralised hubs, as well as online participants, participating in a hybrid event to discuss the challenges and tribulations of working in metropolitan and regional water utilities. The intent of the session was regional and metro based professionals to discuss how regional perspectives can be promoted in the water industry, how regional water utilities can overcome the challenges within the industry and how utilities can share the lessons learnt from similar practices.

The hubs were located in Newcastle, Taree, Canberra and Sydney, in order to ensure that some water professionals in more populated areas could have access to an in-person event nearby. The Newcastle hub acted as the “main” hub with “main facilitator” to link the hubs and discussion together. This was also trialed in these locations as a working prototype of the regional hub format, with plans to implement similar hubs in future elsewhere in regional NSW (or even interstate) to allow more regional water professionals to attend an in person event. 

The event began with two presentations from regional water professionals, discussing their experiences working in the regional water industry. Lisa Andersons from the Taree hub, discussed her work for Department of Planning and Environment (DPE) engaging with regional communities. She noted the importance of water to regional communities, providing not only a life source for communities but also for the environment. She also highlighted the many stories that regional communities have told regarding their challenges, such as water quality issues and either too much or not enough water. She concluded by discussing the issues she sees within regional water utilities as they try to overcome these challenges with limited resources, funding and skills.

Sammy Jung from Goldenfields Water County Council presented next   on her experiences working for a regional water utility. Based in Temora, the Goldenfields County covers over 20,000 square kilometers and supplies water to 8 separate Council areas but only has just over 10,000 customers. As such meeting the requirements of a typical water utility with a limited rate base can be challenging for the organisation. Furthermore, the limitations in resources and funding makes meeting the service levels enjoyed by water utilities with many more connections (and thus a larger rate base) much more difficult. Sammy was able to get the audience considering funding models for regional water utilities and if rate-based models are the best approach in future to funding of water and wastewater resources in NSW. Sammy also discussed other challenges, such as attracting and retaining staff in key positions, as well as ensuring they were trained to carry out their roles.

After the presentations, a panel session was conducted with two more speakers introduced representing the metropolitan water industry – Michael Carter from Beca Hunter H2O (based at the Newcastle hub) and Matthew Schnelle from Sydney Water based at the Sydney hub. This then opened the floor for discussion between the 4 panelists and active audience members as they discussed the overall challenges and opportunities between regional and metropolitan water utilities. Challenges such as staffing, an aging workforce, knowledge sharing, climate change and water quality were all discussed, as the audience asked questions of the panelists. Despite the distance between the 4 hubs and the hybrid online format, the questions came in thick and fast with strong facilitation of the panel ensuring the event ran smoothly. 

The hybrid format allowed water professionals separated by large distances to meet and discuss key issues within the water industry, but also allowed for networking after the event. The event was seen as a success and a proof of concept for the regional hub idea. With plans to hold more of these events, this was proof that more and more water professionals will be able to connect with each other and discuss the issues we all face as an industry.

For more information about the hub event, organisation and format, please contact event organisers and NSW YWP Committee Regional Representatives:

Trevor Sultana | Trevor.Sultana@outlook.com
Brendan Dagg | Brendan.Dagg@ghd.com