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Richard's World of Water

Richard Savage was recently recognised with the Queensland Distinguished Service Award for his contribution to the Branch Committee for almost a decade, along with his dedication to mentoring Young Water Professionals and thought leadership throughout his career. His Water Story reflects on his purpose as an advocate for sustainability.

Richard Savage is a Director in the Sustainable Water group in Aurecon Advisory. He has had a long career in the water resources and infrastructure planning fields, and advocates strongly for the principles of stewardship and regeneration in all his work.

What drew you into the water industry?

The first choice for my career was engineering geology, but with my dream job lined up after completing my National Service in South Africa, fate played her hand and I was moved to a national ‘Water Resources Modelling and Planning’ contract that had just commenced…I’ve stayed with ‘Water’ ever since!

Who or what do you draw inspiration from?

The natural wonder of water and the countless strange behaviours in it’s chemistry inspire me - like why hot water freezes faster than cool water, or how it is that water exists at all in a liquid state in the average temperature and pressure on the surface of the earth? It’s unique surface tension properties allow capillary action to draw water up tree trunks, easily overcoming the force of gravity.

It is the universal solvent that magically allows us to make our preferred blend of morning tea or coffee; it can assimilate soaps that dissolve otherwise insoluble fat molecules. Without water, there would be no life, and the precarious state of the earth’s freshwater resources is what drives me to ensure that while we can, we stop the mismanagement, pollution and over-use of our freshwater resources. A mountain stream, a raging rapid, the roar of a waterfall, the fresh scents of rain on dry ground, the glint of dawn sunlight on a dew drop all inspire me and show me what is possible.

In the end though, it is only through the actions of people that we can make a difference, and there are countless people who selflessly devote their time to this task who inspire me. Some might say it is our obligation as water professionals to secure sustainable and rightful access to fresh water for all communities on our planet. That ‘obligation’ is an inspiration.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

I love being out in nature, anywhere will do. They are my places of grounding amidst the inevitable stress of living and working in a city economy. As to be expected, being with family and friends takes up free time, but I equally enjoy quiet times to recharge my mental energy. I love playing guitar, composing and creating new tunes that always seem to reflect my sate of mind at the time.

What do you believe is currently the greatest challenge for your part of the water industry?

Simply put, we need to see our challenges in the water sector as an holistic challenge of land, biodiversity, energy AND water. We cannot singularly focus on water – in many respects our water challenges are represented by much larger land and biodiversity problems, so integrated thinking is essential.

The thread through these elements is people – they are why we have problems but also the means to finding a new and sustainable way of better managing these resources, including water.

How do you consider your organisation benefits from most by being a corporate member of the Australian Water Association?

The AWA fundamentally offers opportunities to its members, be they individual or corporate members, and in AWA’s words, these opportunities are to Share, Connect and Inspire. As with all the most revered rewards in life, the benefits of AWA membership are only fully realised when members commit fully to participating in the opportunities provided.

Aurecon is committed to realising these through Board and Branch Committee representation, participating in conferences and Special Interest Groups, making time for mentorship programs (as mentors or mentees). I encourage all businesses to do what they can to be involved as it is only through the collective sharing of experiences and knowledge that our industry can grow.

What messages would you like to give to your colleagues in the Queensland water sector?

What we do collectively in water resources management and planning in the next 30 years, will define what is possible for the next 100 years. We are also facing the consequences of a rapidly changing climate which places even more onus on making the right decisions for this future.

The responsibility for this is therefore fully part of our work NOW. Ask yourselves continuously how whatever it is that you’re doing today is going to ensure sustainable access to freshwater resources into the future.

The QLD Source Editorial committee is always thinking about how to better engage with our broader membership. Do you have a diverse background or experience you would like to share?

My essay in QLD eSource in February 2020 was written in response to the 2017-2020 drought and the catastrophic bushfires around Australia between November 2019 and February 2020. Those events made me reflect on how all the science and technology that had supported the growth of a highly sophisticated economy, had failed to protect us from the ravages of these natural phenomenon. It was obvious to me that we had lost sight of the very principles of custodianship and stewardship that our Aboriginal communities had so diligently learnt and respectfully applied over millennia on this great continent. It led me to ask whether our Acknowledgement of Country was a courtesy or a commitment? As we grapple with the onset of another El Niño event and bushfires flare up across Queensland, I ask myself the same question now…..