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SA Conference Highlights

SA Conference 30 September 2022

The COVID pandemic forced the hands of a lot of us in the water industry to quickly pivot to find innovative ways of undertaking the same work we always had done but under challenging new conditions, and although it wasn’t always smooth sailing it is safe to say that we have all learned a lot along the way and can find encouragement in the fact that we were able to make it through arguably one of the most trying periods of our careers. But now that the light at the end of this tunnel is becoming clearer, what’s next? Surely we don’t just breathe a sigh of relief and gleefully return to how things were in 2019. The unlocked potential we collectively discovered and built on over these last three years should be nurtured for the wider benefit of the industry, and by extension the populations we serve. It’s this pursuit for continued innovation into the future that was the backbone for the most recent SA State Conference. It is becoming a trope these days to start discussions with “for the first time since COVID hit…” but… for the first time since COVID hit, the AWA SA State Conference made its triumphant return with the theme Water Matters: Envisaging our Future. As the theme suggested, the focus was on looking into the future and hearing more about what innovations, technology and other information is out there, as well as lessons learned for future consideration.

The day opened with SA Water Chief Executive David Ryan encouraging all of us to “embrace the preposterous” when considering options for the future. What are the things that seemed ridiculous in the past, but we now do unconsciously? How can we better recognise the benefit of these ‘preposterous’ things now and develop them for the better? The need to break down organisational boundaries and focus on a collective mindset focused on continued growth and development was a key point to his opening.

Major Sumner AM followed up his unique and heartfelt Welcome to Country with a fantastic keynote presentation about how “water is life”, and it is connected throughout the country in much the same way our circulatory system brings the ‘same blood’ to every part of the body. In his speech he highlighted the need to reflect on what we have done in the past and how it impacts our future, such as mining, roadways and drains, as well as making the link back to the human body; if small parts of ourselves were mined or redirected how would we last? What we need to do to ensure we lasted?

Dr Ariella Helfgott followed with her keynote about looking to the future and a need to focus on a staged process of projection, visions, scenarios and planning, and encouraged us to think about the future as simply a rearrangement of the present. There’s a lot of ‘experimental’ technology out there already such as drones and the Internet of Things but it is not widely utilised. We were drawn to ask the question about what kind of future we wanted, and to not be afraid if it seems difficult to get there because the value is well worth the effort.

Finally, rounding out our incredible line up of keynote presenters was Joanne Chong, who reiterated that water is inextricably interconnected to our society and drives where we live and work, so it is more important than ever to understand the arrangements between people and water innovations. There is obviously an optimisation of cost and risk to be considered, but also a balance to be drawn so that the solutions considered are both sustainable and equitable. Looking forward, it is important for us to define a basic level of service we expect for all people; inclusive and representative decision making is needed.

After an inspiring morning of keynotes and a delicious morning tea (that this author missed out on), the bulk of the conference presentations commenced. Not only did the SA Conference Committee receive one of the largest amounts of presentation submissions in years, they were also all incredibly high quality, all with their own unique links to the conference theme. The schedule saw almost an even balance of audience participation across all three streams, giving confidence that the material being presented was in the general interest of the diverse attendees present. Split across three streams (Water Resource Management for a Resilient Future, Forward Thinking Technology Development and Delivery, and The Digital Water-Energy Nexus – Leveraging Data for a Sustainable Future) there were 30 overall presentations given across the day. Aude Fumex (SUEZ) won the award for best presentation for her topic of Aquadvanced Digital Operations Tool – Deployment Case Study in Adelaide Metro – congratulations Aude and SUEZ!

We were encouraged by a 100% turnout for all registered delegates; the majority of which stayed right through the entire day up to the closing networking drinks. Thanks are extended to the AWA SA Conference Committee for their efforts in pulling everything together, as well as the crew from AWA and Event Manager Kathryn Lee in organising a fantastic event that is going to be hard to beat next year!