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Water gone wild

What did Ozwater'23 attendees learn from the Water Gone Wild session? 

Co-hosted by Professor Stuart Khan and Sally “Springer” Williamson on behalf of the Australian Water Association Water Quality Specialist Network, the recent Water Gone Wild session at Ozwater'23 aimed to showcase lessons learned from when things didn’t quite go to plan in the world of water. Incidents that were probably not so entertaining when they happened, but with the benefit of hindsight could provide both some insights into hazard/incident management and provide some light entertainment.

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Make It Snappy!
Tania Strixner-Harvey (Mt Isa Water Board, Mt Isa, Qld) opened the show, with a couple of stories of the wild items that had ended up in Mt Isa’s drinking water source. A couple of cars and the odd couch can seem normal, right? But questions were raised around the resulting mental health of those (especially those with “light-stomachs”) who had to extract and dispose of the partially decomposed crocodile and the even more decomposed horse.

Pond, James Pond
You’d be forgiven for mistaking Dan Evans (Aurecon, Sydney, NSW) as a secret agent. Speed boats, helicopters, and trekking through the bush with ex-SAS soldiers, allegedly for the purpose of collecting water samples. Dan’s stories were great examples, not of when wild things happen, but the wild aspects of working as a water professional that can be quite typical for some of us, depending on our role, but more so when your role involves collecting samples in remote locations. Who would have thought that sometimes the safest way to sample water is by helicopter?

The Wild Wild South
Speaking of the wild world of sampling, shocking us with tales from the sewers of Louisiana was Greta Zornes (CDM Smith, New Orleans, USA). Greta described a situation that saw her team’s wastewater surveillance sampling vehicle stolen during a sampling run. A very serious and frightening situation for those involved, but a notable example of an unexpected hazard, giving rise to important lessons learned. Whilst it would be inappropriate to make light of this situation, the good news is that no one was harmed and that even the samples collected prior to the incident managed to jump to safety (i.e. fall out of the back of the vehicle).

Bulls Eye
Think of an animal and Dean Puzey (Water Corporation, Bunbury, WA) has probably fished it out of a tank or coaxed it out of a treatment plant control room. Turtles, amorous snakes, window-smashing bulls, affectionate emus, death-wish ducks, dogs (with bonus “cone of shame”), and the nightmare fuel, commonly knowns as the lamprey are just a few of the wild beasts that are part of the wild daily grind in South-Western Australian water resource recovery facilities. The jury is still out on whether Dean was telling the truth when he claimed that not even one animal was eaten in the making of his stories. In the next episode we will be bringing Dean back for the results of his lie detector test. Stay tuned.

Don’t Panic
To bring us to the end of the show, Doug Moorby (Narromine Shire Council, Narromine, NSW) called on his extensive background in the water industry and in emergency services to take us through what we can to prepare for and cope with situations when water goes wild, or has he put it “what to do when the water doesn’t flow, and the poo doesn’t go”. Leadership, planning, training, and preparedness are the principles that span industries and are critical when dealing with incidents.

Final Thought
It’s not a Jerry Springer show without a deep and meaningful Final Thought. Sally’s final thought focused on the takeaway messages from the “pretty gnarly incidents, from decomposing crocodiles to attempted poo theft and everything in between”; times when things didn’t go to plan. Whilst we were able to have a good laugh, at the time these incidents were serious. What we hopefully learned is that together (and with good preparation), it is possible to overcome the wildness that comes with working in the water industry (be it actual wild animals, wild situations or solving wild problems).

We got to hear from people on the front lines, implementing strategies and solutions, sometimes on the fly, to ensure that us and the community are safe. Our water industry is complex and constantly evolving, with new challenges arising all the time. We should never downplay the seriousness of the wildness of water, but we can take comfort in knowing that there are people out there who are working tirelessly and obtain great value from the sharing of their stories.

And in the words of Jerry Springer... take care of yourselves and each other.