New qldwater CEO is an advocacy leader

The new leader of qldwater is Dr Georgina Davis, a highly regarded advocate in Queensland. She spoke about what qldwater is doing for its members across Queensland.

The new leader of qldwater is Dr Georgina Davis, a highly regarded advocate in Queensland. She spoke about what qldwater is doing for its members across Queensland.

The Queensland Water Directorate, better known as qldwater, is the central advisory and advocacy body for Queensland’s urban water industry. Its members include most local councils, other local and state government-owned water and sewerage service providers, and affiliates across Queensland.

Under Dr. Georgina Davis’s leadership, qldwater is continuing to expand its influence. She has a history of advocacy, having led the Waste and Recycling Industry Queensland (WRIQ) and previously the Queensland Farmers’ Federation (QFF).

Her education in engineering complements her knowledge of water planning, pricing, legislation, and the impacts of emerging contaminants. The last issue is also prevalent in the waste management and recycling sector.

“One thing I remember about my engineering education is that the civil engineering units were particularly hands-on,” said Davis. “We had weekly site visits to landfills, composting facilities, energy generators, and water and wastewater treatment facilities. The projects and coursework also reflected this approach. One of the major projects I remember to this day was determining water flow analysis and wastewater treatment options for one of the largest toiletries manufacturers in the UK.”

It’s this practical insight across the utility-type industries while at university, hearing from the site managers and plant operators, getting to see, touch (and even smell) them that gave Davis a passion for the environment and the utility sectors. Upon graduating from her Masters, she worked as a wastewater engineer.

Stakeholder engagement

Queensland and New South Wales have similar water and wastewater network service structures that are distinct from the rest of the country. In Queensland, South-East Queensland (SEQ) is dominated by large statutory authorities and council service providers, including Urban Utilities and Unitywater. Beyond that, local councils across Queensland oversee water and wastewater services.

“Councils across Queensland come in all sizes, with no two being the same,” said Davis. “The Queensland urban water sector is made up of 75 service providers. Of the 75 publicly owned water service providers, 66 are local councils outside of SEQ, 15 of these are Aboriginal councils, and two are Torres Strait Island councils.”

With qldwater members directly employing nearly 7,000 people, and indirectly thousands more, Davis is working with every urban water institution across the state. There are currently 370 water supply schemes and 265 sewage schemes ranging from large-scale infrastructure in SEQ to facilities in regional and remote Queensland (including those servicing island communities).

“While there is significant diversity across our members, there are many issues affecting the sector that do not discriminate on size or location,” she said. “There’s an awful lot of commonalities between issues in Hinchinbrook in the north, Diamantina in the central west, and the Gold Coast in the southeast.”

Risks and challenges

Davis believes the challenges affecting qldwater’s members are becoming more complex and wicked. Most challenges and risks are not unique to any area or organisation.

“One of the biggest issues facing the industry here in Queensland is the labour and skills shortage,” said Davis. “We simply don’t have enough people working in the urban and non-urban water sectors. We certainly don’t have access to the skilling frameworks and infrastructure we want. It’s affecting everyone, from the big end of town to small regional councils.”

The infrastructure cliff is a concern for service providers across Queensland. There are a lot of in-ground assets and treatment facilities that are approaching the end of their lives. They will need replacement or maintenance in the next few years or adaptation to changing climate factors, creating an enormous backlog of work for contractors nationwide.

“Another challenge is legislation and regulatory contradictions,” she said. “Right now, there is a regulatory contradiction between the Security of Critical Infrastructure Act and the Telecommunications Act. The placement of telecommunication infrastructure on our member’s water infrastructure has become a critical issue. They cannot say no to any of the telco providers, whether the providers want to install or access their infrastructure.”

Drive past any water reservoir these days, and you will see masts protruding, each containing power supplies and radiating electromagnetic emissions. This poses WHS risks to workers in the water and infrastructure industries and the infrastructure itself, which were not originally engineered to carry the additional loads. The lack of control is a concern for urban water providers.

This does not touch on the other challenges around climate change, environmental regulation, cyber security, policy pressures, societal changes, and operational resilience. At the same time, Davis is more of a glass-half-full person.

“With many of these risks comes opportunity,” she said. “Some of the growing awareness around water quality is now resulting in conversations around developing water quality markets. Additionally, population growth that previously would have been concentrated in SEQ is occurring in regions around the state. That changes the way infrastructure is upgraded.”

Goals for qldwater

Davis and the rest of the staff at qldwater will continue to work with every member to ensure they can solve the range of issues facing urban water users across Queensland.

“Ultimately, it would be great if there was no need for a Queensland Water Directorate,” said Davis. “It might sound perverse, but if we could effectively deal with all the negative issues impacting our members, if governments resolved their regulatory and policy challenges, and if all network providers had the internal capacity to access future markets and opportunities… well, there would not be a purpose for us.”

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