If the feedback from participants is a true measure, then the inaugural Sydney Water Innovation Festival was truly successful.

Dr Nicola Nelson, Manager, Research and Innovation at Sydney Water, said the aim of the Innovation Festival was to create an event which brought together water utilities and all their key stakeholders to generate new ideas and to solve key challenges, where we could work together in a fun way to create a better life for our communities.

“We certainly achieved this aim, with over 1,300 registering for the festival from 25 countries, which, with our partnership with Northumbrian Water in the UK, made it a truly global event,” Dr Nelson said.

“The festival outlined the challenges of the private and public sectors and demonstrated that we should be collaborating more.

“The pleasing aspect is that tangible outcomes have been created – things we can practically do in the next 12-18 months,” Dr Nelson said.

Festival themes

The Innovation Festival focused around six themes: circular economy, liveability, water security, smart cities, customer experience and amplifying the voices of Aboriginal Peoples. Design sprints and panel sessions were conducted to provide solutions to challenges aligned with each theme.

Circular economy

Local Grow is a case study project working with the local community to produce fresh food in a circular economy. It will be a partnership between Sydney Water, local indigenous communities, local industry and residents, to create co-located food hubs supplying food for the local community.

The local groups will provide food waste and organics to be recycled into composted products and to produce energy and heat to fuel the greenhouse to grow produce.

Sydney Water and its partners will provide the technology and services to provide safe, reliable water and composted biosolids for hydroponics, aquaponics and soil-based urban agriculture systems.


The challenge – How can we extend safe swimming in Sydney Harbour? A two-year goal was created for the 2023 summer of swimming in Sydney Harbour with private sector engagement, involving a series of events and initiatives that test swim sites with pop-up pools while trialling new approaches and community engagement.

Water Security

The challenge – How might we determine the right balance between controlling and incentivising businesses to implement wastewater source control?

The solution – The Ideas Portal; an online space dedicated to assisting business customers to discover ways to reduce contaminants and pollutants in their trade waste, as well as assistance on how to apply for grants or to create partnerships to support their implementation of pilot solutions.

Smart cities

The Smart Cities ‘Datahack’ brought together some of the country’s brightest data scientists from Sydney Water, as well as the government, tertiary and private sector to address the challenge of how to better understand wastewater networks and sewer overflows to deliver a better customer experience.

Supported by NSW Chief Data Scientist and UTS Industry Professor, Ian Oppermann, as well as Distinguished Professor, Fang Chen, the ‘hack’ generated some exciting innovation concepts to predict sewer overflows and to visualise underground pipes using augmented reality.

Customer experience

An initial solution suggested the creation of an app as a first interaction point so that information on water and sustainability can be shared with like- minded customers to create a ripple effect to help utilities create a better life for their customers.

Amplifying the voices of Aboriginal Peoples

Veronica Murphy, First Nation’s Inclusion Specialist at Sydney Water, said that one of the highlights of the festival was acknowledging the role of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the first engineers in this country.

“The blending of Aboriginal traditional knowledge with western science to find innovative ways to better manage our waterways and protect the environment can only be of benefit,” Ms Murphy said.

“An insightful Winang-ali Water Connects Us panel was conducted along with a design sprint which developed a roadmap to respectfully
enhance the indigenous voice in decision making processes.

“There is much we can learn from the traditional custodians of our lands and waterways on how we can better manage the land and how to protect the environment for generations to come.”

Technology delivery

The delivery partner of the Innovation Festival was Isle Utilities, who transported the concept created by Northumbrian Water in the UK to Australia and the concept was excitedly embraced by Sydney Water.

Dr Alex Cech, Chief Technology Officer at Isle Utilities, said, “There was a real focus at the festival on the importance of innovation in driving both technological and behavioural change.

“New, fresh and novel technologies from start-up to scaled-up and commercially ready were presented in a Shark Tank format across the six key themes of the festival.

“Isle Utilities’ global innovation ecosystem was able to identify and source 36 innovative technologies which were presented at the Shark
Tank sessions.

“Winners will now receive support from the festival sponsors and Sydney Water to develop their concepts further.”

The shark tank winners

Circular economy

The Green Genie, developed by researchers at the University of Technology Sydney UTS involves direct CO2 capture using algal biomass which is then converted to bioplastics and fibres.

The PYROCO unique pyrolysis technology developed by RMIT converts biosolids into biochar.


WasteShark is an autonomous aqua-drone designed by Ranmarine Technology to remove floating pollution such as plastics, algae and biomass from lakes, ponds, waterways and harbours, while collecting environmental data from aquatic environments.

Biomatrix Water has developed Floating Ecosystems which provide societal and ecological benefits in urban waterways for habitat creation, urban waterscaping, water quality management and wastewater treatment.

Water security

Metropolder has created Polder Roof, a smart rainwater storage on roofs for urban water management. Agua Via has developed atomically precise membranes that deliver high purity water from various sources of contaminated water.

Smart cities

Fibresense created by Supersoniq is a technology that employs existing fibre-optic network cables, integrated photonics and machine learning for asset monitoring and leak detection.

The Al-enabled Vulnerability and Intrusion Detection Solution developed by Macquarie University is an early- stage concept, with low Technology Readiness Level (TRL) that requires further research and development.

Customer experience

KartaSoft is a SaaS pre-packaged digital mapping platform making it easier and simpler for organisations to build powerful maps to engage their customers and see emergency risks.


MyPass Global has developed a Digital Skills Passport designed to streamline workforce safety and compliance in industries.

Storm Canal Traction Cleats, a fall prevention idea from Sydney Water’s WAVE Challenge uses reusable traction cleats to provide field crew with better traction in storm canals.

Tangible outcomes for current challenges

Closing the Innovation Festival, Sydney Water’s Managing Director, Roch Cheroux, said over the past few days, we have had the difficult conversations and faced the reality of our situation. We’ve talked about climate change and water security and shared stories of caring for country and what it means for the water sector and our cities.

“We have brought together our brightest and most enthusiastic minds to solve our biggest environmental and urban growth challenges,” Mr Cheroux said.

“There are already discussions taking place on next year’s Sydney Water Innovation Festival and how we can make it better and create even more tangible outcomes for the water industry. Watch this space!”

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