The future of water management drew Paul Arnold to the industry – here’s why Urban Utilities’ new CEO thinks now is the most exciting time to work in water.
After more than three decades in the resources sector, Paul Arnold is now at the helm at one of Australia’s largest water service providers, Urban Utilities. Formerly the Chief Executive and Managing Director at Energy Resources of Australia based in the Northern Territory, Mr Arnold made the 2,200km journey back home to South East Queensland where he took up the role of Urban Utilities CEO in September last year.
Mr Arnold joined the organisation at a pivotal time as the water industry continues to respond to the challenges of climate change and population growth, and with less than a decade until Urban Utilities’ service region hosts the Olympic and Paralympic Games.
“This is undoubtedly one of the most exciting times to be part of the South East Queensland water industry,” Mr Arnold said.
“Our region has a lot to look forward to, including hosting the Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2032, but we’re also facing some pretty fundamental short and long-term challenges as a sector, which we need to work together to solve.”
As he forges ahead in his first year as Urban Utilities CEO, Mr Arnold has shared his vision for the role, what led him to make the change from natural resources to water and the key challenges and opportunities he’s observed for both Urban Utilities and the broader industry as utilities around Australia work to achieve a sustainable water future.
From natural resources to water
Before joining the team at Urban Utilities, Mr Arnold spent 35 years in the resources and energy sectors, spanning operations, project development and execution, stakeholder relations, Indigenous engagement and business development.
This experience has helped him arrive in his leadership role at Urban Utilities with a unique perspective and clear priorities, accompanied by a deepseated curiosity to gain greater insight into the Australian water sector.
“One might ask how a mining engineer ended up running a water utility,” Mr Arnold said.
“Throughout my career in natural resources, I’ve been passionate about the protection of the environment and the repair of country.
“One of the things that drew me to the water industry, and specifically to Urban Utilities, was its unwavering commitment to service and environmental leadership.
“Being born and first raised in central Queensland and then growing up in Brisbane from school age, I’m also thrilled to be working in a role that will help shape the future of water and enhance livability here in Queensland.”
People, safety and wellbeing
Before joining Energy Resources of Australia as CEO and Managing Director, Mr Arnold also held a variety of operations, commercial, business analysis and major project development roles with Rio Tinto and BHP, spending five years as a Director of the Queensland Resources Council.
“When I think about some of the learnings I’ve gathered over the years, the most obvious and important one that every industry should focus on is safety,” said Mr Arnold.
“Safety is a fundamental value in caring for our people and it’s a priority I have brought with me to the role as Urban Utilities CEO.
“What I’ve learnt about the water industry so far is that, like in mining, our people are often navigating the same high-risk activities as they complete their essential work, such as working in tunnels and confined spaces, at height, with high-pressure equipment or beside mobile and heavy equipment.
“As a leader in this business, I know what an important role I can play to help ensure we have the best processes and support structures in place to look after our people’s mental and physical health.
“We also know that safe organisations are efficient and productive organisations, they go hand-in-hand.”
The connection to purpose of those in the water industry is something that has stood out to Mr Arnold since starting the role.
“At Urban Utilities we are committed to showing up in the moments that matter, and shaping the moments to come, and I have been continually impressed by the passion that is evident in the people I meet and work with every day,” he said.
“Regardless of their role, be it a contact centre operator, field worker, treatment plant operator or engineer, I see genuine care for our customers, community and country and a true passion to deliver our purpose of enriching quality of life.”
Collaboration and partnerships key to solutions
Joining Urban Utilities amid the organisation’s ongoing recovery from the February 2022 flood event means Mr Arnold understands all too well the increasing challenges for the water sector posed by climate change.
“Last year’s floods are an example of how our industry is both planning for climate change and living with its impacts in real time,” he said.
“We’re thinking about the future impact of climate change on behalf of our customers.
“While this is most certainly a challenge, it’s also an opportunity for us to think about how we can deliver our services differently and make decisions now that will support our customers through the impacts of climate change.
“There’s also an important seat at the table in supporting government and the broader community in some of the decisions we have to make to protect ourselves from climate extremes.
“Another challenge for the industry is aging infrastructure. At Urban Utilities, we’re looking at ways we can get beyond age as the driver of asset performance, which means making use of emerging technologies and data analytics to improve both the way we maintain and rejuvenate our assets.”
Mr Arnold said the strong commitment to share best practice and learn from each other is a real positive for the water industry as it looks to meet common challenges.
“Since becoming Urban Utilities’ CEO, I’ve discovered that one of the defining features of this sector is its collective desire to drive sustainable water management. We share this common goal of doing our best for our customers and communities,” he said.
“Now more than ever, we need to collaborate and build our collective skills and knowledge so we’re best placed to achieve a resilient, secure and affordable water future.”
Shaping and growing our future
Urban Utilities has released its water leadership plan, Our Water Way, which outlines how the utility is preparing to meet the challenges of both climate change and population growth and ensure water security for generations to come.
“This is not just a local issue. Around Australia and the world, the way we use and look after water is becoming more of a priority and we’re proud to play our part in supporting a secure water future for South East Queensland,” Mr Arnold said.
The Our Water Way plan outlines Urban Utilities’ aim to reshape the water cycle from the traditional ‘catchment to sea model’ of water use, to a more circular model that manages water more sustainably.
“Water is at the heart of our much-loved lifestyle in South East Queensland. Our quality of life – our jobs, businesses and our communities – depend on it and that’s why we’re planning well ahead for the future,” Mr Arnold said.
“Our plan is about caring for the water we have today and creating the water we need for the future.
“Caring for the water we have today involves always using water efficiently in our homes and businesses and encouraging waterwise communities.
“Creating the water we need for the future is about grasping every opportunity to use our valuable and finite water resources more than once. To achieve this, we’re focused on increasing our use of recycled water for industry, agriculture and irrigation and keeping our water closer to home by treating and managing water nearer to where it’s used.
“Across our region, it also involves looking to other more resilient, climate independent sources of water to help supplement our drinking water supplies, including desalination and purified recycled water, which can be produced in our region using the Western Corridor Recycled Water Scheme.
“We’re already exploring opportunities to design and build innovative and sustainable water and wastewater infrastructure for key Olympic and Paralympic precincts that will form part of our network to support activities such as cooling and greening.”
Urban Utilities last year announced its commitment to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2032, which will support the region to host a climate-positive Olympic and Paralympic Games. To reach net zero, the utility plans to further improve energy efficiency, increase its renewable energy use, and invest in beneficial local offset projects.
Building trust a key focus
Mr Arnold said another priority he had identified for the role included further building trust with Urban Utilities’ customers, communities and stakeholders.
“We’ve been entrusted with billions of dollars of assets by our communities,” he said.
“By providing safe and efficient water and wastewater services every day and by encouraging shared understanding, we will continue to build trust.
“As a water utility, we are stewards of the most precious natural resource our planet has, and I believe it’s important to bring our customers on the journey to support that shared understanding as we work towards a secure water future, together.
“I am relishing this opportunity to work with the passionate people at Urban Utilities and across the water sector as we ensure our communities continue to enjoy safe and reliable water and wastewater services every day and into the future, whatever the weather.”
To learn more about Urban Utilities’ plans for water security please and to join the conversation please visit: watertalk.urbanutilities.com.au/s/water-security-in-seq