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Sydney Water is Australia’s largest water and wastewater service provider and it is owned by the people of NSW.

Sydney Water supplies 1.4 billion litres of drinking water to 4.6 million customers across Sydney, the Illawarra and the Blue Mountains every day and also removes and treats daily a similar amount of wastewater across a network of over 25,000kms of wastewater pipes and over 21,000kms of water pipes. They currently employ 2,577 people.

Managing Director of Sydney Water Kevin Young said “We’re lucky enough to look after some of the best water in the world. Every day, we protect the health of our community by providing safe and refreshing drinking water, removing wastewater and preserving our rivers and beaches.

“We’re proud to play a key role in Sydneysiders’ continuing health and enjoyment of this great city,” said Mr Young.

Cultural change

Kevin Young said “We are essentially turning over 127 years of tradition at Sydney Water on its head – changing how we work and taking an outside-in view so that we can deliver the best water in the world to the people of Sydney more efficiently and at a lower price. We will become more adaptable to change and able to better service our customers, community and city.”

Sydney Water’s new direction focuses on customers, building a high-performance culture and turning Sydney Water into a world-class organisation by finding smarter ways to work.

With the initial implementation of their customer-focused strategy they have already lifted their customer satisfaction level to an all-time high of 7.7 out of 10.

Their corporate reputation score is now 6.7 – the highest ever since reporting began. This has coincided with a year of increased engagement with their stakeholders, customers and community. A key example has been the recent engagement, education and consultation with the greater Sydney community on proposed regulatory reforms to Wastewater Overflow Abatement.

In the last six months Sydney Water has embarked on two key pieces of work that they believe will transform their business – customer experience design (or journey mapping) and actively including customers in decision making through enhanced customer engagement activities.  

Sydney Water has implemented a range of new technologies and ways of thinking to improve customer experience and drive business efficiency, including replacement of their 28 year old billing system and utilising new technologies to improve communication with customers via apps, SMS and email.

They recently launched ‘Tap In’, a mobile app which is a one-stop online shop for customers to access building and developing services, which will enable customers to buy diagrams, get building plans approved and submit connection applications online.

They have also recently launched the Water Map app that allows customers to see real-time updates of water supply and service updates. Keeping customers informed about leaks and breaks in a timely manner is critical to minimising inconvenience.

Sydney Water has also embraced social media platforms to engage with their more digitally-minded customers. A prime example has been the ongoing education of customers on their ‘keep wipes out of pipes’ program which has generated broad coverage and engagement through social channels but has also reached an audience of over 8 million in traditional media channels.  

“At the end of the day, Sydney Water must be a financially viable business,” said Kevin Young.

“Due to financial gains and efficiencies, we have been able to make a submission to IPART that we lower rates for our customers over the next four years.

“The changes would take effect from 1 July 2016 and for most customers this will mean a $100 reduction in their bills”, said Mr Young.

Milestones

Sydney Water has achieved considerable milestones over the years:

  • This year marks 25 years of their Deep Ocean Outfalls, which have created significant improvement in water quality along the Sydney coast in conjunction with a $3billion investment in wastewater infrastructure during this time.
  • The introduction of water efficiency programs for business and residential customers in 1999, in conjunction with improvements in technology, has provided significant reductions in water demand. Current total water consumption levels for Sydney are at the same levels experienced in the 1970s, despite an over 50 per cent increase in population since then.
  • Sydney Water has developed an extensive portfolio of industry-leading, innovative, renewable energy projects at their Wastewater Treatment Plants, using hydro generation or cogeneration, which uses biogas produced from wastewater digesters to generate energy. These initiatives provide around 17 per cent of Sydney Water’s total energy needs and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by over 60,000 tonnes a year.
  • The commissioning of the $157million Priority Sewerage Program has allowed thousands of customers on Sydney’s fringe to connect to town sewer for the first time.

Supporting the community

Giving back to the community has always been an integral part of Sydney Water’s make up. Initiatives include:

  • Sydney Water has created an Australian first, BillAssist®, by introducing to their Customer Contact Centre, a team of caseworkers who are all tertiary qualified and experienced in social work or psychology, to provide customers with personalised support, advice and payment assistance, and referrals to other specialist services.
  • Sydney Water also became the first water utility to partner with  a professional sporting team by becoming the Hydration Partner of Cricket NSW.
  • Sydney Water also supports the education of high school and university students through  infrastructure tours and being one of the largest training grounds for engineers and scientists in the nation.
  • This year Sydney Water launched the Women in Science & Engineering (WiSE) program in partnership with Western Sydney University.

Research programs

Research development continues to underpin daily activities for Sydney Water.

Sydney Water, in partnership, won the Global Grand Award at the International Water Association’s (IWA) 2014 Project Innovation Awards held in Lisbon for the Sewer Corrosion and Odour Research program (SCORe). The project helps to maximise the service life of sewer networks and savings in the order of hundreds of millions of dollars are expected to be achieved through its application across the globe.

A similar collaborative research project is currently being conducted on condition assessment and leak detection on critical water mains. The aim is to remove the guesswork from critical pipe inspection and ensuring that water mains are not being replaced before they need to be.

Sydney Water is also partnering with a number of organisations to trial how their sewage treatment plants can produce additional electricity and reduce waste going to landfill by adding household kitchen scraps or glycerol, a by-product of biodiesel manufacture, to the wastewater treatment process.

In a partnership with private company Oxyzone Pty Ltd, Sydney Water developed an Ozone Trailer, using ozone as an alternative to chlorine disinfection of new water pipes. Winning the prestigious 2014 Sydney Engineering Excellence Awards, the Ozone trailer is now providing an annual saving of approximately $1.4million to Sydney Water. The process offers significantly improved health and safety aspects for employees.

A further innovation requiring no capital outlay was developed by two Sydney Water staff members to improve sewer pump performance. The auto flush system developed has ceased the often unsafe practice of manual cleaning of the sewer pumps and has been adopted for all relevant Sydney Water pumps, creating an annual cost saving of around $6million per year.

Sydney Water’s Climate Change Adaptation Program AdaptWater™ was developed in association with a number of partners to investigate how to sustainably reduce the impacts of future climate change on infrastructure, business processes and customers.

Killara-after-1-(2)More than a services supplier

Sydney Water provides much more than water and wastewater services.

Paul Mulley, Sydney Water Manger of People and Places, said “We are proud to have made a contribution to making Sydney more liveable. Through our various collaborations we have improved the local urban amenity and enhanced natural environments – outcomes our customers value.”

Projects include the revitalisation and naturalisation of the Cooks River where deteriorated concrete panels constructed in the 1940s have been naturalised and over 80,000 local native plants have been planted. This project has provided wetland habitat for local wildlife and improved the urban amenity for local residents to enjoy.

Sydney Water also manages and protects over 200 built and natural heritage sites including Sydney’s first water source, the Tank Stream. Last year a remarkable indigenous artwork site in the heart of suburban Sydney was discovered and in conjunction with the Local Land Council, the site will be protected for future generations.

A further program undertaken by the organisation has been an anti-graffiti program, undertaken in partnership with local councils where Sydney Water assets targeted by graffiti vandals are being reborn as community works of art to prevent further graffiti and to enhance the amenity of the local communities.

Sydney Water has also reduced its carbon and ecological footprints by 45 and 35 per cent respectively since 2007-08. This has been achieved despite an increasing population and the need for more energy-intensive water sources.

Sydney Water has been active in promoting tap water as a sustainable alternative to water in plastic bottles, outlining the significant savings in water and power used in the production of plastic bottles that can be achieved by drinking tap, along with reduction in landfill and littering of our waterways.

Safety

At Sydney Water, the number one priority is to continually improve workplace health and safety.

Sydney Water’s focus on safety was refreshed in 2014-15 with the implementation of their ‘Safe & Well Together’ initiative.

Sydney Water is updating its Work Health and Safety Management System (WHSMS), along with over 80 safety policies that will help improve safety at work. As a part of this work, their Civil Delivery team introduced a Behavioural Based Safety (BBS) system.

Almost 6,000 safety observations and conversations have been recorded, demonstrating their workforce’s ongoing commitment to safety. Complementing this, a series of video interviews with staff has been produced to further stimulate health and safety awareness.

Sydney Water has also partnered with ‘MATES in Construction’, a community development organisation that aims to reduce suicide and improve mental health and wellbeing within the Australian construction industry.

Future growth

Most commentary on the future growth in Sydney has tended to focus on housing and transport, but water and wastewater management is essential to any discussions on growth, sustainability and liveability.

Over the next 20 years, there will be an extra 1.3 million people living in Sydney, in 500,000 new homes with an extra 635,000 new jobs, and investment in servicing growth is forecast to be over $2.4billion as new homes are constructed in infill areas and greenfield areas in the North West Growth Centre and South West.

Sydney Water is looking to the future to ensure that when it comes to water, that no-one does it better, to continue to lift the bar to achieve improved levels of customer service, and to keep downward pressure on costs. They also want to ensure that Sydney is an enjoyable city to live in.

Sydney Water has just completed a new 50 year demand forecast, that encompasses a range of future water use scenarios for projected population growth. They are taking a long-term strategic approach to managing demand with the overall focus for water efficiency now to deliver services that customers value, in a way that keeps bills low.

To service Sydney’s growing population, Sydney Water and its key stakeholders are developing smart, sustainable water, wastewater and recycled water solutions. The planning process takes a whole-of-water-cycle management approach, guaranteeing supply while protecting environmental and cultural heritage.

Kevin Young said “As the Managing Director I am proud of what Sydney Water has already achieved. I am confident that by becoming more customer-focused, operationally efficient and innovative, Sydney Water will become more adaptable to change and able to better service our customers, community and city. Like the great men and women who have come before us over the past 127 years, we’re passionate and proud of our role in shaping the lifestyle of Sydney, the Blue Mountains and the Illawarra for generations to come.”

Sydney Water in a nutshell 

Customer focused – high performance – world-class.

Jessica Dickers is an experienced journalist, editor and content creator who is currently the Editor of Utility’s sister publication, Infrastructure. With a strong writing background, Jessica has experience in journalism, editing, print production, content marketing, event program creation, PR and editorial management. Her favourite part of her role as editor is collaborating with the sector to put together the best industry-leading content for the audience.

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