Every year, the Water Industry Operators Association celebrates the best of the industry with its Operator of the Year awards. We spoke with recent winners from around the country, all of whom have demonstrated excellent performance, initiative and all-round attention to detail in their role as operators of water or wastewater treatment facilities.

Glenn Taggart, Central Highlands Water – Victorian operator of the year

I’m part of the water treatment operations team at Central Highlands Water. I’m mainly based out of the Daylesford water treatment plant, and I’m also involved in running six other plants throughout the Central Highlands Water supply area.  

We make sure that the treatment plants operate correctly and efficiently whenever they are needed. It’s a 24/7 operation and the most important thing is that the water is safe, compliant, and looks and tastes good.

On a typical work day, I’m normally on-site before seven o’clock. The first thing I’ll do is check the control systems for all sites to make sure that all the plants are operating properly.

Throughout the day I’ll test the water quality around the plants that I am looking after at various points in the process. I also look after any maintenance required around the plants, both planned and unplanned.  

We deal with a fair amount of data and records to make sure that the work we do can be audited, so there is a lot of paperwork, data entry and analysis.

Various other activities keep me busy such as chemical stock takes, ordering and receiving deliveries of chemicals, equipment and materials, and project work.

One innovation that has come in recently is our use of a closed group on a social media app, which we use as a team to let each other know what is happening at the various plants.

Any team member can attend any site and know the situation before they arrive. It also shares the most important information from the plant diaries.

We’ve also installed solar panels to offset our power usage at the Daylesford plant, and we’ve modified the Daylesford plant to enable us to bring multiple sources of water simultaneously into the plant at any time, blending the waters to maximise the amount we can use of any source and make the water as easy to treat as possible.

Technically, the main challenge I probably face as an operator is dealing with changing climates and weather, and the variability in the source water quality and availability that it creates.

It is a challenge to make sure that we can keep the process running really well and be smart about how we use the water sources we have.

We’re always looking to understand the likely changes ahead of us and the risks, and modifying our plant or processes or raw water systems to be ready for those risks.  

Another challenge is the constant drive to reduce costs to our customers and the need to continually become more efficient, and do more with less.

We like to think that we come at this challenge positively, using it to push ourselves to always look at what more we can do and think of new opportunities.

e’ve used improvements in SCADA and remote plant control, and put in more online instruments, along with reviewing our processes to make sure that we are not doing anything unnecessary.

I’ve been in this industry for over 30 years now and I wouldn’t leave it for quids.

I enjoy the environment that I work in, particularly the variability and the opportunity to work outside, the people I work with and the feeling that I’ve done something that is worthwhile.

I’ve been lucky in the time I’ve been at Central Highlands Water that we’ve always had good people and teams that work well together to get things done and deal with issues when they come up.

Dave Cashen, Bathurst Regional Council – NSW operator of the year

My current role as Bulk Water Supply Supervisor for Bathurst Regional Council is a challenging and at the same time a changing role because of how technologies and processes are improving.

You have to be able to adapt to new ways but also understand and direct your staff to be the best they can be, while maintaining quality and, very importantly, value for ratepayers money.

My expertise does not only relate to running and managing the water filtration plant but covers both supply dams, the pump stations and approximately 34 reservoirs spread out over the Bathurst area.

Some of my day-to-day tasks involve liaising with local contractors, businesses, sales reps for new products and equipment, and of course answering public questions relating to water quality.

A typical work day involves lots of facts and figures, from checking what has been consumed over the previous 24 hours to water quality testing on the day. Paperwork and more paperwork because with so much to check, repair or replace, everything needs to be documented, ordered and paid for.

Chemicals that we need in order to treat river water to the Australian Drinking Water Guidelines and to comply with the council’s own critical control points to be fit for consumption need to be maintained and stock rotated. Maintenance is also a major part of our day-to-day activities to keep things running smoothly.

Recent innovations that we have adopted include WiFi for internal data communications and fibre optic cables, which allow for previously off-system treatment units to be placed onto the network and all operators to remotely monitor and adjust parameters.

Our online monitoring equipment automatically adjusts chemicals based on certain quality parameters. We also have an on-system alarm and shut-off adjustable set points, system process graph availability and microwave link capabilities.

The main challenge operators face is keeping up to date with current training and new innovations within the testing and monitoring fields. We overcome this by always upgrading our skills and having good networking programs using RISK EDGE, WIOA, TAFE NSW, NSW Office of Water, NSW Department of Primary Industries, NSW Environment Protection Authority and also liaising with operators from other councils around the region.

I enjoy being an operator because every day is different, from upgrading and designing new methods to researching new technologies. Providing good quality water to the public and having great pride in what we do makes the job.

Brendan Roesler, TRILITY – South Australian operator of the year

My current position is TRILITY Team Leader of the Lower Riverland water treatment plants.

This consists of the operation and maintenance of Summit Storage, Murray Bridge, Tailem Bend and Mannum water treatment plants which supply water to a large part of the upper south east of the state, local towns and most of the Adelaide Hills.

As part of a team of five, we also manage the operations and maintenance of a small wastewater treatment plant at Birdwood which is contracted to us by the Adelaide Hills Council.

My main responsibility is to manage the operations side of the plant process which involves contractor management, maintaining compliance with the Australian Drinking Water Guidelines, scheduling maintenance at all sites and general duties which are shared throughout the team at the different sites.

Recent innovations include the advancement of the IT side of data collection and maintenance planning areas of the business.

Since starting 15 years ago, the plants in the Riverland were ahead of their time, and over the years we have remained in front by updating the way we access data and plant control and maintenance using SCADA; remote access via tablets and mobile phones; as well as accessing emails while on the fly via mobile.

We have adopted a range of technology to make the operator’s job easier.

As well as technology in the field, being able to access learning and training material online when it suits us, rather than attending the classroom for training, frees up more time for other tasks.

The main challenge is compliance with water industry guidelines and health guidelines which has become more of a focus in recent times.

The large amount of reporting, sampling and quality control makes 24/7 monitoring tougher at times, especially with changing Murray River conditions.

To overcome these challenges, our operators now have greater access to support from engineering staff within the company and have more opportunities to share information with operators in other teams and with other members of the Water Industry Operators Association, through attending conferences etc.

I love working in the operations side of the water industry because the variety of work has always been better than being stuck in an office in one spot.

Since taking on the role of Team Leader, I’ve been spending more time in front of a computer screen, but there is always the option of being able to go out and start a different task on the plant.

Most of the plants we manage are standalone and away from the general public, so it is not hard to get some exercise and do a plant check at the same time.

The work is not a job as such, but a lifestyle, as we are all able to plan our work day around the workload which varies greatly.

 

David Stacey, TasWater – Tasmanian Operator of the Year

I currently operate any of 11 STPs or water treatment plants in our system on rotation and am involved with optimisation and problem solving when we have issues beyond the norm.

At times I am also involved with reactive works in the reticulation network for both sewer and water.

Our team recently gained a number of trainees and I have been involved in their training process, supporting their education and familiarisation of the treatment process.

On a typical day, I review my work schedule and head to the assigned region, as well as liaising with my coordinator in the morning to review the past 24 hours.

I then sort out my workload and set my path for the day, which may involve operating up to four treatment plants in a day.

I also deal with any reactive issues that pop up and manage the operational duties that exist in our treatment plants.

During the day, I may get calls from other operators to discuss issues in other areas as we work as a team and pool our knowledge to get the best results for our customers.

One great change to the operational environment at TasWater is the value and support we are now receiving from our optimisation teams (water and sewer).

With a simple phone call, we now have access to key process and scientific experts that readily help us diagnose and resolve process issues in plants and maintain water/effluent quality. With continual improvement, we are seeing some older problematic plants improve.

Possibly the biggest challenge is the operation of older plants that are now required to meet modern quality and performance standards.

We try to overcome these physical limitations by utilising as much internal support as we can and being as diligent as possible in our duties.

We find that if we are empowered to do what we are trained to do we can generally catch issues early on and prevent the failures that cause quality issues.

We know our plants and we know the process limitations – if we remain observant and have the time to rectify failures correctly, we can limit the greater issues that propagate from these seemingly small issues.

Of course, things do go wrong at times, but we are well trained to manage emergency situations.

I enjoy being an operator because there are plenty of challenges every day and the work is never stagnant.

The people who excel in this work and stay in the industry tend to have a great comradery and passion for what we do.

The team I work with have a real sense of ownership of the assets we are charged with operating and maintaining.

I don’t believe there is a single person in any of the North West teams that doesn’t feel pride in the quality of water we deliver to customers and the levels we treat the waste to.

We live in the community too, as do our wives, kids and extended families, and we all feel the responsibility of ensuring that when our customers drink the water we produce, they are safe and the product is of the highest quality possible. 

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