Every year, the Water Industry Operators Association (WIOA) celebrates the best of the industry with its Operator of the Year awards. We spoke with some of the 2019 winners from around the country, all of whom have demonstrated excellent performance, initiative and all-round attention to detail in their roles as operators of water or wastewater treatment facilities.

Leigh Walton, Taswater – Tasmanian Operator of the Year

My current role is Senior Operator in the urban networks team, looking after the water and sewer reticulation systems in my zone, which is based at Forth on the North West Coast of Tasmania.

I work with the coordinator to oversee the daily operations of the systems, assist in planning the scheduled work and provide guidance when required on operational issues with a key focus on safety.

A typical work day for me involves reporting to upper management to provide any required information around regulatory reporting and assisting the crews with any issues that may crop up during the day.

There is a focus on the planned work that has been scheduled for that day, along with dealing with the reactive nature of the industry that we are in.

TasWater employees have been at the forefront of some of the recent innovations I’ve seen in the operations side of the water business.

These include the implementation of the cargo net, which assists with removing concrete and other heavy items from job sites, and also the chlorine cylinder trolley, which safely moves chlorine cylinders at water and wastewater treatment plants.

Also, on a larger scale in terms of innovation, I would have to say the arrival of vacuum excavation trucks to the industry has been a massive game changer.

I have been in this industry for over 20 years and these machines have completely changed the way we work.

These trucks are removing one of the biggest risks we face with underground utility installation – damaging other utility assets which, in the case of power and gas, can have serious consequences.

One of the main challenges I face in my role is avoiding other utility assets, which is mitigated through the use of vacuum excavation trucks.

Although the trucks have reduced the likelihood of an asset being damaged, we still need to be careful and exercise caution.

Another challenge is carrying out maintenance on sewer pipes that have been built over or are not easily accessible.

The practice of relining pipes is becoming more common as there is no digging involved, and it is a cost-effective solution that also eliminates significant OHS issues.

I love working in the operations side of the water industry because I enjoy the reactive nature of my role and working with the crews to get a good outcome for everyone.

We have a great team here at TasWater, with a lot of individuals that are keen to make a difference for our organisation and the community.

Billy Hajek, SA Water – South Australian Operator of the Year

I’m one of four operators at the Glenelg Wastewater Treatment Plant in Adelaide’s south-west, which treats around 20 per cent of the city’s sewage, processing around 50 megalitres of wastewater a day.

My role can be quite diverse, but on a basic level, I help to make sure the wastewater is treated to an acceptable standard for reuse or return to the environment.

Each year, the Glenelg facility delivers around 3.8 billion litres of high-quality recycled water to parks, gardens and sporting grounds across the city, so it’s important our operations are safe, efficient and effective.

I typically work between 7.30am to 4pm, but am also part of an on-call roster.

My day-to-day tasks can vary, ranging from taking wastewater samples, to managing nutrient discharge targets, to identifying any issues and fixing them.

Only around a quarter of my day is spent in the on-site control room monitoring the computers and monitoring systems, with the majority spent in and around the plant assessing all the infrastructure to make sure it’s doing what it’s supposed to do.

Although some operations are now automated, I’d say that around 95 per cent of any issues that may occur with the plant still need to be physically looked at and resolved by an operator.

You really need a detailed understanding of how everything works, and each part has its own little intricacies. Before starting this job, I never thought I’d know so much about wastewater, but I’m a keen learner and I ask a lot of questions!

In terms of innovation, we’re always looking for ways to improve the plant’s environmental performance, as well as find more efficient, cost-effective ways of doing things, and this is especially important as Adelaide’s population continues to grow.

In the time I’ve worked at the Glenelg Wastewater Treatment Plant, there’s been a focus on creating more stability in the wastewater treatment process by better understanding the behaviour of bacteria.

I may not be a scientist, but I know a lot about what makes this little ecosystem of bugs happy and what doesn’t!

Some people think the smell would be the biggest challenge in my profession, but anyone who works with wastewater will tell you that you don’t even notice it after a while.

This is helped by improved odour management systems, which are commonplace at treatment plants across the country.

With no day the same, a challenge can be that you expect the treatment operations to be doing one thing and then your monitoring or testing show another result.

You then have to find out why, and that can sometimes only be through a process of elimination.

Over the past couple of years, the Glenelg Wastewater Treatment Plant has also been a hub of activity, with 1414 Degrees trialling its biogas thermal energy storage system pilot on-site, the installation of solar panels, and regular visits by industry and academic representatives from across Australia and the world.

We still have to get a job done amongst all this, so you just have to be a bit flexible with your space and time.

I love working in the operations side of the water industry because there is always something new, always a challenge to keep your mind busy.

The people I work with are also fantastic, and we work hard but we have fun doing it.

This is the sort of job you really have to live and breathe, and I genuinely love coming to work each day to ensure people are getting a reliable wastewater service and to continually find better ways of doing things.

Lee Marshall, Central Highlands Water– Victorian Operator of the Year

I am currently working in the water treatment team at Central Highlands Water as a Water Treatment Operator.

I have been fortunate enough to vary my roles with the organisation; I started my career here as a Civil Maintenance Officer (traineeship), then progressed into water treatment.

I have also taken on the role of Duty Manager, which involves coordinating the civil maintenance side of the business after hours and responding to various issues within both the water and sewer networks.

At Central Highlands Water, we currently operate six water treatment facilities that use a number of different treatment processes.

These include DAFF (Direct Air Floatation Filtration), RO (Reverse Osmosis), EDR (Electrodialysis Reversal), UV (Ultraviolet Disinfection), MF (Membrane Filtration) and direct disinfection.

During a normal working day I will be conducting plant checks, water quality checks, chemical dosing calibrations, fault finding and process optimisation.

In the Duty Manager role, I would be coordinating after-hours civil maintenance responses to ensure any bursts are repaired safely and in a timely manner.

This role also requires oversight of sewer and water pump stations, which can require intervention via SCADA from time to time.

In 2019, we implemented a UV system at the Dean Water Treatment Plant to work alongside current disinfection processes, which was required to meet our health-based targets.

This project was overseen by the water treatment team, with myself being project manager.

It was a great way for me to further develop my project management skills, and provide my operational and technical skills into the project to ensure the operability of the site for the team.

There are many challenges that operators face in order to meet their water quality targets. An accurate and up-to-date asset information program with a good preventative maintenance schedule can help overcome issues with some assets and help find problems before they arise.

Any water treatment project that is occurring within an organisation should ensure that an operator is involved from the start.

In my experience, where an operator has been included in the project from the start the outcome is much better for the staff who are ultimately responsible for the asset.

The best part about working in water supply operations is the satisfaction you get knowing that you are supplying the community with safe, clean drinking water every day.

Charlotte Pordage is Editor of Utility magazine, a position she has held since November 2018. She joined the team as an Associate Editor in October 2017, after sharpening her writing and editing skills across a range of print and digital publications. Charlotte graduated from Royal Holloway, University of London, in 2011 with joint honours in English and Latin. When she's not putting together Australia's only dedicated utility magazine, she can usually be found riding her horse or curled up with a good book.

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