October 2014

Helping out at Melbourne Girls' College

30.10.2014 - Posted by Mark Stacey
At Alluvium we get involved in the occasional pro bono and community group projects. We have a lot of staff that are passionate about environmental issues and are often involved in various community campaigns.

A recent initiative of a few of our staff in Melbourne involves supporting a Year 10 class at Melbourne Girls' College (in Richmond). We are supporting them with a water audit and then hopefully we’ll help them go through a process of designing and building some productive gardens / raingardens. At the moment we working with, and very much inspired by MGC teacher and sustainability coordinator Andrew Vance (some of this recent work is here).   We’ll keep you posted as to how this project rolls out.

Mark helping with the audit at Melbourne Girls College

Hydroponic vertical gardens from a past project (Source: Melbourne Girls' College).

2014 SEQ Healthy Waterways Report Card is released

29.10.2014 - Posted by Steve Skull
The Healthy Waterways Partnership launched the 2014 South East Queensland waterway Report Card last week (http://healthywaterways.org/report-card). Produced annually, the Report Card provides an insight for the South East Queensland community on the current health of their waterways and estuaries. Each freshwater, estuarine and marine system gets allocated an ecosystem health grade (A to F; Excellent to Fail) based on the results of a detailed Environmental Health Monitoring Program (EHMP).

Healthy Waterways Report Card is online and interactive

Notably, the main water supply catchment for Brisbane (the mid-Brisbane catchment) received an F (fail) grade, and not for the first time. This reflects the current poor condition of many of the streams in this catchment, caused by extensive river bank erosion, poorly managed run-off form urban development and agricultural inputs. In the 2013 floods, the Mount Crosby treatment plant nearly closed because of high sediment loads entering the system, causing major water supply disruptions and meaning Brisbane residents were facing water shortages. It is hoped the 2014 Report Card grades will drive an increase in investment into restoration works in the mid-Brisbane catchment and other identified priority areas.

But it is not all grim. There are several responses currently underway to improve catchment management planning and governance in South East Queensland. These include the SEQ Council of Mayors helping to establish a Resilient Rivers taskforce to coordinate the planning, funding and delivery of projects aimed at reducing sediment entering the system across the 19 Report Card catchments; and the Queensland Government’s plan to establish a Brisbane River Improvement Trust.

And importantly, next year’s Report Card will build both social and economic indicators into the reporting process, to highlight the many benefits a healthy waterway can provide to a community.

Great Place to Work

22.10.2014 - Posted by Leonie Duncan
There are no on-demand masseurs, fresh juice stations or funky break out spaces in our offices like you might find in an IT start-up. Nor do our staff receive an extra day of annual leave on our birthday like some companies offer (although that would be nice…), but the results are now in and Alluvium is pleased as punch to be sitting at #16 in Australia on the 2014 Best Places to Work list for companies our size.

This list, recently published by BRW online and Boss Magazine (Australian Financial Review), is coordinated by the Great Place to Work Institute - a global research, consulting and training firm that works with 5500 organisations in 50 countries.

Alluvium has been participating in their Best Places to Work program for a few years now. It involves a confidential staff survey and a culture audit submission. The survey consists of around 50 questions that assess organisational culture across five dimensions: credibility, respect, fairness, pride and camaraderie. The results provide a useful insight into where we are doing well, but – more importantly – where we could do better, thus helping us to guide future investment into improving our company culture.

According to the GPTW institute, fundamentally a great workplace is one where employees:
  • Trust the people they work for
  • Have pride in what they do, and
  • Enjoy the people they work with.

Alluvium’s Elisa and Stuart enjoying one of the perks of working in the NRM industry: a field trip on the lower Latrobe River with clients from the West Gippsland Catchment Management Authority.

By this measure, we have a lot to thank our clients for: it is the positive relationships we enjoy and the interesting projects we get engaged in that makes our work so meaningful.

Oh but to have a pick’n’mix lolly dispenser in the office…now that would be nice….

Raingarden specialist Harry Virahsawmy joins Alluvium

19.10.2014 - Posted by Rachel England
Alluvium welcomes raingarden and urban water specialist Harry Virahsawmy to our team! 

Harry is a great addition to our urban water management team, which includes (just to name a few!) Jonathon McLean, Matt Francey, Rob Catchlove, David Knights, Dan O’Halloran, Richard McManus and Alexa McAuley.If you have a raingarden or urban stormwater question, we invite you to make contact with Harry.

Here is a personal message from Harry to you:

Before joining Alluvium, I spent four years working on my PhD studying the long-term hydraulic performance and water balance of raingardens. My research focused on improving the design and maintenance of raingardens, and is the part of a larger research program at Melbourne University looking at improving urban stormwater management (http://thewerg.org/).

The transition from research to consulting is exciting as it has given me a chance to put good ideas and solutions into practice. I’ve also found my links to academia complement my work and am very pleased that Alluvium is keen for me to keep up my research and academic pursuits.

I still spend a fair bit of my weekend finalising my research and I am teaching a subject at Melbourne University on Urban Water management one day a week. The students are very enthusiastic about integrating stormwater into the urban landscape; hopefully we will see this and the next generation increasingly engaged in this area.

In my spare time, I enjoy playing soccer, spending time with my family (I have a 2.5 year old toddler) and taking a trip to nearby Philip Island. Something about the place reminds me of the Island of Mauritius where I grew up before moving to Australia.

Do water authorities need a social licence?

8.10.2014 - Posted by Rob Catchlove
A social licence is a priceless asset. It’s an unwritten contract with society that says (in my opinion) you’ll operate with more than the shareholder's interest - you'll operate also with the community and perhaps even an intergenerational interest at heart.
A crowd of people protesting against coal seam gas exploration (by Metgasco) in northern NSW
People protesting against Metgasco coal seam gas exploration, NSW. 
Source: Echonetdaily 2014

In May 2014, a large blockade began in the northern rivers of New South Wales to object to the exploration of coal seam gas. After many months the NSW Government referred the approval process that Metgasco had undertaken to ICAC and requested more detail on the community consultation. It was suggested that Metgasco failed to gain a social licence for this work, and had failed to “undertake genuine and effective consultation with the community”. This issue of having a social licence matters simply because it is an unwritten condition to design and construct massive infrastructure projects in line with what the community want. And if you don’t know what people want, you might find out later and it could be costly.

Let’s now ask - do water authorities need a social licence? Water authorities operate within the laws of the respective jurisdictions, and provide fundamental services to the community in terms of clean drinking water, disposal and treatment of wastewater and support for a range of environmental values. But is that enough?

The question is relevant for two reasons:
  • We need to be clear on what sort of standards our utilities are currently meeting and therefore, what new entrants to the water market must also met.
  • Water authorities are now being asked to deliver more than pure water services; they are being asked to contribute to liveability. If you operate outside of your legislated operations, you’ll need a social licence.
I can think of the following reasons for water authorities to explicitly gain a social licence:
  • As was pointed out above, it might be a necessary condition to delivering large infrastructure projects – e.g. the North South pipeline ($750 million).
  • As a contributor to liveability in a city, water authorities need to be known as more than just efficient suppliers of goods and services.
  • The rapid adoption of desalination as a water supply source didn’t factor in a mostly negative social response, and as a result the motives of water authorities more recently have been under question.
  • If we expect the likes of Woolworths, Coke, Nestle and Metgasco to gain a social license, why shouldn’t a water authority?
  • In a world of 24 hour media and social media storms, gaining some sort of social licence might be seen as an insurance policy.
And on the flip side, the case for not needing a social licence:
  • It may result in overinvestment – ultimately paid for by consumers.
  • Public utilities should always have a public interest at heart. Therefore they shouldn’t need to go further than they already are.
  • Water authorities might be best served on doing what they do best, and leave the social stuff to politicians and environment groups.
It’s an interesting proposition that the feel good education days, the stalls at shopping centre, the little segments on talk-back radio, and the showerhead give-aways are actually necessary and part of delivering billions of dollars of infrastructure.

Saturated zones - a success story

2.10.2014 - Posted by Alexa McAuley
Recently, David Knights and I helped run some bioretention design training for Blacktown City Council in Sydney. As part of the training workshops, I met the participants at the Blacktown Showground and talked to them about the bioretention system there, which we designed a couple of years ago. We talked about the design and construction process, focusing on the challenges and key lessons from this project. Despite its fair share of challenges, the bioretention system is looking great today and appears to be functioning well. This system has a saturated zone and this feature has helped it thrive despite a long dry spell over the previous months. The participants told me they had visited several other bioretention systems earlier in the day, and vegetation was struggling in all of the others.

Blacktown Showgrounds

Research on saturated zones has shown that one of their key benefits is that they provide resilience through dry spells. While fully drained systems can take some time to recover their treatment performance after a long dry spell, systems with a saturated zone have shown very little loss of performance, as long as some water remains within the system. Anecdotally we have seen much better vegetation establishment in systems with saturated zones in Sydney.