WEFTEC 2013 Speaker Sue Murphy Discusses Innovative Water Communities

September 12, 2013

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Sue Murphy will join a panel of water leaders at WEFTEC 2013 to discuss innovative water communities around the world during Technical Session 100.

Sue Murphy will join a panel of water leaders at WEFTEC 2013 to discuss innovative water communities around the world during Technical Session 100.

Sue Murphy will join a panel of water leaders at WEFTEC® 2013 to discuss innovative water communities around the world during Technical Session 100: Water Thought Leaders: The Future of Cities and Water. Murphy, CEO of the Water Corp. (Leederville, Western Australia), has been named annually as one of the top 100 most influential engineers in Australia by Engineers Australia (Barton, Australian Capital Territory) since 2009.

With a civil engineering degree, Murphy worked at Clough Engineering (Perth, Western Australia) for 25 years as a site engineer, project manager, and leader, with a focus on human resources, safety, and engineering design management. In 1998, she became the first woman on the board of Clough Engineering Ltd. She also is a board member of The University of Western Australia (Perth) Business School, chair of the Water Services Association of Australia (Sydney), chair of the Navy Clearance Diver Trust (North Fremantle, Western Australia), and fellow of the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering (Melbourne, Victoria, Australia).

  • Why did you enter the water treatment industry?

My background is in construction delivery. Climate change has hit our state harder and earlier than almost anywhere on the planet, so the Water Corporation had to deliver about 30 years’ worth of planned infrastructure over only a few years. I initially joined the organization to lead that accelerated capital program, then became CEO in 2008.

  • What do you think that the wastewater industry needs in order to be successful in the future?

Wastewater has always been full of innovation but is often well below the radar. Customers don’t want to think about what happens after they flush the toilet, so we have allowed ourselves to be invisible. Yet we are probably making the greatest contribution to human health and our environment of any industry. We need to be visible and inclusive, to be open about our challenges and successes, and to help our customers recognize that they are part of the water cycle and the energy cycle.

  • What are some examples of the most successful and forward-thinking water communities around the world?

I am biased on this because I believe that right here in little old Perth, we lead the world in a climate-resilient approach to water supply. Through a focus on a portfolio of options — seawater desalination; sustainable deep-aquifer abstraction; groundwater replenishment using highly treated wastewater; recycling of lesser quality treated wastewater for public open space and tree lots; and integrated community, government, and industrial demand management conservation programs — we have coped with a reduction of inflow to our dams of over 90%.

Our 100-year average dam inflow is 350 Gl pa, and our city and integrated scheme uses about 300 Gl pa, so that was a nice easy balance. Our 10-year average runoff is less than 50 Gl pa. Nine of the 10 driest years on record occurred in the last 11 years. Despite this, Perth has a green and enviable outdoor amenity. [It] is one of the fastest-growing cities in Australia and is a hub for the huge mining and oil and gas developments under way in our state’s northwest. We have met population growth [and] improved quality of life yet managed through “losing” our entire water supply.

I am very proud of my people here.

I think that Singapore is probably the poster child for forward planning, however, with an enviable whole of government focus and great engineering and community solutions.

  • How is the Water Corporation unique? What can it teach others in the industry?

Water Corporation is a whole-of-state utility. We have about 2.2 million customers served over 2.5 million square kilometers. Our footprint is vast, and our challenges are great. This makes us strive for innovation.

I think we still have heaps to learn, though, so we need to listen and understand what challenges others face and how they approach them.

  • Why did you decide to participate in the water leaders session at WEFTEC 2013?

The water industry is probably the most collaborative on earth. We love to share ideas, problems, and solutions. We are so far away from other utilities, so I am delighted to be able to meet and share with so many amazing people.

  • What do you want session attendees to learn about and walk away knowing?

That no one of us has all the answers, but together, we just might.

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