Watering our Sunburnt Country, with Kate Smith
Dr. Kate Smith, 2013 Origin Foundation John Monash Scholar
PhD, Environmental Science and Engineering, Tsinghua University China.
Our sunburnt country Australia is the driest habituated continent in the world. Its parched landscape receives differing amounts of precipitation across its geographical vastness. The rainfall in northern Australia can be a deluge during wet season, but the majority of this rapidly evaporates due to the difficult logistics in capturing it. Australian Federal Government records show that over the last 100 years there have been many calls to develop sustainable water resources. Since the 2019-2020 droughts in NSW and the ACT, drought planning has ramped up and been taken particularly seriously as utility companies move quickly to address water shortages. Time is of the essence because no utility wants to run out of water, putting the health of our population at risk.
Enter Dr. Kate Smith, 2013 Origin Foundation John Monash Scholar and Water Engineer for Aurecon, an international engineering, design and advisory company. With a Master of Environmental Science and Engineering from China’s distinguished Tsinhua University (the equivalent of MIT in East Asia), Kate’s field of postgraduate study has specifically focused on water. After completing her studies in 2019, Kate returned to Australia to work at Aurecon - on drinking water and wastewater projects that include energy reduction, wastewater treatment, growth planning and drought strategy for urban and remote areas. She is also one of about 12 people nation-wide who work on the Regional, Rural and Remote Specialist Network for the Australian Water Association.
Kate’s niche is reducing the amount of energy needed to support clean drinking water supplies and reducing the amount of energy needed for effective wastewater treatment. This is important because water is a finite and irreplaceable resource. However, water can be renewable through careful management that ensures human consumption isn’t depleting water sources at a rate that exceeds natural recharge. The UN reports that two thirds of the world’s population will live in a water stressed country by 2025 unless this trend changes – and Australia is no exception. Historical data records show that varying parts of Australia have been drought-stricken on and off since the 19th century and Australians have been subject to water restrictions at varying levels since the 1970s.
It is no coincidence that the Origin Foundation were a supporter in Kate’s mission to study sustainable supplies of drinking water. As a prominent energy retailer in Australia, they know how much energy goes into making energy – and are keen to explore and implement sustainable practices, just like Kate. Apart from their support of her education, the Origin Foundation supported Kate wholeheartedly on her return from China, helping her with her CV and advice on the Australian energy industry so she could land the great job she has today at Aurecon. The Origin Foundation and Aurecon have teamed up in the past, working on the Eraring Power Station Boiler and Turbine Upgrade Project. They could team up again in the future, through their mutual friend and sustainable water champion Kate Smith.
In Australia, water utilities face incredible challenges to meet infrastructure requirements to cater for growing populations whist committing to Net Zero emissions by 2050. Kate’s vision for improving the future of water security in Australia is focused on bringing all water utilities to the table now. Alternatives to rainwater sources, like recycled water, need to be implemented today. A mutually agreeable, sustainable strategy needs to be adopted to successfully address water shortages in a timely way.