23 February 2024

A game-changing partnership between Goulburn Valley Water and its Solomon Islands counterpart, Solomon Water, has taken a significant step toward building a more resilient and climate-smart water sector for the Pacific Island nation.

The ‘twinning’ partnership is one of six fostered with the support of the Australian Water Association (AWA) and funded by the Australian Government’s Australian Water Partnership Program.

It is designed to support developing nations in building a resilient and climate smart water future and allow both water corporation partners to build knowledge and experience in different systems and solutions.

Goulburn Valley Water Managing Director Steve Capewell said the program had provided an incredible opportunity for staff to work collaboratively with international peers after GVW was selected as part of a comprehensive scoping phase in 2022.

“The international water sector is facing increasing challenges, particularly in response to climate change, and working together to identify solutions that will benefit us all in responding to climate-related events in our own region and in managing future issues,” Dr Capewell said.

“The partnership also gives our staff opportunity to apply their knowledge in different situations outside of our normal experiences; and build our leadership and mentorship opportunities while helping to build Solomon Water’s capacity to respond to a variety of challenges.”

It began last April with a fact-finding mission to the Solomon Islands by GVW’s Technology and Transformation Manager Tony Wulff, Central Operations District Manager Elise O’Keeffe and the AWA’s former Head of International and Industry Programs Sally Armstrong to meet with Solomon Water’s then-CEO Ian Gooden.

Less than a month later, Solomon Water team members spent a week in the Goulburn Valley finalising a year-long collaborative action plan to address three key issues: addressing rising sea levels impacting fresh water sources; design interventions to reduce major pressure management issues, resulting in unsustainable levels of network water loss in the capital, Honiara; and streamlining and strengthening billing processes.

While the nations are quite different in their make-up - one has a population of 750,000 and the other 25.6 million - the water corporations share common water sector challenges, among those Sustainable Development Goals in the region.

Goulburn Valley Water Urban Water Resource Specialist Mark Mitchell, GVW Digital Project Lead Monica Bartels and Dan Wooley, from the Central Operations and Maintenance team, were the key players in a late October visit to the Solomon Islands to further build relationships to action the projects.

Mr Mitchell said there were several high-level similarities between the two organisations, including the effects of climate change on business operations, revenue recovery and ageing asset management issues.

"On several fronts we are in a more fortunate position, but there are many common links between the businesses at a high level," he said.

The project is due to end in June, with the Solomon Water team planning to visit GVW again in early March.

“For the GV Water staff involved it’s been an eye-opening and wonderful experience, and the opportunity to be involved in a program like this is rare, so we’re really lucky,” Mr Wooley said.

“The program has created connections with people from international water utilities that we can continue to build on, and shown us how we can use our experience creatively to help combat challenges like climate change in new ways.”

AWA Head of International and Industry Programs Katie Hanniffy said, “The partnership program is part of a broader approach to strengthen regional water sector capacity to develop inclusive, climate resilient strategies and practices through international partnerships.”

“It’s about working to improve the health and wellbeing of people in South-East Asia and the Pacific region through supporting delivery of inclusive, economically sustainable, and climate resilient water and wastewater services,” she said.

“Importantly, AWA works alongside regional partner associations, including the Pacific Water and Wastewater Association, the Vietnam Water Supply and Sewerage Association, and PERPAMSI in Indonesia, in facilitating the water utility partnerships.”