6 September 2021

Why I work in water: Brendan Berghout

Dealing with some of the most variable river flow in the world has proven to be a constant challenge for one of Hunter Water’s longest-serving engineers.

Brendan Berghout started working for the old Hunter District Water Board as a cadet civil engineer in 1987.

He was straight out of high school and was not entirely sure what the role entailed.

“But it was a perfect fit – I loved both the theory and practice,” he says.

“After completing that degree, I went back to university to do a PhD, and that is what really opened the door to my career in water resources engineering.”

In his current role as Senior Engineer Water Resources, Dr Berghout focuses on managing the region’s water security and drought planning, while he also contributes expert guidance across the business as required.

He is involved in a number of interesting projects, including the development of a new groundwater model at the Anna Bay Sandbeds and a new fishway – structures placed on or around constructed barriers to give fish the opportunity to migrate – and gates at Seaham Weir, which is located near the town of Seaham on the lower reaches of the Williams River.

Dr Berghout is also assisting with Hunter Water’s proposal to carry out the rehabilitation of the Balickera Tunnel to ensure the ongoing reliable transfer of water from the Williams River to Grahamstown Dam via the Balickera Pump Station.

Apart from these projects, he says navigating the ebb and flow of the region’s water resources is the major challenge in his role.

“In our main source of water, the Williams River, for example, there was a single day in April 2015 [the super storm] when over 150,000 megalitres [one million litres] flowed past our off-take – to put that into perspective, Newcastle only uses 70,000 megalitres per year.
Brendan Berghout, Senior Engineer Water Resources

“However, only a few years later, in 2019, the harvestable flow at the same location was less than 2,500 megalitres for an entire year.”

In a career spanning more than three decades, Dr Berghout’s proudest moment came in 2009 when he was awarded the GN Alexander Medal for the best water engineering paper, which was published in an Engineers Australia publication.

“The focus of my research at the time was looking at how to incorporate drought management planning into the determination of yield,” he says.

“That work is still relevant today and central to the way we approached planning for the 2021 Lower Hunter Water Security Plan.”

The draft plan is a whole-of-government approach to ensure our region has a resilient and sustainable water future that contributes to regional health and prosperity and is supported by the community.

It is on public exhibition until 26 September 2021.

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