5 April 2022

Why I work in water: Louise McKenzie

From freshwater streams and surrounding farmlands to beautiful estuaries, beaches and open oceans, Louise McKenzie has worked in every kind of natural environment across Hunter Water’s area of operations.

The Environmental Scientist, who is a part of the Wastewater Planning team, delivers projects from the drinking water catchments through to the ocean outfalls, identifying the potential impacts that Hunter Water may be having on the environment.

“This includes developing ways to mitigate those impacts, such as catchment improvement programs (CIP), refining operations, and ensuring environmental impacts are prominent in decision-making frameworks,” she says.

“The Wastewater Planning team is an exciting space to work in as Hunter Water focuses on beneficial reuse of water and waste products, carbon reduction, and improving environmental outcomes.
Louise McKenzie, Environmental Scientist

“I also facilitate links between researchers and Hunter Water, trialling different tools and methods to benefit the industry more broadly.

“An example of this can be found in an Australian Research Council linkage grant application, which is looking at microbial source tracking for raw and treated sewage.

“We have also used stable isotopes – or naturally occurring forms of elements that are non-radioactive – to identify the source of surface water near Tanilba Bay Wastewater Treatment Works (WWTW) to ensure effluent was not potentially impacting local oyster fisheries.”

One of Louise’s long-term projects saw her work on a catchment improvement program at Paxton, near Cessnock, to benefit the surrounding environment.

Hunter Water invested $400,000 in the joint, five-year program, with local landholders also contributing the equivalent of $500,000 and Hunter Local Land Services adding $148,000.

The program rehabilitated more than 16 kilometres of stream bank, led to the planting of 13,000 trees, and encouraged platypus to return to these sections of the creeks.

Elevated levels of nutrients both upstream and downstream from the Paxton WWTW had been caused by a number of contributing factors, including vegetation clearing, agriculture, urban stormwater, general erosion, and Paxton WWTW.

Apart from her role as an Environmental Scientist, Louise, who joined Hunter Water in 2013, also serves as Chair of a Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) working group.

The RAP reflects Hunter Water’s commitment to create improved economic, health and social outcomes for our First Nations people.

“I am passionate about embedding First Nations people and their knowledge, as the true custodians of our land and waters, into the water sector,” she says.

Louise adds one of the proudest achievements of her career so far was being asked to Chair the Research Leadership Program Advisory Committee at Water Research Australia in 2020.

The committee provides advice and expertise on a range of capability development initiatives designed to build and enhance its members’ professional development at all stages of their career.

One of its initiatives included setting up a national mentoring program linking people across utilities and universities.