Water Journal : Current August 2017
www.awa.asn.au 26 Australian Water Awards Craig Simmons, a professor at Flinders University and director of the National Centre for Groundwater Research and Training (NCGRT), is often credited with bringing groundwater into the mainstream. His career and accomplishments led to him being named the 2017 Australian Water Professional of the Year. AWA: You have a long career in groundwater research. What do you enjoy most about your work? CRAIG SIMMONS: I love problem solving and creating things. It is very rewarding and enjoyable working with colleagues and students to achieve this. As I keep going, the work only gets more interesting. The more you learn, the more new questions pop up and you realise just how much there is still to learn and do. I’m very curious about how groundwater fits into the big picture of our water resources and environmental management, and the challenges facing us in this area are constantly evolving. There are currently some pressure points for groundwater science that I’d like to tackle, such as being able to measure groundwater systems in a much greater level of detail. I’m also really interested working at the science-policy interface and getting more research put into practice to support effective management and policy, which is a huge gap to bridge. AWA: What causes the ‘out of sight, out of mind’ mentality about groundwater? SIMMONS: Our national interest in groundwater tends to be related to the ‘hydro-illogical cycle’: whenever there’s a drought, there’s more concern and awareness about groundwater, and when it rains we tend to become apathetic. During the Millennium Drought, groundwater gained attention, but we need to continue to build on that momentum because another drought is on its way, and it will be exacerbated by climate change and population growth. About 30% of total water used in Australia comes from groundwater. Conservative estimates put its economic contributions at $34 billion of national economic activity each year across agriculture, mining, industry, and some urban and rural water supplies; that just shows how important groundwater is. We have to maintain interest and investment in groundwater resources. Until we have a comprehensive view of how groundwater interconnects with our requirements for energy, food, industry and domestic use, we don’t truly know what role it can play in the future. AWA: How does the science-policy interface relate to groundwater management and NCGRT's work? SIMMONS: Groundwater is front and centre in a long list of pressing social, economic and environmental problems that require policy informed by science. We have to get smarter, more focused and more entrepreneurial about the projects we pursue. Collaboration within the water industry, and between research, industry and policy stakeholders, is crucial. We need more meaningful conversations between scientists, resource managers, politicians and regulators the whole way through to make sure research is useful, has impact and lands in the right hands. The NCGRT is working hard to bridge that gap but there’s no silver bullet. It’s about approaching it on a variety of levels. We are having some success with the Murray-Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) through a strategic research partnership. It’s not a case of doing research and then finding a way to apply it – it’s developing research in real-time and in collaboration with the MDBA to ensure it answers critical questions. Another example is the Australian Groundwater Modelling Guidelines. Modelling underpins groundwater investigations, allocation planning, environmental statements and more for coal seam gas and mining proposals, among other important matters. AWA: You’re very involved with mentoring. What do you enjoy about that experience? SIMMONS: One of the most rewarding things I’ve done in my career has been helping to build the NCGRT into what it is today. We’ve trained more than 80 PhD students and worked with more than 80 post-doctoral fellows in the past five years or so. I love contributing to an environment where research is supported, and having a culture where researchers can learn from each other, from scientists outside their discipline and from international communities as well. Mentoring is an important part of supporting and building the next generation of groundwater professionals to tackle water and environmental problems. It is great to see former students and researchers out there making a difference in academic positions, research fellowships, government and industry. AWA: What is it like to be 2017 Water Professional of the Year? SIMMONS: Industry awards are helpful not just for individual people or projects, but for the opportunity it provides to reflect on and acknowledge all the hard work that made it happen. I was honoured and humbled to win the award, but it’s really a cast of thousands who are involved in this collective effort to understand and manage groundwater as well as boost it's profile. It was great to see the work we are doing in research and education acknowledged by the water industry. It puts wind into our sails and motivates us to keep asking ‘what’s next?’ For me, the journey is just getting started. Nominations are open for state and territory awards, the winners of which contend for the Australian Water Awards. To nominate an individual or project, visit: bit.ly/AWA_awards Craig Simmons.
Current May 2017