“Sydney Water’s goals include ensuring 65% of our water supply is rainfall independent by 2050”
Sydney Water prides itself in providing world-class water services for the benefit of the community, putting customers front of mind and contributing to liveable cities.
Sydney Water is investing in major projects and infrastructure to ensure a resilient and reliable water supply. Australia’s largest single water utility is working to adapt to a rapidly growing population, a changing climate, and changing customer needs and priorities, while protecting the natural environment and being a successful business. Emma Pryor, Head of Major Project Delivery, Sydney Water, is in charge of a multibillion-dollar portfolio to install major water and wastewater facilities across Sydney in the coming years; in this interview, she tells us about the utility’s priorities as it addresses its most pressing challenges and plans to reach net carbon zero by 2050.
Can you tell us briefly about your career path and your current role at Sydney Water?
I am the Head of Major Projects at Sydney Water, Australia’s largest single water utility. I have held this position for three years.
Sydney Water’s major projects’ function focuses on developing, procuring and delivering our most important strategic investments for our customers. Generally, each investment is over A$50 million, has a high level of complexity and is unique or business critical. The recent sod turn of the A$1.2 billion dollar Upper South Creek Advanced Water Recycling Centre (AWRC) in western Sydney, which is due to be operational in 2026, and is being developed to ensure wastewater services and circular economy outcomes for the Parkland City, is a great example.
I began my career as an Environmental Engineer over 20 years ago. Since then, I have held various engineering and management consulting positions for companies like SKM (now Jacobs) and MWH Global (now Stantec). I am a long-time member of the Australian Water Association where I have held Secretary and Treasurer positions on behalf of the committee.
What are some of the most pressing challenges Sydney Water is facing? How do you expect them to evolve in the future?
Sydney’s rapidly growing population requires increased drinking water supply and wastewater services. The New South Wales Department of Planning and Environment predicts Sydney’s population will increase by 1.8 million people (or 35%) by 2050.
Our climate is also changing, and this is leading to increased frequency and severity of extreme weather events, droughts, and floods.
In 2023, our customers are more forward-thinking and community-minded than even just five years ago when it comes to water
The needs and priorities of our customers are changing, and we are adapting to meet them. We conduct extensive and in-depth customer engagement programs on an ongoing basis. We know that in 2023, our customers are more forward-thinking and community-minded than even just five years ago when it comes to water.
Emerging digital capabilities within Sydney Water are providing new opportunities to plan, design, build, and operate our assets and systems but also need to be protected from cyber risks. We also work hard to mitigate as much as we can against unpredictable events ranging from geopolitical volatility to pandemics to supply chain interruptions.
Sydney Water is the biggest single water utility in Australia. Could you highlight your priority projects for the coming years?
Sydney Water plans to invest over A$30 billion up to 2033 to deliver the level of service our customers expect in Greater Sydney and the Illawarra. This figure is four times the capital expenditure we have spent compared to the recent past.
Sydney Water plans to invest A$30B up to 2033 to deliver the level of service our customers expect in Greater Sydney and the Illawarra
Our plan is aligned with the NSW Government’s vision through the Greater Sydney Water Strategy. The direction follows an integrated water management approach, with an emphasis on ensuring the resilience of our water supply as our city grows, and the protection of our natural environment. Over the next 10 years, almost half of our investment will deliver new services to growth areas across Greater Sydney.
Our priority projects include:
- Upper South Creek Advanced Water Recycling Centre: The Advanced Water Recycling Centre will treat wastewater from homes and businesses, producing recycled water for a range of residential, agricultural and industrial uses. With direct access to the new Western Sydney International (Nancy-Bird Walton) Airport – which will welcome more than 80 million passengers per year by 2063 – this flagship precinct also presents a unique future opportunity to maximise resource recovery from food waste and activate a broader circular economy hub – a biorefinery – for the management of water, energy and bioresources in the region.
- Greater Parramatta and Olympic Peninsula (GPOP): As part of Sydney Water’s plan to create a water resilient future, we are developing an adaptive plan for the Greater Parramatta and Olympic Peninsula region. The heart of this project will be a new wastewater resource recovery facility. This is a considerable infrastructure investment, and it will be built in stages to match needs; the population in the region is forecast to rise by 400,000 people over the next 20 years.
- Richmond System Wastewater Upgrade Project: The population in North Richmond and Richmond catchments is projected to grow significantly over the next 30 years, seeing a 70 per cent increase in water resource recovery requirements. Sydney Water is working to upgrade the wastewater infrastructure to meet the servicing needs of a growing population and regulatory requirements. The Richmond System Wastewater Upgrade Project is essential to ensure the community has continued access to safe and reliable wastewater services and to provide circular economy benefits by increasing wastewater recycling opportunities.
- Malabar System Investment Program: The Malabar Wastewater System is one of Sydney’s oldest and largest servicing over a third of Sydney Water’s customers. As the population in the Malabar catchment grows from 1.8 million people today to a forecast 2.9 million in 2056, so will demand for services. In response, several projects are planned including upgrades to Glenfield, Liverpool and Fairfield Wastewater Resource Recovery Facilities plus works to refurbish a key pump station to enable better utilisation of existing major trunk capacity.
In the long term, through our major projects and infrastructure, our goals include ensuring 65 per cent of our drinking water supply is rainfall independent by 2050. We are also looking at producing 163 gigalitres of recycled water each year and looking to build 13,000 km of new pipe for drinking water and wastewater to service new suburbs.
Construction recently began on the Upper South Creek Advanced Water Recycling Centre. Can you tell us about this landmark investment, and how will it contribute to a circular economy?
The Upper South Creek AWRC will service 400,000 people in Western Sydney. One hundred per cent of the biosolids produced by the AWRC will be used as fertiliser. There is also the potential to expand this to generate even more energy from food waste.
One hundred per cent of the biosolids produced by the Upper South Creek Advanced Water Recycling Centre will be used as fertiliser
A four-megawatt solar array and future bio-gas energy will be used to power the site. The solar farm will generate approximately eight Gigawatt hours (GWh) of energy per annum, or enough to power approximately 1,400 households for an entire year.
The solar array will power the facility in the early years. As energy requirements grow, a circular economy precinct featuring bio-gas energy will be constructed to help meet future needs.
Technology innovation can lead to significant improvements in utility performance and resilience. What emphasis does Sydney Water place on innovation, and in particular digital technology?
Emerging digital capabilities provide a key opportunity we are focussing on through to 2050. It affects everything from how we design, build, and maintain our infrastructure to how we interact with customers.
We are targeting to convert over 90 per cent of our meters to smart meters by 2035. The program will ensure that most households and businesses can monitor and measure water usage, detect leaks, and provide insights regarding water consumption and costs. Through this program, Sydney Water will gain a more granular understanding of customer water usage and usage patterns.
We are targeting to convert over 90% of our meters to smart meters by 2035, to gain a more granular understanding of customer water usage
Sydney Water has 6,000 smart sensors in place to detect blockages in wastewater pipes and provide real time alerts so our teams can proactively clear them. These devices save the organisation hundreds of thousands of dollars by detecting blockages early.
Our new website provides our customers with improved services and convenience when they need to pay their bills.
Can you discuss the role of new water infrastructure and upgrades as part of plans to achieve net zero goals?
Sydney Water plans to reach net carbon zero by 2050 or earlier. We currently have the capacity to generate up to 85 Gigawatt hours per year of renewable energy from our existing operational sites through Biogas, Hydro and Solar Schemes. By 2030, we are planning to increase renewable energy generation to 170 Gigawatt hours, equivalent to powering around 20,000 homes.
Through the Malabar Biomethane Injection Project, we will be able to recover up to 99.5 percent of methane from wastewater
An example of how we’re contributing to this goal through our infrastructure is the Malabar Biomethane Injection Project, built by our partner Jemena, and being installed at our Malabar Wastewater Treatment Plant.
Through this project, we will be able to recover up to 99.5 percent of methane from wastewater, refine it to Australian standards and send it back to the gas grid as a green gas alternative, supplying 6,300 homes.
What would be examples of situations your organisation has successfully handled that can provide a model to replicate in other areas?
Sydney Water has worked hard to provide a rainfall independent water supply. Sydney’s desalination plant supplies about 15% of Sydney’s drinking water. It’s not widely known but it’s not just for times of drought anymore. The plant is in regular operation to meet the city’s needs.
Our long-term planning is looking at ways to increase the proportion of rainfall independent supply Greater Sydney has access to so we have a resilient and reliable water supply into the future.
Can you tell us about Sydney Water’s efforts to improve the resilience and reliability of its operations?
Sydney Water’s adaptive, long-term plan has a timeline out to 2050. We are planning now to ensure Sydney has a resilient and reliable, world-class drinking water supply into the future.
We are planning now to ensure Sydney has a resilient and reliable, world-class drinking water supply into the future
Our long-term plan also includes the need to build new and augment existing wastewater facilities.
Additionally, our planning for stormwater in the future includes stormwater harvesting to recycle water for non-drinking purposes, improved management to increase the health of local waterways, and creating integrated stormwater services that have less impact on the natural environment.