In 2010 the SIA embarked on an ambitious leadership project to develop a process to allow the assessment of the performance of water quality treatment devices. Perhaps naively we settled on a segment of the industry as a ‘first cab off the rank’ to explore the development of a testing protocol.
At the time there were discussions within the National committee about how such an initiative may be accepted by the industry and we established a working group (comprised of a range of reps from all States to work with CSIRO to complete a literature review of the verification techniques and approaches that had been tried before both locally and internationally. We sought (and got) co-operation from many industry players and also sought to get feedback from asset managers to understand how performance met with expectations.
We received the CSIRO report in time for the 2010 National Conference, and a plenary session discussed the CSIRO work, its potential implications and possible ways forward to realise an ultimate outcome of a truly transparent process for disclosing agreed levels of performance for treatment devices.
It was intended that the CSIRO report be made public shortly after the 2010 conference, however we were sensitive to the need that its release into the public domain would set us down a road we were prepared to walk. We sought direct feedback from the industry sectors most directly impacted by the report content and received mixed responses. Unsurprisingly (and perhaps understandably) product manufacturers were sensitive to a pathway that would perceivably single them out as the one sector of the industry that the SIA wanted to develop protocols for. While the CSIRO was mindful of the need to respect confidentiality when collecting data the classification process used when compiling data was perceived to have potential to see devices pitted head to head in a comparison competition. The singling out of gross pollutants was seen as too narrow - a properly constituted framework should allow protocols and methodologies to be developed for all classes of pollutant types (rather than treatment devices). Finally, before the report could be released into the public domain it was felt that some of the next steps should be defined if any momentum and traction was to be achieved in this important area.
Internally SIA felt that we needed to also focus on putting better processes and procedures in place if the association was to truly step up playing at a truly national level.
Roll forward two years; with our second successful National conference drawing to a close (and with planning for the third already commenced), a developing strategic plan that clearly defines where and how the SIA fits in the broader range of industry sectors many of us interact with on a regular basis, a vibrant balance of new enthusiasm and wisdom in our State Committees and many of the underpinning business support mechanisms coming into place that will allow the Association to move to the next level the time is finally right to release the fabled CSIRO report.
It is important to recognise the CSIRO work for what it is- a literature review. A three tiered approach was taken by CSIRO in preparing the report. Publically available studies were discussed in a literature review section; testing information was provided by product suppliers under confidentiality agreements with the purpose to ascertain the variability in testing protocols. None of the information supplied by manufacturers was used in the literature review section. Finally a number of end users (mainly Councils) participated to give valuable insights into their experiences.
It is important to remember that this report was never intended to provide definitive answers, nor is it an endorsement or acceptance by the industry of any particular claims. It is the start of a journey, not an end point.
As one of Australia’s premier, independent research organisations we chose the CSIRO to ensure credibility within the industry and beyond. Generously, CSIRO undertook the work with considerable ‘in kind’ inputs.. Confidentiality was respected at all times. We stand by the scientific and professional integrity of CSIRO in releasing the report.
The SIA believe there is too much variability between the market promise and customer experience to accept a complacent, business as usual approach. This is true in many of the treatment technologies which are being adopted across the industry. The time has come to stand and be counted.
We accept that the scope of validation has to be broad in the outcomes it needs to drive; we also know that we will inevitably have to drop down into detail and deal with the different segments of the (treatment) market with more bespoke approaches within an overarching framework; there has to be scope to allow innovation and market pathways; maintenance is important, both the frequency and the type of maintenance activity carried out and these should be able to be specified as part of the process to verify performance.
In releasing the CSIRO report we intend to respond to its recommendations and forge a path forward. This should be seen as a coming of age moment for the industry and it is our fervent belief that with the support of the industry we will be able to make significant progress in a relatively short space of time.