Exceptional operator rewarded for a lifetime’s dedication to the water industry

The Water Industry Operators Association of Australia (WIOA) has bestowed a Life Membership on John Harris for his outstanding contribution during a 44-year career dedicated to improving water quality and vocational education and training in the industry.

Only eight individuals have received this prestigious honour in WIOA’s 45-year history.  WIOA is a national not-for-profit association that supports people who undertake operational roles in the water, wastewater and recycled water industries.  Its objectives are the preservation of clean waterways, protection of public health and the environment, and the promotion of education and training to ensure efficiency and competency of members.

John is Operations Manager at Wannon Water, which supplies reticulated water and sewerage services to people living across 24,000 square kilometres in south west Victoria. He has affectionately been crowned the ‘King of Water’ by his colleagues after Wannon Water won the Ixom 2018 Best Tasting Tap Water in Australia.

WIOA organised the competition, which is judged using a blind taste test. One hundred and fifty members of the public at Toowoomba’s Grand Central Shopping Centre were invited to judge the five samples from Hamilton, part of the Wannon Water’s district, Yeppoon in Queensland, Port Macquarie in New South Wales, Greater Hobart in Tasmania and Woolpunda in South Australia. The tasters scored the samples against a range of criteria including colour, clarity, odour and mouthfeel. WIOA will now enter the Wannon Water sample in the International Water Test to be held in Berkeley Springs in the USA in the hope it may go on to be proclaimed as the best tasting water in the world!

Over the decades, John has experienced many restructures in the governance of Australia’s water. The industry now generates nearly $23 billion in annual revenue and employs over 31,000 people across its sub-sectors: water supply, sewerage, drainage services and pipeline transport (water).

John started out as a trainee manager of operations with Warrnambool City Council in 1974. His area of the council was responsible for all water network functions and new water mains construction, replacement and repairs. In 1983, Warrnambool built a water treatment plant. During the plant’s construction, John’s work ethic and knowledge led to him being appointed superintendent. He then took over as the lead operator. A decade later, in 1994, John oversaw the installation of Warrnambool’s first water reclamation plant.

John’s passion for training was ignited when he was commissioning, then running the two biggest water and wastewater treatment plants in Wannon Water. This role required upskilling operations staff to enable them to adapt to new methods of water treatment and wastewater treatment. He went on to develop, in conjunction with Frankston TAFE, the first-ever training module in Victoria for the water industry. Further to this he developed the curriculum for courses pertaining to Water Treatment and Wastewater treatment at the Water Industry Training Centre.

His efforts then concentrated on creating a full National Water Training Package and the first qualifications for the industry. This was achieved in 1997. John was elected Chair of the National Water Training Package Advisory Committee in 2004 and was elected as chair of the Water Industry Reference Committee in 2016. The IRC is currently reviewing and updating Water Industry Operations and Water Industry Treatment qualifications to ensure they align with current job roles.

John’s other significant achievements include serving as a Board member of  Government Skills Australia from 2005 to 2016, President of WIOA in 2003-04, President of the Australian Services Union in Victoria and Warrnambool City Councillor between 2008 and 2012.

The Water industry has greatly benefited from John’s efforts and when he retires next year he will be greatly missed. On behalf of the industry “thank you John Harris”.