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Introducing David Trebilcock, General Manager, Stormwater Management Authority

June 25, 2018

The Stormwater Management Authority (SMA) is taking an increasing interest in water sensitive urban design and stormwater quality management. We sat down with David Trebilcock, General Manager SMA, to discover his aspirations for stormwater management in South Australia.

Tell us a bit about what has brought you to your new role as general manager with the SMA?

Through my career I’ve worked in hydrology and hydrography, asset management and emergency management. The Stormwater Management Authority seemed like a logical place to apply my experience and bring these skills together, as they are all relevant in some way to stormwater management.

I think it’s an exciting time to be involved in stormwater. We’re in the middle of a paradigm shift away from a purely drainage focus to a more holistic view of water in the landscape, and community attitudes and expectations of what constitutes a ‘liveable’ city are changing.

What do you feel are some of the biggest issues facing the stormwater management industry at present?

Climate change is obviously going to be a challenge. While I think there is a broad acknowledgement of the potential impacts of climate change, we don’t really know how rapidly these impacts are going to unfold or how our legacy infrastructure is going to be affected. While many Councils have been proactive in developing climate change strategies, more work needs to be done at a regional or state scale to develop a strategic picture.

With responsibility for stormwater in SA spread between local governments and a number of state agencies, fragmentation of effort can be an issue. I think there is a really good history of cooperation and collaboration in SA but we need to be vigilant to ensure this is not eroded. Organisations like Water Sensitive SA are great in establishing networks, maintain relationships and facilitating information sharing.

Lastly, stormwater is only an issue when it rains. Most of our stormwater infrastructure is buried out of sight and out of mind and when it works properly, nobody notices. This makes it an ongoing challenge to demonstrate the value of stormwater management to Government and the community! We can build great stormwater infrastructure but community attitudes and behaviours ultimately have a major impact on the success or otherwise of stormwater management initiatives. Education and engagement is therefore just as important as the ‘hard’ infrastructure.

What do you hope to achieve in your time with the SMA?

The SMA isn’t well known beyond Council engineering staff. Stormwater is multi-faceted and I think the SMA has engaged stakeholders well in some quarters but not others. The SMA is a small Authority—to be an enabler of integrated stormwater management in South Australia it needs to engage and partner with a much broader stakeholder base.

For example, the SMA has not traditionally engaged with the emergency management sector, but there’s enormous cross-over there in the context of flood hazard management. Some really good information produced in the development of Stormwater Management Plans isn’t being made for other worthwhile purposes, especially non-structural flood mitigation programs, and I’d like to see the SMA work more closely with Council emergency management staff and the State Emergency Service.

I would also like the SMA to be a stronger advocate for water monitoring so that we can measure the effectiveness of Stormwater Management Plans. This means more urban rain gauges, stream flow gauges and water quality monitoring sites.

How do you feel water sensitive urban design can contribute to the SMA’s objectives?

The SMA is obligated to contribute to the urban water plan for Greater Adelaide. We can’t continue to treat stormwater in isolation from the rest of the urban water cycle.  Water sensitive urban design can help achieve integrated urban water cycle planning and management.

Flood protection and water quality improvement are key objectives of the SMA. We need to give rivers and creeks room to fulfil their natural functions, which include providing flood conveyance and ecosystem function. Water sensitive urban design recognises this need. In the context of existing urbanised areas this can be hard to achieve, but there is ample opportunity to do this in new developments and as suburbs and precincts undergo urban renewal.

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