The Demand Management Team is a division of Rous County Council (Rous) responsible for meeting the complex demands on our region’s water supply. The team makes sure the water that reaches your tap is clean and safe to drink. They also promote the sustainable use of water while ensuring our region has enough water for the future.
When speaking with Alex Griffani, it is obvious that she loves her role as Regional Water Education Officer within the Demand Management Team. Alex’s enthusiasm towards her job is infectious and her commitment to maintaining sustainable levels of drinking water can be seen at public events and school visits where she educates students about the regional water systems.
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Alex’s experience as a primary teacher, along with her science degree, make her perfectly suited for the role. She says her position “combines the science that I love with the very best of the teaching skills I learned. I can translate engineering and scientific terminology into regular-speak, which I then use in my presentations to the public and students.”
When speaking about her work in the community, Alex says, “I love the Northern Rivers area, so I enjoy spending my days connecting with our community’s appreciation for the environment. I try to expand on this appreciation by teaching them about a basic element that is often overlooked—our water. I aim to get people thinking about where our water comes from and how precious it is.”
Alex added, “I enjoy getting people, especially kids, excited about water, helping them learn about water and where it comes from, and what actions they can take for a sustainable future.”
Alex has been working for Rous since February 2023. She observed that “Rous has successfully managed to gather a welcoming and passionate bunch of people. Everyone here genuinely cares about the environment and what they do.”
Information Technology Systems Administrator: Luka Taylor
The IT team at Rous County Council is responsible for a wide range of duties that allow the organisation, and its staff, to function as expected. From the stereotypical role of answering day-to-day staff questions, to the complex task of keeping Rous safe from cybersecurity breaches. Working hard behind the scenes, the teams’ seamless efforts ensure critical data systems operate continuously and water, weed, and flood mitigation services are able to be provided to the community.
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To many at Rous, the face of the IT team is Luka Taylor, Information Technology Systems Administrator, who is known for his patience, systems knowledge, calm demeanour, friendliness, and quick problem solving.
Luka was introduced to Rous and its role in the community from an early age.
“I’ve known about Rous ever since I was a kid,” shares Luka. “Every year Barbra Jensen, who was the Water Education Officer, would come out to our primary school and would take us through fun and engaging activities.”
“Rous’s active community engagement appealed to me and was a factor when applying for the job. It gives me pride knowing that my role has a part to play (all be it small) in the region’s water supply.
“I enjoy helping people and so resolving IT issues can be very rewarding.After four years in the IT Support role, I have recently started a new role as IT Systems Administrator.
“In my new role I will be focusing on the backend maintenance, improvement, and implementation of our many information systems here at Rous. I will also be involved in ongoing IT projects and will still assist with support requests when required.”
Over the years, Luka has taken on responsibilities outside of his core role in IT and is broadening his business knowledge.
“I am currently the Chair of the internal Health and Safety Committee. During my time on the Committee, I have undertaken training and learnt many skills that will stick with me for life.”
The Weed Biosecurity Team at Rous County Council work to control, eradicate and prevent weeds for six council areas in the Northern Rivers region, in partnership with agencies and the community. The team conduct property inspections for compliance with the Biosecurity Act 2015; identify, inspect and treat high risk sites and pathways; develop weed management plans for the region, including rapid response plans for new incursions; and educate the community about weeds and their responsibilities. As part of the team, Jesse Telford, specialises on eradicating the weed, Miconia calvescens, which is considered a priority weed.
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“The main basis for my decision to work in the environmental sector, and more specifically weed biosecurity, is to care for Country,” shares Jesse.
“I’m a proud Aboriginal and South Sea Islander from Tweeds Heads, and strongly believe that I have a responsibility to look after the environment and the place I call home, the Northern Rivers. I take pride in the role and feel privileged to have the responsibility to work in this beautiful area.”
As a Weed Biosecurity Officer, Jesse is specifically focusing on the Miconia calvescens Eradication Project.
“In my role, I work to create public awareness about the threat of Miconia calvescens in the Northern Rivers and conduct field surveillance of properties where M.calvescens has been found. This plant has the potential to cause vast damage to our region’s sub-tropical rainforest areas due to the shallow root system and monoculture habit creating high landslide potential.
“M.calvescens has a seed dormancy of 16 years and so creating a good relationship with property owners is paramount in aiding the search, as we revisit each known property, and surrounds, every two years.
“I will be attending the NSW Weeds conference in Dubbo in early August, 2023, and presenting a talk on the Miconia calvecsens project. There is also an opportunity to travel to north Queensland later in the year to gain skills and network with the 4 Tropical Weeds Eradication Project Team and see how they carry out their Miconia surveillance.
“I thoroughly enjoy my role in the Weed Biosecurity Team. My teammates come from a variety of backgrounds, and careers, making the team a great place to be part of.”
As for Jesse’s future aspirations, he aims to share his knowledge of traditional methods for land management and bush fire reduction with the broader community.
“I have a passion for caring for Country and one day would love to assist landowners to manage their property using traditional methods of land management. The use of fire as a tool for reducing fuel loads in sclerophyll dry bushland is something that I feel needs to be utilise more. I would love to be the person who could help people preparing property for fire season and mitigating damage to assets and the environment using this method.”
Flood Mitigation Operator / Metal Fabricator: Luke James
The Flood Mitigation team at Rous County Council is a small but mighty crew of four operators plus a Floodplain Officer. Together they help manage a large network of flood mitigation infrastructure that includes over 700 floodgates, 190km of drains and over 70km of levees across the Richmond River floodplain – the largest coastal floodplain on the NSW coast. As a trained metal fabricator, Luke’s job is to maintain and repair existing floodgates as well as building new aluminium floodgates to replace the historic steel gates.
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“The floodgates are mainly in front of drains that were installed on the floodplain as part of flood mitigation works mid last century,” explains Luke. Draining the floodplain has enabled agriculture and the development of towns. Most of the floodgates were installed after major flood events in the 1950s and 1970s. Our floodgates operate passively as one-way valves. “When the river rises, whether it’s tidal or a flood, the water pressure will close a floodgate and stop the land inundating; when that water recedes, the gate opens.” In some drains, tidal water is allowed to flush drains to improve water quality and fish habitat.
“Every day is different on the floodplain, and I love that, there’s always a new challenge” says Luke. “As well as a new trade, I’ve learned the skill of talking with different people, like landholders, in difficult situations. Maintenance is also a big part of our work. We find defects or problems with a gate and bring them in to work on them. Broken gates need fixing, new welds on stainless steel pins or the bands that go around the pipes. A lot of the time we need to get the gates back in action as quickly as we can before the next high tide – our work really revolves around the tides.
“We check and clear the floodgates of debris that gets stuck and holds them open, or silt and mud that builds up, or weeds. Then I might build a gate over two or three months – starting out with a piece of sheet metal and adding the components. The tricky part with aluminium is that it bows and buckles with the heat, so you need to know how to bring it back.”
The Richmond River floodplain covers 1,000 square kilometres, with a waterway area of 19 square kilometres. Born and bred in the area, local knowledge is a boon. “Knowing the area is a huge factor. I’m a mad fisherman and am passionate about the river system. Working with the floodgates in a way that’s trying to manage the impact of drains on the rivers is really rewarding.”
Over the past 14 years working at Rous, Luke has grown close with his team.
“I just feel grateful to be working in a great atmosphere where there’s a small group of us who work so closely that it’s like family, you know how others are thinking and it just works well. The teams in the office have our back and are just a phone call away. I don’t think I’d find something like this anywhere else.”
You may have heard of Greg Telford through Rekindling the Spirit, an organsiation he founded in the 1990s to support Aboriginal families in Lismore. Or perhaps you’ve come across Greg for his 2021 nomination as Lismore’s Aboriginal Person of the Year. Or you might know him through one of the dozen community groups he’s supported over the past four decades on Widjabul Wia-bal country.
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With a wealth of experience, Greg entered the newly created role of Reconciliation Liaison Officer with Rous County Council in February 2022. Originally a Minjungbal man from the Tweed Valley, Greg’s journey to the Lismore area has been long and not always easy.
“I grew up in Kingscliff in the first black family to live there and we experienced a lot of discrimination, it was extreme. I think my dad took this home with him and there was a lot of violence, so I left home young and I got into a lot of trouble. I moved around and worked all over the place, I was running away from myself, until I met my wife and my life changed,” explains Greg.
This was a major turning point. As he started to change his life around, he could see that it had a positive impact on the people – his family – around him. “I became aware that I could change things with a different attitude. I started taking responsibility and started to do things I hadn’t been able to do before. I gained confidence. When I helped myself, I was able to help other people.”
Greg has dedicated his life to supporting Aboriginal and Islander people in Lismore and surrounding communities. His major concern has been with the legacies people pass on to their children and with this in mind he developed Rekindling the Spirit to help Aboriginal families with substance abuse issues, problems with violent behaviour, and difficulty connecting with partners and children.
His experiences have taught him that behaviours and attitudes are human, and not race related. At Rous, he works in the Catchment and Cultural Awareness team. “My role at Rous is to break down barriers and build bridges within the organisation, and between Rous and the Aboriginal community and surrounding areas.
“Rous’s operational footprint crosses over Widjabul Wia-bal country, Ngulinga, Arakwal...I work so that people understand the cultural aspects of this place, its heritage and the Aboriginal perspective. The Aboriginal perspective understands the river systems, the land, the sky, the sea and how it all works together; Aboriginal people have an intimate understanding of nature. It's different from the western way of viewing things that has traditionally separated the environment into different parts. It’s important that we learn from the traditional custodians and how they used to live on the land, they’re the great survivalists. Aboriginal people from these lands used to shift out a month or two before floods came, they knew, and we could learn from this.”
So how does Greg go about doing this? And how is he shifting entrenched belief systems?
“I began by introducing Yarning Circles at Rous, and this has played a huge role in breaking down barriers and attitudes. They can be really tough; I start and am vulnerable in front of people. I carry generational grief, the emotion comes through, tears run down my face. I’m expressing myself and it’s healthy. Then other people share. It’s given people a chance to see that life’s issues are similar for all of us, the only difference is the colour of our skin.
“Recently we did a planting with the Casino Food Co-op at Booyong and had the Ngulingah Land Council come out and be a part of it with us, a Landcare group and another bush regeneration mob. I encouraged one of the young rangers, a Widjabul Wia-bal man, to do the Welcome to Country in my place and this gave him a sense of worthiness. Confidence plays a big role in helping young Aboriginal people. At Rous, I’d like to start opening more doors for black fellas, I’m pushing for more employment opportunities. I’d like to be there to support them, because it won’t be easy, but it will help break down the barriers and build the trust that we really need from both sides.”
“People can learn anything given the opportunity,” says Mel Mosse, Rous County Council’s HR Officer. The right employer, transferable skills and a good attitude can lead a person to professional growth and progression. Mel serves as a great example of this. Having started in a career in accounts, she took a nine-year break to raise three children. When Mel returned to the workforce, it was in a position with the Records team at Rous.
“I started at Rous with a one-year contract as an assistant in Records. The part-time role was ideal as my youngest child was about to start school,” she says.
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One year became four, which gave Mel time to develop her skills and complete a qualification to change direction in her career. “HR was a profession that really interested me because I enjoy working with people. I was appointed HR Administration Officer to support the team and deliver the annual training plan.”
In her time with the team, Mel has witnessed the HR space evolve. “We’ve moved from being paper driven to being fully electronic with a new HR Information System that manages everything from recruitment and onboarding all the way through the lifecycle of the employee including performance, training and offboarding.”
When it comes to recruitment, times have also changed and today the HR team applies a holistic approach to talent sourcing by looking outside of the traditional hires to attract new staff. There has also been a shift towards providing opportunities for staff to use their transferrable skills, offering an avenue for growth and development from within the organisation. “I particularly enjoy facilitating the onboarding process for our new starters. It provides an opportunity to get to know new people and showcase the benefits that we have access to at Rous, like our nine-day fortnight and our Fitness Passport and Employee Assistance Program.”
Recently, Mel progressed into the position of HR Officer, where the focus is on recruitment, health and wellbeing, and learning the role of Council’s Return to Work Coordinator. “It’s an important HR function that supports injured employees through their recovery; research shows that people recover better and faster at work.”
When Mel took on the full-time position last year, she needed to make sure it would work for her family too. “Rous’s flexible work arrangements allow me to finish my workday at home, so I am there for my kids after school, that's important to us as a family.” She strongly believes that work and home-life are closely connected. “I’m happy at work, which means I’m happy at home and this supports a great work-life balance.”
Kirralee Donovan has a key role in helping people in the Northern Rivers better understand how daily water use impacts our environment. As Rous’s Water Sustainability Officer, she collaborates in a multidisciplinary team with other scientists and engineers.
“Water, regardless of whether it is seemingly plentiful, is not without limits and its consumption has a direct effect on the environment,” she says. “If we want to reduce our environmental footprint, it's important we optimise our water use. There can often be a disconnect between the water that comes out of the tap, its source, Rocky Creek Dam, and the energy required to treat and distribute it before it reaches our taps.”
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“I feel that every conversation we have about this, whether it’s big or small, makes a difference.”
Kirralee’s background is in coastal management. This led her to other areas of natural resource management including wetland and floodplain management and rainforest conservation, supporting groups like Big Scrub Landcare, that Rous has been working in partnership with for many years.
“I have a strong interest in all areas of catchment management, and how changes to land management can improve water quality. So, while my role at Rous is focused on water efficiency, there is a strong connection between the two areas. It’s what appealed to me about working at Rous, as I collaborate with people who manage floodplain issues, riparian restoration and bush regeneration, all areas that improve water quality. What I enjoy most is the number of different people I talk with from community groups, businesses, schools, our constituent councils and Rous employees who like me are passionate about our environment.”
Working within a multidisciplinary team keeps Kirralee abreast of what’s happening in her different areas of interest.
“I like learning about what other people at Rous are doing to improve environmental outcomes. We have fantastic projects on the go. The work happening in our catchment and cultural awareness team is especially interesting and reiterates intrinsic links between environment, people and cultural heritage. From our coastal communities to the hinterland, our forests and catchments, there’s a whole gamut of factors that make our environment what it is.”
Growing up in China, James Sun had never drunk water direct from the tap, until he returned to Australia, his birthplace. Today working as Rous’s Process Engineer, he is responsible for providing clean and safe drinking water for the community of the Northern Rivers.
“Producing clean drinking water is a process that is continually being fine-tuned,” he says. “We need the right amount of filtration and treatment depending on turbidity levels at the dams – how clean or dirty the water is,” he explains. “One of my primary responsibilities is to investigate problems that arise and to advise the team on the best solution.”
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James joined Rous in November 2021 after having worked in various water-related roles across Australia’s east coast. The shift from the private sector to become a public servant has been a welcome change that has aligned with his values.
“I believe in clean and safe drinking water for all. Whatever decision I make, I won’t compromise this belief, and that’s how I approach my work at Rous.
“As a young child, I moved from Melbourne to live with my grandparents in Guangzhou, China, for four years and I was sick a lot. I learned later that at the time the drinking water standards there weren’t great, and I believe it could have been part of the reason I was sick so often. My grandmother would religiously boil water and all our food was cooked – we’d never eaten a salad until we returned to Australia because we were scared of contaminants and pesticides. Even today, my mum is still in the habit of boiling water, and she doesn’t eat salad.”
Rous operates two water treatment plants (WTP) to filter and treat the water from our dam and river sources: the Nightcap WTP and Emigrant Creek WTP. The plants use membrane filtration technology and dissolved air floatation filtration together with advanced ozone and biologically activated carbon treatments. The rigorous monitoring and testing program ensures Rous’s water quality consistently meets Australian Drinking Water Standards.
“At Rous, it’s about what the best solution is for the community in the long term. First and foremost, we don’t compromise on the processes needed to supply clean drinking water.”
The burden of responsibility as a public servant does not weigh James down though, thanks to a sense of shared responsibility.
“One of the aspects that first attracted me to Rous was the diversity in the workplace; there are a lot of young people like me and it’s great to bounce ideas around; we also have very experienced people in the workplace to get help from, it’s a good balance. But what I wasn't expecting, and that is different from the private sector, is a sense of shared responsibility. We’re each accountable for distinct aspects, but the overall goal, the achievements or the challenges of the team are shared. It’s a collaborative workplace and I'm always supported.”
“The more I learn about water the more I appreciate how essential it is to live a healthy life. I’m proud to contribute to an organisation that prioritises clean and safe drinking water.”