Erin Sellers (Australia)
Acting Manager Catchment Management
Fairfield City Council, NSW, Australia
Master of Integrated Water Management
Erin is an environmental engineer with 16 years experience in sustainable urban water management, particularly water sensitive urban design, catchment management and floodplain management. After graduating from the University of NSW in Environmental Engineering, he worked for public and private sector organisations both in Australia and overseas.
For the past eight years he has worked in New South Wales local government, pursuing innovative approaches to urban water management, and integrated catchment management in particular.
Leadership is something I value highly and have always worked at as an environmental engineer in urban water management. I've taken part in two council-run leadership courses and an intensive leadership development program for emerging water leaders with IWC's Dr Andre Taylor, and I've gratefully learned from recognised leaders such as Jan Orton, Steve Frost and John Argue.
I now lead a team of 12 engineers, environmental scientists, technicians and natural resource officers working towards transitioning Fairfield City to a water sensitive city. I encourage my staff, colleagues, peers and local community to continually build their own capacity for leadership through leadership courses, council committees, council projects, industry activities or in their personal lives.
One of the most enjoyable aspects of my industry work is helping link practitioners from within and outside the stormwater industry, who are often grappling with common issues.
I’m looking forward to continuing to both develop and demonstrate my leadership abilities, particularly as I move into middle management roles.
Inter-disciplinary approaches are almost a fundamental pre-requisite to improving water management. For instance, research by Professor Rebekah Brown at UNSW in the early 2000s highlighted the limitations of the traditional siloed approach to addressing urban stormwater issues, with its focus on engineered solutions and little acknowledgement of the role of other professions or of community needs.
The legacy of these traditional approaches, which are typically associated with Brown’s concept of a ‘drained city’, are readily apparent in Fairfield City where, for example, the past channelisation of the city’s waterways, with no consideration of geomorphology or eco-hydrology, has led to significant issues such as erosion, habitat loss and poor amenity.
These issues simply cannot be addressed effectively using the same paradigm under which they were created. Traditional approaches are now gradually giving way to a sustainable urban water management approach that recognises that complex water problems (often described as a wicked problem) can only be solved by multiple professions working collaboratively to address not only technical issues, but to build political and community support, improve institutional capacity and pursue regulatory reform.
Collaborative, interdisciplinary approaches often also give rise to greater information sharing, increased efficiencies, reduced uncertainty, new insights and a shared sense of responsibility.
The importance of inter-disciplinary approach is now well acknowledged at Fairfield City Council where I’m fortunate to be leading a uniquely integrated, multi-disciplinary team that has skills in engineering and environmental science, and is well set-up to engage with other professions such as urban planning, landscape architecture and social science.
We are currently applying an inter-disciplinary approach to our catchment planning process, which is based on the early work done for Marrickville Council by Professors Rebekah Brown and Tony Wong and is informed by the research from the CRC for Water Sensitive Cities.
Ultimately, we should expect that the inter-disciplinary approach will greatly help in generating solutions to our water problems that are not only technically feasible, but are appropriate to the social, political and institutional context in which they are to be applied.
Achieving change in the water sector
I am keen to use my skills in the management of projects, programs and small teams, to play a leading role in our transition to water sensitive cities, especially by promoting more integrated catchment management and collaborative planning practices.
I fully expect that my participation in the MIWM program will greatly assist my professional development as an environmental engineer and help me in my continued efforts to achieve change within Sydney’s urban water sector.
I’m particularly keen on pursuing the urban water specialisation as I believe this will give me a deeper understanding of the SUWM approach that I am applying at Council and more effectively translate and apply the research findings from the CRC for Water Sensitive Cities to my daily work.
I am increasingly involved in developing urban water policy and strategy, so I expect to benefit also from the modules dealing with water governance, policy, planning and economics.
The MIWM will also assist in my application for chartered status as a professional engineer with Engineers Australia. I look forward to sharing the knowledge I gain through the MIWM with my staff and Council colleagues, and applying it in my advocacy and education roles at Stormwater NSW and through other organisations I am regularly involved with.
And I very much look forward to undertaking a final MIWM project that will benefit either the Fairfield community or the wider stormwater industry.