Water Modelling Solutions and SMK Consultants

How an Outcomes Based Approach is Helping Farmers Get Levees Approved

Australian East Coast

Monika Balicki

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Australian East Coast

Water Modelling Solutions (WMS) is a specialist water engineering team. The business was founded in 2012 and they engage in both private and public sector work. Monika Balicki is a Director at WMS, having joined the
company in 2015.

SMK Consultants (SMK) was formed as a group of registered Survey Consultants in 1972 and has since expanded their capabilities into the fields of irrigation design and environmental assessment, planning and project management. Peter Taylor is a partner of SMK.

Monika and Peter have been collaborating to get levees approved for farmers across rural New South Wales.

WMS’ Great Relationship with Water Authorities

Peter Taylor explains that SMK undertake basic flood modelling as part of their work. But when a project is more complicated, they need greater expertise. This is where WMS comes in. Many of SMK’s clients are farmers looking to get levees retrospectively approved to comply with new Floodplain Management Plans.

Peter recalls speaking to the Office of Environment and Heritage that was looking after floodplain modelling for the NSW Government. He says, “They had engaged Water Modelling Solutions for a particular project and they said they worked well. So we spoke to them and since then, we’ve used their services.”

He concedes that WMS’ relationship with water authorities is a big draw card. He explains that there are a limited number of companies offering water modelling on the complex and large scale needed in rural NSW, and “there’s only certain companies that Water NSW will accept on their word.” WMS has developed a reputation for being one of those companies.

From WMS’ perspective, a good relationship with water authorities makes their job easier. Monika explains, “We know what sort of questions to expect from the regulator and what the end result needs to look like. When the regulator knows who we are and they feel comfortable talking to us directly, that helps speed the process up. I think it also builds goodwill on the regulator’s part towards the farmer.”

Fostering relationships with water authorities is part of what makes WMS successful. Blake Boulton, Managing Director at WMS, explains their commitment saying, “Earlier in the year I drove down to Tamworth to meet face to face with Water NSW’s technical experts to discuss a specific project, but also to build a relationship for future assessments. From this meeting and other conversations, we were able to get a lot of detailed information on what they’re looking for, how they want things done, how they want things presented and so forth, that isn’t available from any formal reports or industry guidance.”

Communication is Key with Remote Work

WMS and SMK both credit great communication as a cornerstone of their success. With Monika based in WMS’ Brisbane office and SMK based in Moree, NSW it was obvious that that would be necessary from the start. Monika explains that her team uses Google Earth to ascertain where the levee in question is located. When this isn’t entirely clear, she credits Peter with “being really good at responding and clarifying and letting us know what we need to do. And he’s happy to let us talk directly to Water NSW.”

Peter also appreciates WMS’s ability to get the job done remotely.

I have a very comfortable relationship with Monika. We’re able to talk one to one on projects and work through them. That’s very important with her based in Brisbane. If we needed the modellers to come out here, we’d be adding quite a significant cost. So it’s good to have someone to communicate well with.

Peter Taylor, Partner at SMK

An Outcome Based Approach

Employing an outcome based approach has also proved a key difference and it’s something that WMS prides itself on. Blake Boulton is proud that as a business owner, he’s “willing to give engineers the freedom to explore solutions in the best interests of our clients rather than just focus on productivity.”

This outcome based approach was evident in the recent Buttabone Levee Assessment that is now close to being approved. This complex assessment, seeking retrospective approval of a levee, sits in a grey area between the old legislation and the new legislation, drafted in 2018 that hasn’t been gazetted.

Monika admits, “It would be really easy for us to just take the client’s money, run the models and then say sorry, it doesn’t work.” But the outcome based approach means WMS’ water engineers look for solutions.

Monika elaborates, saying “The models are convoluted so there’s often flexibility and room for argument. It’s a common sense approach. If you look at the overall picture and the end results that everyone needs and wants, you can change your methodology and how you’re assessing it.”

Peter also values this outcome based approach. His clients are farmers who have had these large levees in place, in some cases, for decades. They don’t
want to have to tear down or rebuild levees, so having experts like WMS trying to find viable solutions is important. Peter says he’s like a middleman. He’s able to “provide WMS with direction of the outcome we’re
trying to achieve and the issues that will be raised during the modelling”
and can then step aside and let them do their work. He’s later able to step back in “reviewing the reports and interpreting them so that the client is not trying to read quite a complex document.”

Blake Boulton recognises that Peter’s experience is as pivotal as their own in getting these assessments approved. “Peter’s clients obviously have a great deal of trust in him and his business. Peter understands the regulatory environment, the land and the sometimes long, complicated history of these problems really well. He understands that projects are technically challenging and by taking care of the client end and providing us with the background we need, it gives us the best shot at getting our piece of the puzzle done most effectively.”

Water Modelling Solutions and SMK Consultants demonstrate that an outcome based approach, along with clear communication and trusted
relationships with water authorities, is a successful formula.