On The Land

6 March, 2024

Water Resources engineer fully immersed in industry

WITH International Women’s Day approaching in just two days' time, it is fitting to acknowledge the role of Claudia Smith, a Water Resources Engineer stationed at Sunwater, Mareeba, in a field traditionally associated with men.

By Brigitte Daley

Water Resources engineer fully immersed in industry - feature photo

Claudia said her journey to her current position was heavily influenced by her upbringing.

“I grew up in a small country town in the Goulburn Valley in Northern Victoria,” Claudia said.

“Most people are quick to work out that I am a ‘country girl’ at heart.

“I grew up during the Millennium Drought, which I knew as the ‘10-year Drought’, where water and the agricultural industry was a topic of conversation around our dining table on most nights.

“In the later years of high school, my hometown was hit by flood.

“There were a lot of different factors, but these two events were really big influences for shaping me onto the path I find myself on today and the direction I took when selecting university degrees.”

Attending university in Brisbane, Claudia attained a double degree in both Bachelor of Environmental Engineering and Bachelor of Business. 

“During university, I spent time at both Logan City Council and a large multinational consultancy firm doing work experience,” she said.

“This turned into an undergraduate and then a graduate role at the consultancy firm as a Water Resources engineer.

“I was fully immersed in the industry and was challenged on a technical level every day, working predominantly in flood modelling of roads, rail, dams and mine sites,” Claudia said.

“This is also where I got exposure to sewer and pipeline design and more nuanced work in regional areas to do with water security, salinity management in agricultural regions and working directly on infrastructure improvement projects within the Murray-Darling Basin.

“I have been out of university for four years now and made the leap to Sunwater last year.”

Claudia said that while her decision to join Sunwater was influenced by many factors, her primary focus has now shifted to the hydrology and dams sector.

“When the role came up with Sunwater, it was a 'no-brainer' - the opportunity to work for a big organisation, doing really interesting work, while still receiving the same opportunities of those in the city was something I couldn’t pass up on,” she said.

“My partner works in the mining industry and living regionally, while still being close to a larger airport, suits our lifestyle.

“Living in such a beautiful part of the world is definitely a bonus!”

The responsibilities of Claudia’s position can sometimes be difficult to quantify exactly.

“I am a hydrologist and hydraulic modeler, I am also a water planner,” she said.

“I respond to ad-hoc tasks such as water plan and water licence queries from our operators, the Queensland Government and customers.

“I am considering the intricacies of our catchments and schemes in line with the Water Plan to meet compliance and identify and implement opportunities for improvement.

“I consider our climate deeply and what water security may look like for our communities in future.

“This can involve a lot of number crunching, such as looking at rainfall, streamflow and models, but can also involve a lot of extensive reading of papers and scientific articles, conversations, looking at what other organisations are doing and brainstorming ideas.”

Finding her job extremely rewarding, Claudia says, “water touches everything we do”.

“I love being able to partake in multi-disciplinary work of a critical resource that requires input from all kinds of people that may improve the lives of our community,” she said.

“I love connecting with the people in the business and in the community to find the heart of a problem and create a ‘fix for good’ kind of a solution – or at least try to!

“Often, in the engineering field, moving regionally means being more creative with your career development and not being exposed to the same opportunities as those in the city.

“In my experience, the level of exposure I receive is a similar level to my counterparts in the city and is something that is unique to Sunwater.” 

Claudia has a clear vision for what she wishes to achieve in the future with her position and her passion is evident.

“I love being able to live regionally and feel supported as a professional in my career development,” she said.

“I love being able to get out and about, work with our operators to understand their needs and see the big infrastructure.

“I am not a ‘dam’ nerd; I am a bit of a water nerd though!

“This is why I started in the engineering field in the first place – to have real, meaningful impact in communities like the one I grew up in.”


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