Water Industry Award Rising Star nominee, Stantec civil engineer Sam Mullaney, discusses his work under the Living with Water Partnership and the prospect of developing more low carbon solutions.

What was your first job in the utilities sector?

Graduate civil engineer in the Stantec infrastructure team working predominantly with Yorkshire Water.

What work experience or qualifications did you have before moving into the industry?

Before moving into the industry, I studied a master’s in civil and environmental engineering at the University of Leeds. I also briefly worked in the flood risk team at Leeds City Council, and during my time there I had a role in helping to manage flood risks.

What is your golden rule for overcoming challenges at work generally?

Over my two years in the water industry, I have learned how important understanding the problem is before even thinking about solving it.

The first step to overcoming any challenge is to fully understand the challenge, then break it down into small, manageable sections and don’t be afraid to ask for help from people with more experience.

There’s an enormous body of technical experience in Stantec, much of it world class. I hadn’t fully appreciated this before I joined the company – so the opportunity to learn from the best is something I’m making the most of.

Did you learn anything new about collaborating or innovating as a team or business during the pandemic?

One of the key benefits of collaborating virtually is more people from further afield can contribute. I have had the chance to work with people all over the UK and even abroad which is now the norm.

The pandemic helped prove working virtually can be just as effective, if not more effective in some instances. It’s also taught me the importance of social contact. I really missed being in the office with colleagues, and I guess you only really learn the value of something after its been taken away. So, it’s good to be back in the office now.

Is there a standout innovation or collaboration project that you’ve worked on during your time in utilities – what made it special?

Through my work at Stantec, I’ve had substantial involvement in the Hull ‘Living with Water’ programme of works. Living with Water is a collaborative partnership between Yorkshire Water, Hull City Council, East Riding of Yorkshire Council, the Environment Agency, and The University of Hull. It seeks to bolster flood resilience throughout Hull by retrofitting Sustainable Urban Drainage Systems (SuDS).

Hull has one of the highest flood risks in the United Kingdom from numerous sources – sewer flooding, surface water flooding, fluvial flooding, and tidal surges.

Usually, these individual flooding sources are the responsibilities of the individual authorities. The unique thing about the Living with Water Partnership is that all the stakeholders are working collaboratively to increase flood resilience throughout Hull, irrespective of who’s responsibility the flooding falls under.

The partnership is also aiming to improve the urban landscape while adding flood resilience. So Stantec’s role is to not only improve the lives of residents, but to also contribute to agendas on climate change, biodiversity and public realm. Who wouldn’t want to work on such a rounded project?

What excites you most about the next 10 years in the utilities sector – any trends, tech or specific innovations?

With society pushing for net zero carbon, and local authorities across the UK declaring climate and biodiversity emergencies, the sector must seek new and creative low carbon and nature-based solutions to engineering problems.

I think the first nature-based wastewater treatment being completed at Clifton in Yorkshire is a real step in the right direction, and it’s great to have been part of that with Stantec and Yorkshire Water.

The site has been transformed into an integrated constructed wetland, with the clay in the ponds and plants that naturally remove phosphorus from treated wastewater before it is returned to the environment. I’m excited about the prospect of developing more low carbon solutions like this in the next 10 years. More innovative solutions like this are required if the sector is to help society reach net zero in the near future.

What is the change you’d most like to see within the utilities industry?

Even greater collaboration between stakeholders. Working with the Living with Water partnership has really highlighted the benefits and efficiencies in effective collaboration between multiple stakeholders. Often it can be difficult to obtain crucial information about certain assets not owned by the utility company you are working with – which may be essential to the delivery of the project.

This obstacle has been removed as Stantec works with others in the Living with Water Partnership. I think utility companies having specialist collaboration teams that are easy to contact and really engage in joint working in a meaningful and productive way would be a huge step in the right direction.

To book a table and to find out more about the awards, click here.