A lifetime passion for water

28/07/2020 | 6 mins

Environmental engineer and internationally recognised water expert Professor Anas Ghadouani shares his passion for the science of water and his infectious enthusiasm for online learning and teaching.

Professor Anas Ghadouani’s fascination for water can be traced back to when he was a child spending countless hours playing and exploring marine life near the Atlantic Ocean in his native Morocco. His passion for water continued through university studies in environmental engineering, but it was only when he was in a geology class learning about the origins of lakes, that he came to a strong realisation that water was what piqued his interest. As luck and circumstance would have it, he ended up in Canada researching the country’s majestic lake formations.

“Studying in Canada expanded my knowledge and understanding of water, and now, I love all kinds of water: tap water, fresh water, wastewater, salt water and the way it acts as a transport mechanism which magically brings everything together – the glue of life,” Professor Ghadouani said.

“I think too much about water and often reflect on why water exists.”

Fast-forward decades, Anas Ghadouani is now a Professor of Environmental Engineering at UWA where he leads a very successful research group focused on the study of water resources, ecological and environmental engineering. He was also a founding member and past Executive Director of the Cooperative Research Centre for Water Sensitive Cities – its primary aim to harness research capabilities and to collaboratively develop innovative technologies and inform strategies that will see many of our cities, including Perth, become leading water-sensitive cities by 2030.

Through an online video call, Professor Ghadouani shares his extensive advisory work on a strategic action plan entitled Water for Life, launched by the Water Corporation in an effort to put Perth on the waterwise map for years to come.

Last year’s adoption of the Water Wise strategy by the State Government – for which he also provided expert advice – is just one of the many highlights of his career, but more importantly it signals a huge step towards making important behavioural changes in water management that will sustain our life and livelihoods.

“Perth is on a journey to become a leading watersensitive city by 2030. This will be achieved through state-of the-art waste water treatment and reuse, innovative technologies, and through collaboration to reach a city of the future with best practice water management,” Professor Ghadouani said.

“When our urban infrastructure is well connected to deliver optimal outcomes – so that we can reticulate water successfully to withstand drought and be liveable during heatwaves, and avoid over reliance on air-conditioning – we can be sure that we are on the right track to becoming water-sensitive.”

Achieving such a goal for a capital city is well within reach; however, the focus is also on one of our primary environmental challenges – to preserve this precious resource now and into the future.

UWA expertise, coupled with world-class research infrastructure, opens up our capabilities to solve such grand challenges.

“Water security is our main challenge, along with climate change, he said. “Take any town in a WA regional area, for example – there is a real risk we can run out of water. The catastrophic bushfire events early in the year have clearly shown us that many towns can run out of water to fight fires. When you don’t have access to water within a reasonable distance then certain situations can become very dire.”

“Finding sources of water is not the problem – the problem is with rainfall falling either in the wrong place or the wrong time. You might have all the water concentrated in the Kimberley, but the real issue lies with successfully deploying water to meet the demands of a certain place.”

This is an enormous challenge – one that he and his countless collaborators across the nation are determined to address.

“There is a certain common value you reach when you pair with many other minds and meet somewhere in the middle between business-as-usual and best practice. It’s about narrowing the gap for impact.”

International water expert Anas Ghadouani is a Professor of Environmental Engineering at UWA.
Anas Ghadouani



But his simple mantra “if you want to go far, you go with others” is sometimes all it takes to solve seemingly impossible problems.

“There is a certain common value you reach when you pair with many other minds and meet somewhere in the middle between business-as-usual and best practice. It’s about narrowing the gap for impact,” he said.

Much of his research encompasses a familiar tenet: “bringing the knowledge about water to better the world”.

He said the value of high-quality university research and innovative thinking would be even more evident as we navigated the post-COVID-19 world.

“We will need to build more resilience in our cities and towns, by further integrating and optimising services and by examining ways we can activate the values of the Water-Energy-Food nexus,” he said.

“What could that look like? Looking at local food production in urban settings using recycled water and urban buildings and spaces. This can have the potential to reduce our reliance on food transport from other regions.

There are many initiatives being trialled around the world at the moment and more will be considered in the new normal.

Adapting to the new normal is going to take many sacrifices, including some long-term approaches to doing things differently. Responding with innovation and purpose has never been of more relevance in our quest to continue knowledge sharing with our students.

Zooming in on engagement in the classroom

Professor Ghadouani’s creative online teaching talents have been an exemplar for engaging innovation. His rapid adaptation to remote learning has earned him a title of ‘poster boy’ for online teaching.

“When I was faced with barriers to learning and teaching in the pandemic world, I must admit I had trepidation just like everyone else. My main concern was around keeping my students engaged in this new space, as I am not one for self-guided learning. The transition to remote learning was relatively easy. I modified my office and used the tech to my students’ advantage,” Professor Ghadouani explained.

“I took it upon myself to trial the approach in small groups of students and it worked seamlessly. I was able to interact with my students and we spiced up the lessons by having pets as part of our Zoom sessions; we were joined by cats, dogs, stick insects, just to name a few.”

What followed were video teasers on Instagram and LinkedIn, fun and engaging lessons (some attended by 100 students), group sing-alongs wearing funny hats – all in the name of engaged learning.

“This worked and it was empowering. In amongst all the fun I made sure to check up on my students and their wellbeing, as I was sure it wasn’t easy for them to adapt to these new solutions,” he said.

“There is so much value in face-to-face teaching, but we will without a doubt continue elements of this in the future.”

Undeniably, Professor Ghadouani’s passion for water matches his passion for teaching about water. It’s no surprise that one of the first assignments he gives to his students is on their passions in life.

“Build upon what you believe in and there are actions you can take to empower others.”

“The one common denominator when I ask students about why they are studying this subject matter, is that they would like something meaningful. Our students are thinking outside the box and connected to the greater good. Some of my students are professional athletes, musicians, some are training for the Olympics, and they have an incredible matrix of skills. Our role as educators is to nurture and grow this matrix of skills, not just impart knowledge,” he said.

“I often tell my students: if you want to change the world, here are 17 ways you can do this – pick whatever aligns best with you from the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

“Build upon what you believe in and there are actions you can take to empower others.”

Watch Professor Ghadouani’s TEDx Talk https://youtu.be/cqpm6uKkgM8

Hero image: Wastewater ponds in Werribee, Victoria. Photo: Liah Coggins

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Media references

Milka Bukilic, Communications Adviser, (08) 6488 4206

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