Meet the Team

A lifetime of water work


Water is life, as the saying goes, and John Harris has definitely dedicated much of his life to it.

 John has been committed to developing the water industry for decades and worked on the national water training package in the early 1990s. He has been involved in WIOA and its predecessor since 1993 and has been an Operator of the Year, an inaugural Director of WIOA Ltd, Committee Member, IDIOTS member, Board Member, President, Vice President, Board Chair and now, Board Deputy Chair and Life Member.

We acknowledge John’s stellar contribution to the water industry. We hope you enjoy this Q&A with an industry veteran we’re proud to call a Life Member.

What’s something people might not know about you?

Even though most of my career has been in the water industry, I’ve worked in banks, as a bus driver and I also played VFL footy for Richmond – a long time ago!

Can you tell us a bit about your life, outside work?

I was born in Warrnambool and am enjoying semi-retirement life there now. My wife and I have three children, six grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

I enjoy playing golf, going to the gym to keep fit and watching all types of sport, especially football and cricket.

How did you become involved in the water industry?

After about 2.5 years of driving coaches for Trans Otway and living out of a suitcase, my wife encouraged a more stationary career… so I joined the water team at the Warrnambool City Council in 1973.

What happened next?

I went on to work in the water industry for the next 45 years, retiring from a water corporation role in 2019.

I was the first person to operate Warrnambool’s water treatment plant and I worked through many mergers from South West Water right through to Wannon Water. As Operations Manager, I helped with the amalgamation of three water boards and implemented the risk management structure across all the water and wastewater treatment facilities.

I joined WIOA back in 1993, when it was known as AWWOA and when you represented your phone area code (mine was 055). I’ve had many roles throughout the years. I recently became Deputy Chair after about four years as Chair.

I’ve also been active in business and the community, including as a Councillor at the City of Warrnambool until 2012, and I’m currently President of the Dennington Community Association.

What are your top four career highlights?

I’ve been fortunate to have many highlights. Some of the top ones are:

  • Being part of Wannon Water’s Best tasting water in Australia then second-best tasting water in the world achievement at Berkeley Springs in West Virginia, USA
  • Helping develop Victoria’s first Certificate in Water and Wastewater Operations in 1987 – an industry training and assessment course
  • Winning the WIOA Operator of the Year in Victoria in 1993
  • Being part of the National Water Reference group that developed the first National Training package NWP in 1997, then chair of the National body from 2005 to 2019, handing over to George Wall on my retirement from Wannon Water

What were the two biggest changes to the industry during your career?

Mainly in the electronics area with a lot of manual work – like backwashing and changing flows – becoming fully automated so an operator can run the plant from home on a laptop/tablet, and resolve alarms remotely even if they’re hundreds of kilometres away (as long as they have a good internet connection). When I started, operators had to go to the site to make changes or reset an alarm.

The other big area of change is the improved skills of operators, and their acceptance of change in technology and equipment.

What do you enjoy about WIOA?

The unity and connection it brings to the water industry. Our events bring operations staff from across Australia together to share new equipment, ideas, case studies and also to develop networks and friendships. Online, our members can access job opportunities and publications that can enhance their knowledge and even help them handle an issue at their plants or workplaces.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Take every opportunity to enhance your career and knowledge. Don’t be frightened to learn or take on training courses that will enhance your career. Make use of what WIOA and the industry offer, and listen to your peers.