Introducing Water Sector Director Ken Macdonald

Introducing Water Sector Director Ken Macdonald

Meet T+T’s new Water Sector Director, Ken Macdonald. A proud Scot, Ken has a wealth of experience in three waters reforms, as well as a practical approach to problem-solving.

Tell us about your previous experience and what you bring to the role.

I’ve been working in water and environmental management for about 30 years, starting like many folk do in a technical role (in my case as a water quality chemist) and gradually moving into programme management, business development and leading teams.

My career started in Scotland where I worked for water authorities and environmental regulators before moving into consultancy in 2001, working for URS. I transferred to Aotearoa New Zealand with URS in 2004 and led their water and environmental group for three years before leaving and setting my own consulting business. Over the next eight years I worked on a wide range of projects around New Zealand and the Pacific, including catchment management planning for councils; providing consenting and compliance assistance for industrial clients; and Programme Managing the integration of the water organisations in Auckland as part of the ‘SuperCity’ formation. I also lived and worked in Rarotonga for three years, leading a number of water, sanitation and environmental projects and programmes on behalf of MFAT and the Government of the Cook Islands. 

In 2015 I returned to a large international consultancy and started Ramboll’s first New Zealand office. From 2018 until 2021, I had three years back in Scotland, working for Stantec on asset management and improvement programmes for Scottish Water. I’d worked with T+T on a couple of projects in the Cook Islands and I really liked the people and the work they did, so when our family was looking to return to NZ early in 2021 T+T was the place I knew I wanted to work.

I guess what I bring to the role is - more than anything – a fairly broad and deep experience of the water sector, with an understanding of its complexities and challenges from a number of perspectives. I think one of the key things I’ve learned is that the water sector is constantly having to evolve in response to a whole range of challenges and developments.  That means we – and especially our clients - are living and working in a fairly dynamic and often challenging environment. With that comes plenty of opportunity for us to collaborate with them on resilient and sustainable solutions, to help them understand and navigate change. That means T+T has to be in a position of continuous development and growth too.

As Sector Director - Water, what are you looking to achieve?

I think my role has two clear ‘halves’. One is outward facing; identifying trends, challenges and opportunities in the market, understanding and anticipating our clients’ needs and helping them think about their responses. The other is inward facing; communicating, integrating and collaborating across sectors and with disciplines to ensure that we’re positioning ourselves as best we can to help our clients.

So, what I’m trying to achieve is to make sure that the water sector grows effectively and sustainably; that in achieving that we are doing work that has value for us, our clients and the communities we work within; that there are opportunities for our amazing, talented people to develop and do work that they enjoy. Through all of that, I’m keen to see that the water sector contributes to - and becomes an increasingly strong and vital part of - T+T’s business and that we maintain and grow our reputation as a “go to” consultancy for advice, support and specialist services in water.

In the Three Waters Reforms context, what are the growth areas for Aotearoa and T+T?

In the short to medium term, three waters reform is going to present a number of challenges for the water sector, some of those are already fairly evident in the discussions and positioning that we see in the media at the minute.  Historic under-investment in our water, wastewater and stormwater infrastructure means that there are real and potentially serious risks to public health and the environment that need to be addressed urgently.  That will require substantial investment, prioritised appropriately and delivered effectively. The proposed move towards fewer, larger specialist water services organisations is one that has been implemented successfully in many other countries. So, one area of growth for us as a country and as a water sector is to come to terms with those facts and  for T+T to support its clients in delivering safe, resilient three waters infrastructure that sustains life in all its forms.

Amongst other things, the reforms should lead to improved approaches to asset management and strategic investment planning. As the sector moves into a regulated environment there will also be increased demand in areas such as water resource assessment and planning, source protection, water quality, regulatory planning, compliance and reporting; programme management and digital solutions – as well as in the more ‘traditional’ water sector areas of modelling, planning, and design.

It’s important to bear in mind that three waters reform is just one of the major changes that will affect our clients over the next few years. RMA reform and updates to freshwater policy will also have major bearings on what happens in the sector. Another welcome change has been the emergence of a strong Iwi/Māori voice in Te Mana o Te Wai, which will ensure the health and well-being of our freshwater is protected and human health needs are provided for.

So, as the reforms unfold, alongside working closely with our clients and partners in the three-waters space, T+T will provide support and advice to territorial authorities with responsibilities for areas of water management and regulation and will also support mana whenua and communities who value those waters.

T+T is very well positioned to help its clients to navigate the path of change – both at local and central Government level. Our experts have consistently led from the front in providing clean, safe water for communities across Aotearoa New Zealand and the Pacific. When the Havelock North campylobacter outbreak struck an estimated 8,000 people became ill, four sadly died and many were left permanently disabled. T+T was there from the outset, right through to giving expert witness testimony at the inquiry that followed.

One thing I’ve learned over that 30-plus years of working in and with organisations as they go through reform is that it is not a process that happens in a short timeframe.  We’re currently very much in a ‘transitional’ stage in Aotearoa New Zealand, which is likely to be followed by a longer ‘transformational’ stage.  That stage might last for 5 – 10 years, or even longer. With that in mind, T+T will work to stay connected to our clients and the market, to anticipate trends and needs, and develop our sector skills and services accordingly. 

Of course, reform and sectoral development isn’t restricted to Aotearoa New Zealand – there are ongoing reforms in Australia, and ongoing development in the Pacific Islands, that need support and specialist advice from companies like T+T. Our collaborative working arrangements and partnerships with other firms will stand T+T’s clients in good stead, not only in New Zealand, but as we work across the Pacific and even further afield.