Neil Palmer recognised for his outstanding contribution to the Australian water industry

6 July 2018

Congratulations to our very own Neil Palmer, who received the Leadership Award at The Water Industry Alliance’s 2018 Smart Water Awards. The Leadership Award is presented to a person deemed to have made a major contribution to the Australian water sector either through their leadership, actions or implementation of significant water-related programs that have benefited the industry, community and environment.

With degrees in civil and public health engineering, Neil Palmer’s career spans 42 years in the Australian water industry, including 20 years in government, 16 years in the private sector and six years in research leadership. His experience as a professional engineer from 1975 to 2016 included the South Australian Engineering and Water Supply Department (now SA Water), the Fiji Public Works Department, the South Australian EPA, United Utilities Australia, Osmoflo and five years as CEO of the National Centre of Excellence in Desalination Australia.

In January 2015, Neil joined Tonkin Consulting in South Australia as Principal Water Engineer. In 2017, he was appointed Australia Editor for Global Water Intelligence magazine. Neil is an Honorary Life Member of the Australian Water Association, a member of the Institution of Engineers, Australia and a former Director of the International Desalination Association. He was awarded the SA Premier’s Water Medal in 2006 in recognition of his service to the SA Water industry, and was recognised in January 2015 and again in 2017 by Water and Wastewater International Magazine as one of the world’s top 25 influential water leaders.

Neil’s specialisation in desalination means he is passionate about managing existing sources and creating new sources of fresh water with innovative but robust technology ranging from simple solutions to complex municipal, industrial and agricultural systems.

Neil was instrumental in developing the idea and the team to deliver the Northern Adelaide Irrigation Scheme feasibility study.  The project concept involved the creation of an export-focussed agricultural industry in the northern Adelaide Plains that would drive economic development and create jobs through the use of high-value recycled water.  SA Water subsequently pursued the water infrastructure part of the project, whilst Tonkin Consulting and other partners continue to pursue the creation of a high technology greenhouse precinct. Neil remains a passionate advocate for this project and the concept of creating a new high productivity horticultural industry in South Australia using recycled wastewater. 

He also has a keen interest in harnessing renewable energy for water supplies and a strong interest in water policy. Neil is well known in the national and international water industry as an acknowledged and respected source of vision and wisdom.  He is regularly invited to present at desalination and water conferences around the world. 

In his spare time, Neil volunteers at the Pichi Richi Railway in the Flinders Ranges.  He frequently leads teams of volunteers from Tonkin Consulting on restoration missions that can involve anything from replacing sections of railway to rebuilding coal storage bunkers.  In his work for the railway, Neil applies fundamental engineering principles in a hands-on capacity and inspires our younger generation of engineers to “give back”.  This is all undertaken with his indefatigable enthusiasm and civility, demonstrating that difficult tasks can be successfully completed with a spirit of positive teamwork, and perhaps just a little red wine!

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