A WaterRA BIG Team congratulations to Mariah Sampson who has been presented with this year’s Nancy Millis Memorial Award.

Deakin University PhD candidate, Mariah Sampson, has been awarded Water Research Australia’s 2022 Nancy Millis Memorial Award.

The award, presented annually, is for a student who has demonstrated initiative, has exceptional qualities and a passion for research. It honours Nancy Millis who was a microbiologist of international repute who made enormous contributions in agriculture, environmental protection, medicine, and engineering.

Mariah is currently helping Victoria’s Barwon Water with an assessment of the effectiveness of planned restoration works in the East Barwon River, which can be used to guide future works and negotiations with new landowners if similar projects arise.

The Barwon River is the major source of drinking water for the city of Geelong. The upper reach of the (East) Barwon River currently faces several challenges that pose downstream risks to both water quality and water security.

Barwon Water has established a project that will see crown frontage along the 3km stretch of the East Barwon Branch transferred to a Barwon Water-led committee of management. Under the guidance of the committee, Barwon Water will undertake Willow removal, streambed stabilisation, revegetation and stock exclusion—with the aim of improving the water quality and overall waterway health.

Mariah’s research will assess the extent to which the East-Barwon River Restoration project methodology contributes to improving key river health indicators and assess changes in water quality and ecological parameters associated with a restored riparian buffer zone.

“I am passionate about the balance human and environmental water needs,” Mariah said. “Through my PhD I am able to explore the complex problem of willow removal and riparian restoration within a water supply catchment and how riparian restoration might be optimised as a solution to meet needs of diverse stakeholders and to promote aquatic ecology.”

Mariah says receiving the Nancy Millis Memorial Award is a huge honour and she hopes to do it justice.

“I couldn’t imagine doing a PhD without the support of WaterRA,” she added. “My Deakin University supervisors are fantastic as well as the team from Barwon Water – they are so helpful, we catch up often and they give me access to key information, as well as introduce me to relevant stakeholders.

“There’s been a lot of support from everyone and it’s very easy to stay motivated because I know where the research fits into industry and why it’s useful.”

Mariah’s PhD supervisor, Prof Rebecca Lester from Deakin University, says Mariah is a worthy recipient of the award.

“She is a dedicated and talented student who has developed a comprehensive project to investigate the effect of restoration on temperate streams,” Rebecca said. “Her work will contribute to the scientific literature but also directly inform future restoration efforts.

“The Nancy Mills Award presents a wonderful opportunity for early career scientists like Mariah to develop complementary skills and develop networks with other industry professionals.”

Dr William Buchanan, Chief Scientist at Barwon Water, said he is thrilled to celebrate Mariah being awarded the prestigious Nancy Millis Memorial Award for 2022.

“Nancy Millis was a trailblazer in opening-up opportunities for female professionals in STEM,” he said. “Mariah’s applied research is representative of Nancy’s legacy; helping as it does to deepen and extend our knowledge on waterway health through measuring physio-chemical properties, water quality and biological collections before and after river restoration.

“Barwon Water’s sponsorship of Mariah’s PhD is in recognition of the significance her research holds for the water industry.”

The late Emeritus Professor Nancy Millis AC MBE was appointed Chair of the Cooperative Research Centre for Water Quality and Treatment (CRCWQT) from 1995 until 2008 and subsequently maintained her involvement through the Education Program and on the Scientific Advisory Committee following the inception of Water Research Australia.

To find out more about the late Professor Nancy Millis, her extraordinary life, and successful career as a leading female researcher click here.


Image: Mariah Sampson.