Select Society of Sanitary Sludge Shovelers

If you work in the water, stormwater and wastewater industry and are passionate about it, you might be dreaming of the day when you are shoulder tapped to become an exclusive member of the New Zealand chapter of the Select Society of Sanitary Sludge Shovelers, or 5S, and wear the identifying gold shovel lapel badge. Or perhaps not. Either way, this Society has a fascinating history, worth recording here for our Three Waters sector.

This is a brief history and an overview of the 5S “Select Society of Sanitary Sludge Shovelers” Aotearoa, NZ Chapter.

The 5S societies and chapters around the world are part of the USA-based Water Environment Federation (WEF) of which Water New Zealand is a member association. There are chapters in the USA, Canada, UK, Netherlands, and of course here in Aotearoa. Members identify by wearing a gold shovel lapel badge. The background to the Shovel relates to obtaining the highest ridge of the sludge bed, in terms of the honour bestowed on members.

Established in the USA in 1940, 5S recognises individuals who have contributed their considerable talents and efforts to the success and development of their national water and wastewater organisations and to the water sector at large. In the NZ chapter, the criteria is “going beyond the call of duty” in Water New Zealand and the wider Three Waters sector.

Those invited by the NZ chapter to become members cover a wide range of disciplines in the Three Waters sector and include academics, engineers, scientists, managers, operators and administrators. On initiation a new member is presented with a Gold Shovel and certificate signed by fellow members being pH1 – pH14. There are currently 58 living members in 5S NZ and we acknowledge our five deceased members.

The NZ chapter was inaugurated on 10 May 1993 (photo right) and those inducted were Michael (Mike) Petricevitch, Jim Bradley, Ross Sharp, Arthur Haughey, Graeme Leggat, David Ogilvie, John Fitzmaurice, Jeff Booth and Brian Carlisle. Geoffrey Scott from the Ontario 5S chapter presented the gold shovels and certificates.

Yes, I can hear the moaning. "Old Boys Club" you groan, and roll your eyes. We have come a long way since 1993 and currently have eight female members, many of whom are former presidents of Water New Zealand, the first being Jenny Boshier. The references to sludge and pH 1 – 14 are part of the history and a light-hearted aspect of 5S societies and chapters. The pH7 individual—also called the “Influent Integrator” in some 5S societies and chapters—is in effect the Chair and as such must remain “neutral at all times”.

On inception of the NZ 5S Jim Bradley assumed the pH7 role and with member support grew it until handing over to current pH7, Garry Macdonald, in 2019. It is most fitting that Garry is now pH7, as his elevation to this position coincided with him being made a Fellow of WEF, a significant honour. Garry was the first Kiwi, in fact the first person outside the whole American continent, to attain this distinction, recognising his many years of dedicated involvement representing Water New Zealand on the WEF Board of Trustees and several of its Committees.

The pH7 is supported by two members, namely a pH6 and pH8. The current pH6 and pH8 are Jan Gregor and Jim Bradley respectively.

The induction of new members takes place during the Water New Zealand Conference & Expo and is based on nominations received from existing members. One does not “apply” to join the 5S Chapter and that is the beauty of the system. Being inducted is based on worthy recognition by one’s peers of your contribution to and status within the NZ water sector.

On Water New Zealand's 50th Anniversary in 2008 gold shovels were awarded to some early Water New Zealand leaders who had gone well beyond the call of duty in the years before the NZ 5S chapter was established. It was with great pleasure for NZ 5S to welcome as members Professor Richard Earl and Dr Michael Taylor, both past Water New Zealand presidents; Jim Hodges, Water New Zealand’s first bulletin editor; and Keith Davis, Water New Zealand’s first Secretary.

In 2016 members of the NZ 5S decided to set up a Young Water Professionals Conference Attendance Award, made possible by members' personal donations. This follows the model in many of the USA member association 5S chapters where Gold Shovelers contribute into a variety of scholarship pools for tertiary students or young professionals entering the water sector. Water New Zealand contributes by providing a complimentary conference registration fee and administers the fund.

The objective of the award is to provide the opportunity for young water professionals to be better informed, motivated and networked to advance their career in the water industry, by attending either the Water New Zealand Conference & Expo or the Water New Zealand Stormwater Conference. There are three or four awards per year, depending on members' funds and applicants' calibre.

The New Zealand 5S chapter is a unique group of individuals who respect the recognition they've been given and proudly wear their gold shovels at Water New Zealand conferences and related events. Their focus remains our Water New Zealand organisation and the wider Three Waters sector by growing young professionals, and furthering science, engineering, operating and management practices in a meaningful and sustainable manner.

The NZ 5S chapter gratefully acknowledges the Water New Zealand Board and staff in supporting its activities.

Current NZ 5S contacts

Garry Macdonald –