Meet Melbourne’s water guru 

1 May 2023

Ever wondered how we keep Melbourne’s parks and gardens luscious and green for lunchtime strolls and weekend picnics? Meet Mohammad Kharouf, our city’s Senior Water Management Officer. 

When Mohammad started as the City of Melbourne’s water management expert, he started without a blueprint. 

“No one else had ever held a job like this in the municipality,” Mohammad said.

“I still remember the excitement when the interview panel said it would be up to me to shape the role.” 

Australia had just lived through the Millenium Drought, and Mohammad’s job was to help Melbourne improve its water management and prepare for future extreme weather events. 

At that time, we’d installed a new central irrigation control system, but its programming needed some finessing.  

“No one knew me, so it took some convincing to let them hand over the reins to change the programming,” Mohammad said. 

With so many of Melbourne’s gardens heritage-listed, Mohammad was given access to control irrigation at Kings Domain – which has fewer water-sensitive plants – as a pilot. 

“Before coming to Melbourne I’d been managing water and irrigation in Riyadh – the capital and largest city of Saudi Arabia – so I knew I was up to the challenge. But everyone was understandably a little wary – our city’s water is such a precious commodity.” 

Fast forward three months, and Mohammad had halved water use in Kings Domain through careful and expert water management, and our plants were flourishing. 

“I’ve been here ever since. It will be 10 years in October.” 

Person looks at sprinkler in the middle of a garden
Mohammad spots part of our sprinkler systems at Flagstaff Gardens

Mohammad has spent that time building a more refined central irrigation and water management system, and expanding its reach into every City of Melbourne neighbourhood. 

Today, Melbourne boasts world-leading water management infrastructure that helps us understand how much water to apply and when. 

“Our central system takes into account rainfall in the area and monitors moisture through soil probes hidden throughout our parks and garden beds. 

“We also have access to satellite imagery that provides important information on the health of Melbourne’s precious plants.”

But for Mohammad, nothing beats a site visit. 

“The virtual data we can collect is second-to-none, but one of my favourite parts of this job is going out and seeing the plants and gardens thriving in real-time.” 

Person holds up drain gate to camera
Mohammad points out part of our city’s hidden irrigation system 

Mohammad and our Parks and City Greening team are the careful caretakers of 230 hectares of irrigated space across the city.  

“We really care about Melbourne’s water, and use every drop sustainably to keep our city green for current and future residents, workers, students and visitors. 

“I used to do a lot of consultancy work – providing advice and guidance for others to implement,” Mohammad said.  

“I never take for granted the legacy I’ve been able to build here over the past decade.  

“A lot of what I do is balancing water use behind-the-scenes – monitoring rain and soil sensors, adjusting for seasonal differences and carefully finessing the central control system.  

“But the plants don’t lie. If they’re healthy, then all that hidden work is paying off.” 

Mohammad works closely with the Climate Change and City Resilience team to use harvested storm water to irrigate our big green city, and enhance drought resistance. 

We’re now home to six stormwater harvesting systems, that can hold 30 million litres of captured rainwater. Each year we harvest up to 200 million litres of rainwater for irrigation use. 

“Hopefully Melbourne will never again experience a drought event like the one that created my role all those years ago. 

“But we are now in a better position to adapt and prepare for extreme climate conditions, and we are proud to keep building this capacity.” 

Check out Mohammad’s work the next time you’re enjoying our city’s greenery, and discover more about our big green city.

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