Australians in regional and remote areas could have better access to recycled water thanks to Griffith University research.
Researchers investigated the common, but little-known, phenomenon of waste ponds – water systems that treat liquid waste by allowing natural processes to stabilise the organic matter inside them.
Used since the early 1900s due to their low cost and minimal technical requirements, waste ponds are a simple process for recycling waste water so it can be reused in industries like agriculture.
Griffith researchers partnered with four other universities and nine industry partners for the ‘pond project’, aiming to discover how Australia’s more than 1,330 waste ponds could work most efficiently.
Co-researcher Professor Hong Zhang, from the School of Engineering and Built Environment, said more than 80 per cent of local governments in Australia use pond treatment in some form, with the recycled water potentially serving as many as seven million Australians.
“Waste ponds will continue to play an important role in wastewater treatment in Australia and throughout the world so optimising their efficiency and effectiveness is vitally important,” she said.
“This research gives an update on the efficiency of treatment methods from the hydrodynamic perspective as well as proposing a strategic evaluation framework.”
The framework led the researchers to create a method for assessing the efficiency of waste treatments, drawing on various factors including the design and operating processes of ponds.
“We hope our findings can direct future pond treatment performance research and provide regulators, decision makers and water managers with the information and tools to best design, operate and manage maturation ponds,” Professor Zhang said.
“Ultimately our findings will help improve water safety and security in remote and regional areas in Australia and optimise the use of recycled water. This will have significant public health, environmental and societal benefits.”
Focusing on low-cost biological wastewater treatment systems in regional Australia, researchers analysed factors including microbiology, ecotoxicology, health risk assessment, engineering and numerical modelling.
Findings from the multimillion-dollar project, conducted across four states and funded by the Queensland Department of Science, Information Technology and Innovation and the Australian Water Recycling Centre of Excellence, have been published in the Journal of Cleaner Production.