Drop by Drop
Water is a key driver for all our activities. It plays a critical role in making our cities and towns more liveable and our industries viable.
Staggeringly, we have access to only 3% of the world’s total water. Of that, 1% falls in the wrong place, 1% falls at the wrong time and only the remaining 1% is accessible to the population of the planet. This water equation poses enormous problems for governments, policy makers and water researchers, but it is not the only challenge:
- Water quality and toxins enter our water sources, posing risks to health and sanitation.
- Access and cost associated with transporting clean, potable (drinkable) water water from one place to another.
- Growing pressure on supply as the global population increases.
- An ageing infrastructure of pipes in Australia.
35% of the population of the planet does not have adequate access to sanitation, and water resources.
90% of our water use is on food production and yet we waste 50% of the food we produce globally.”
- Water literacy is very low in urban settings. A study showed that 13% of Western Australians don’t know where their water supply comes from and where it goes after they use it.
- As cities grow, the divide between rich and poor is greater. In the developing world, this social injustice is most apparent, with community members travelling an average of 8km every day for water.
Goals of the research:
- Finding local solutions to meet local needs to enable liveable cities.
- Understanding what is in the water and being able to measure, treat and clean wastewater for reuse.
- Finding smart solutions to optimise the use of existing infrastructure thereby reducing costs.
- Understanding urban heat with some suburbs experiencing warmer temperatures as a result of concrete, stone and road surfaces absorbing energy from the sun.
- To find innovations for the future that will allow connectivity of utility services.
Professor Anas Ghadouani has worked in water research for over 30 years and is the Regional Executive Director of the Cooperative Research Centre for Water Sensitive Cities (CRCWSC) based at UWA. By using a multidisciplinary approach, he and his team, including his students have been dedicated to helping communities close the loop on the water cycle at a local level.
The essence of building a community is around safe and proper management of water.
It’s about a balancing act between too much water, too little water
and how to deliver it safely and cost effectively.
Local solutions for local issues
Geraldton in Western Australia faces saltwater intrusion and little availability of surface water. Through the CRCWSC, Professor Ghadouani and the group have worked on a new Water Planning and Management Strategy to connect services and guard water resources over the next 20 – 30 years, and improve liveability. The urban re-design of the City of Greater Geraldton and improvements in green infrastructure have opened the previously unused landscape into liveable spaces and areas with improved water supply.
Measuring water quality
Playing a fundamental role in analysing and chemically adjusting water, research using the latest technology to monitor water supplies informs local authorities of the presence of elements including illicit drugs, prescription pharmaceuticals, lead levels, and algae blooms.
As the world population increases, maintaining robust, cost-effective and environmentally safe wastewater treatment systems is of vital importance. Professor Ghadouani and his team are undertaking research that will enhance the ability to design, operate and manage extensive wastewater infrastructure for safer and more sustainable water resources in Australia and globally. This research is currently being funded as an ARC Linkage project in partnership with the Water Corporation of WA.
Finding smart solutions to reduce costs
Australian water utility companies approached the group to find safer, more accurate ways of measuring toxic sludge accumulation in water stabilisation ponds (WSPs). WSPs are used to treat waste water and must be surveyed periodically. Traditionally, this operation has been undertaken manually with significant health and safety mechanisms in place.
The team took an environmental engineering approach to develop a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) which is fitted with a sonar device improving resolution and accuracy of sludge measurements, as well as reduced safety and labour requirements. Coupled with dedicated analytics software, the ROVs calculate sludge accumulation rates in less time at a lower cost when compared to traditional methods.
The ROV won the Water Corporation Chairman’s Innovation Award and the Zero Harm Safety Award in 2013. The technology is now in operation in a number of water utility organisations in Australia including; Western Australia (2012/ 2013), Victoria (2017) and Tasmania (2015). The research was well received at conferences including in Singapore, Colombia (2013) and at the European Geoscience Union (2014).
This technology is not limited to wastewater management and could have wider application in the monitoring of other small to medium water bodies, including; reservoirs, channels, recreational water bodies, river beds, mine tailings dams and commercial ports.
Urban heat and green Infrastructure
Australia is known world-wide as a dry country that has suffered with drought and water supply. As such, countries world-wide look to Australia to see what can be learnt from our water management solutions.
The issue of urban heat is considered one of the biggest problems of modern times, affecting health and mortality rates. It occurs when certain areas are significantly warmer than surrounding areas. On extreme heat days, additional pressures are placed on emergency services in responding to heat related emergencies. By looking at the heat vulnerability of areas in and around Perth, Professor Ghadouani and his team can provide better recommendations to government on services that need improvement. CRCWSC research shows there is strong evidence that changing community attitudes towards water use, retro-fitting existing infrastructure in affected cities to include green, leafy parks, tree-lined streets or urban waterways could drop the local temperatures by several degrees.
Together with the CRCWSC, research is informing the $1.3 billion investment in the Bentley Regeneration Project in the City of Canning. This infill development project will provide an opportunity to create 1500 new dwellings as part of a water sensitive urban design.
Future proofing our cities
Water influences how we build houses, and how governments mitigate climate change in our growing cities. CRCWSC works with more than 85 partners, mostly government agencies, to inform the development of policies around water security and water conservation that will guide innovation for the cities of the future.
When a natural disaster strikes, water is often the first infrastructure affected. The group advises on the development of flood mitigation strategies and how to flood proof and climate proof our cities. Working with agencies at a local level, Professor Ghadouani is able to provide relevant advice which is time critical.
The future is about building communities and cities that are connected from the social, economic, and environmental stand points to achieve a much smarter way of running cities.
It is predicted that by 2050, Australia’s population could double and about 80 per cent of the world’s people will be living in cities. This growth will require significant investment in the infrastructure that supports these cities as well as policies that meet changing needs. The research undertaken by Professor Ghadouani and his team looks at transition strategies for existing cities to connect services and make them more liveable as well as informing decision makers to better plan new cities.
The research undertaken by Professor Ghadouani and his team impacts the way in which waste water treatment and desalination facilities are designed. Solutions that enable retrofitting existing waste water treatment plants provide an economic benefit to local councils that could not otherwise meet the cost of new infrastructure.
Professor Ghadouani and his students are passionate about finding solutions to meet local needs. The success of collaborative, multidisciplinary CRCWSC projects such as the Bentley Regeneration Project and in particular the Geraldton Water Planning and Management Strategy will serve as models of how regional centres can evolve to become water sensitive cities.
Water research can be driven by local or business needs. Technologies such as the ROV saves industry time and money as well as ensuring safer, faster, more accurate collection of data and positively influences the multi-million-dollar industry of sludge management.
Do what you can, with passion and with others.
It is the power of individuals working together that will change the world.
The team have also produced the next generation of water researchers; passionate in pursuing this research throughout their career. The impact of such local solutions provides the community with better health outcomes and a liveable urban space.