Reef catchment councils are already actively seeking innovations, tapping into research and industry expertise, and working together to benefit GBR health and share learnings across council boundaries in the management of wastewater. This is in response to aging WTP infrastructure with high operational costs, particularly in terms of energy, combined with the drive to improve water quality entering Reef catchments. This work is currently small scale and limited with funding restricted to councils allocating what they can afford from annual budget and through submissions for funding grants that align to expected outcomes. Below are a selection of these initiatives and their status.
Burdekin Shire Council
Burdekin Shire Council (BSC), in partnership with James Cook University (JCU) and MBD Energy Ltd has been trialling the use of macro algal treatment to remove nitrogen and phosphorus from waste-water streams. The trials have been very successful and promise effective removal of both nutrient pollutants at a capital and carbon cost of perhaps as little as 10% of those associated with current treatment technologies. In the case of the Ayr/Brandon Waste Water Treatment Plant, which might require a capital investment of $30 million dollars to meet the current standard DEHP 5N/2P licences, a solution may be found for under $2 million dollars, including initial operational expenses in fine-tuning the new technology over the first 2 years. BSC has to date been unsuccessful in securing funding to deliver the first full-scale permanent commercial implementation of the technology to provide proof of concept in the real world. When proven successful, the solution could be applied to most of the 129 similarly problematic plants not yet upgraded in the catchment area of the Great Barrier Reef. This represents at once a saving of over 90% (billions of dollars) on current treatment solutions and a chance to make large, measurable gains in reducing the impact of human society on the Reef environment.
Cairns Regional Council
In partnership with James Cook University and Itron Australasia, Cairns Regional Council (CRC) was successful in receiving funding under Round 1 of the Federal Government’s Smart Cities and Suburbs program to deliver a connected network of 30 environmental sensors installed in urban waterways to obtain real-time water quality data on discharges entering the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. The project will deliver functional tools for CRC to make evidence-based decisions using up-to-date environmental data (nutrients, sediments and flow). By establishing baseline indicators CRC will be able to measure the efficiency and effectiveness of the environmental programs as they are delivered.
In the STP space, CRC has been actively investigating potential options for the management of organic waste (including biosolids), partnering with industry to facilitate wastewater recycling and the use of macro algae for STPs.
Townsville City Council/Townsville Water (Townsville)
Townsville has also been trialling the use of smart technology for monitoring water quality and is currently investigating flow monitoring. They are also looking at using this technology to provide sewer and stormwater overflow alerts.
Like BSC, Townsville has undertaken a small-scale trial of macro-algae treatment at their Mt St Johns WWTP and are also in the process of developing a 15ML/day recycled water scheme from Cleveland Bay WWTP.
These initiatives demonstrate leading edge practice and innovative approaches and are being undertaken locally across individual councils. Trialing innovation and then rolling out to a full-scale trial/implementation is costly. If full scale trials prove as successful as research and small trials indicate, wide spread adoption of these new ways of doing things will deliver a range of benefits including cost savings (capital and annual operational costs), lower energy use, improved water quality and the potential for new income streams.