UNSW water project wins international award

18 Sep 2014

An innovative UNSW project aimed at exploring public responses to drinking recycled water has won the 2014 WateReuse International Award in Dallas, Texas.

To-date, the proposed use of recycled wastewater for drinking has caused significant public concern and controversy and is likely to remain a contentious issue in the coming years.

Acknowledging that people have concerns about drinking recycled water, the National Demonstration, Education & Engagement Program (NDEEP) was developed to research potable reuse schemes and design communication strategies to be used by the water industry.

Water treatment engineers, water quality scientists, social scientists, media experts and communication specialists collaborated on the project to develop new insights and innovative materials to communicate issues relating to drinking recycled water.

Led by Professor Greg Leslie from the School of Chemical Engineering and Dr Matthew Kearnes from the Environmental Humanities program in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, the project involved an innovative multidisciplinary collaboration. Dr James Wood and Dr Laura Onyango from the School of Public Health and Community Medicine and Professor Judy Motion from UNSW Arts and Social Sciences also took part in the project.

“Australia is regarded as one of the driest continents in the world, but to date we’ve found it difficult to implement new ways of sourcing water for our major cities,” said Dr Kearnes.

“The controversies surrounding desalination and water recycling schemes are an indication that we need to find new ways of engaging the public.”

The NDEEP project found while water recycling is generally perceived positively; challenges remain in managing public responses to drinking treated waste-water in Australia.

Professor Judy Motion, a leading communication scholar said: “Australians are very concerned that access to water supplies must be equitable and that everyone should have equal access to clean, safe drinking water. It is also notable that environmental concerns play a major part in considerations about future water sources.“

The project also examined seven international potable reuse schemes, assessed the resilience and reliability of water treatment technologies and identified risk factors that should be prevented in the provision of safe drinking supplies.

Professor Leslie said an important aspect of the project was an assessment of the resilience of the treatment process used in potable reuse schemes.

“Results indicate the most common failures in the treatment process result in a loss of production capacity rather than the delivery of water that does not meet quality standards,” he said.

NDEEP is funded by the Australia Water Recycling Centre of Excellence and involves a consortium more than 20 organisations from Australia and overseas, including water utilities, universities and private companies

The Centre is now pursuing partnerships with a variety of organisations in Australia, the United States, Europe, Asia and Africa, to use and trial a suite of technical products, engagement strategies and education materials.

For media enquiries please contact Fran Strachan, UNSW Media Office, 9385 8732, 0429 416 070