Doing the dirty work for cleaner waterways
Imagine spending your days working with contaminated water. Your job is to test multiple water samples until you work out how the water became polluted. You might come across a failing septic system or some bacterial contamination from cattle. Sound like fun?
Fortunately Associate Professor Hugh Dunstan and his team love the challenge of solving a problem, and the odd patch of septic tank water does not put them off.
Dunstan, from the Faculty of Science and Information Technology, is working with colleagues and nine industry partners to determine how water catchment areas can be affected by human activity or agriculture.
"We are working with various local councils and water corporations from Newcastle to Taree, giving them ways to accurately and efficiently test for bacterial, sewage or faecal contamination in water," Dunstan says.
The four year project is funded by the Australian Research Council and industry partners, and aims to develop and test tools to identify the sources of contamination. The project includes developing strategies for industry to better manage waterways. A major focus is minimising contamination from human sources.
"If sewage gets into the water system there is a potential health risk because the pathogens which can affect our bodies are usually transferred by human faecal contamination. People, agriculture and animals, including beef cattle, horses and birds all contribute to the bacterial load in water."
Safe water is particularly important for farmers, recreational activities including swimming and water skiing, and aquaculture businesses such as the oyster industry, which depend on clean water for their livelihood.
Dunstan and his colleagues have provided their partners with two years of data to identify the likely sources of contamination at various points in time. The data offers an understanding of how a catchment area behaves over the seasons so it can be monitored and authorities proactively manage contamination.