Leading the way in research and development in wastewater industry

Date published: 27 August 2021

Townsville City Council is playing a crucial role in research and development for the wastewater industry and guarding against the potential impacts of contaminants of emerging concern on the Great Barrier Reef.

As a Reef Guardian Council, Council has been funding and taking part in several PhD studies in collaboration with James Cook University, other councils, and leading wastewater industry bodies.

Townsville Mayor Jenny Hill said Council is funding and supporting these research projects to ensure that the organisation is ahead of the game when it comes to licence conditions and reporting on the quality of wastewater coming from the Cleveland Bay sewage treatment plant.

“In Townsville, we have a really important role to play, as the largest wastewater point source discharge in the reef region, in protecting the health of the Great Barrier Reef, which is why we’re investing in research projects that have a focus on wastewater and emerging contaminants of concern,” Cr Hill said.

“A collaborative wastewater industry and academic approach has been the best way to undertake this work because of the challenging and diverse nature of the research and the desire to have this new knowledge in published and peer reviewed literature publications.

“This is about taking a proactive approach in filling knowledge gaps about what emerging contaminants of concern make it into our wastewater and how effectively they are removed at the sewage treatment plant.

“This gives us a better understanding around how we can continue to meet our licence conditions for the operation of the plant and allows us to meet the actions set out in the Reef 2050 Long-Term Sustainability Plan.

“It also means that when the new guidelines and recommendations are implemented as part of this plan, Council will be ahead of the curve and able to adapt quickly and efficiently.”

The current Council-sponsored research projects include the assessment of the ecological risk of emerging contaminants of concern released from the Cleveland Bay sewage treatment plant and the effects of antibiotic resistance genes from the wastewater treatment plant on the green sea turtle populations in Cleveland Bay.

There is also a collaborative NQ Conservation Council research project looking at the destruction of emerging contaminants of concern in our biosolids at a regional level.

Council has also begun work on a water quality offset scheme to minimise nutrient run-off in stormwater that may affect our local waterways and ultimately, the Great Barrier Reef.

Council Process Engineer Anna Whelan said these projects define Council’s ecological impact footprint from the point of discharge into Cleveland Bay.

“These projects are crucial for Council to understand the impact the discharge from the treatment plant in Cleveland Bay has by looking at the variability of contaminants discharged into our sewer network from domestic, commercial and industrial sources,” Ms Whelan said.

“Environmental regulation is rapidly changing in the Reef Region, and as a major water authority in Queensland it is essential that we understand the impact of our sewer catchments and treatment technology on our environment and contribute meaningfully to the industry as it develops.”