Urban water corporations across Victoria are investigating desalination technologies to meet demand for water under drought conditions. For inland water corporations the management of the brine stream resulting from desalination is a significant challenge.
Supported by a Smart Water Fund Grant, URS Australia worked with Central Highlands Water, Wannon Water and GWMWater to quantify the quality and quantity of brine streams the water corporations will need to manage in the future as they use desalination to treat saline water from groundwater sources.
The project aimed to identify innovative international solutions for the management of brine steams and evaluate these solutions using triple bottom line (TBL) criterion to compare projects and identify management techniques suitable for Victoria. In this way, the project aimed to guide the direction of future water corporation research and development into brine streams.
A desktop review identified potential brine steams from each of the three water corporations, and results of a workshop with the water corporations to identify common issues were captured in an issues paper. Current brine stream management practices in Australia and around the world and associated TBL economic, social and environmental issues were identified through a literature review. Interviews with universities and Cooperative Research Centres identified current and future research and development activities for brine stream management.
These first stages of the project focused on identifying technologies that use brine streams as a product (as opposed to the current focus on disposal), and analysis of suitability for Victoria, as well as a socio-economic evaluation of not providing this source of water to the community.
In May 2009 URS held an industry forum with representatives from each of the three water corporations, staff from EPA Victoria, South East Water and CSIRO. URS presented the key findings potential opportunities brine stream management including disposal and reuse options, and participants discussed the future policy direction of the EPA and other regulators regarding approvals and licensing of brine disposal options. Disposal and reuse options such as deep-well injection, evaporation ponds and aquaculture were also raised.
Forum participants agreed on the importance of planning, as climate change has the potential to make ‘emergency’ situations regarding water scarcity the norm, increasing the use of groundwater to augment water supplies.
The forum was an effective method for promoting stakeholder discussion of potential issues around the management of brine streams. As regulatory processes involved in managing this process are still being developed and evolving, further discussions are required between Victorian Water Corporations and governing bodies such as EPA, Catchments Management Authorities and the Department of Sustainability and Environment to determine roles, responsibilities and map the way forward for this important issue into the future.
The Benefits and future
Benefits from the project include:
- Learnings for the three water corporations around the TBL issues and risks associated with using groundwater to supplement existing water supplies and to meet water demand projections for the next 50 years.
- Learnings for water corporations about existing and potential options for managing brine wastewater streams that are suitable for their geographical setting.
- SWF and other locations in Victoria/Australia will have the benefit of reviewing the results presented in the final report for assessing the conditions in their geographical setting and water supply demands.
“We have recommended that the next stage in the investigation of brine disposal should be the selection of a specific site, and then the development and application of triple bottom line criteria,” says Bryan Chadwick, a URS hydrogeologist and the project’s director.
“We are currently investigating funding options for this next step, which will provide valuable information on the relative costs and benefits of each disposal option.”