This national project addressed knowledge gaps in the use of stormwater harvesting and managed aquifer recharge to produce clean water for all types of uses.

The challenge

Stormwater is an untapped water resource

Australia's growing and increasingly urbanised population and our changing climate are putting increased pressure on urban water security.

Testing managed aquifer recharge

Urban stormwater is a relatively untapped resource that could help us meet future water supply demands. Harvesting stormwater could also reduce impacts on the marine environment into which it is currently discharged.

However, after capturing stormwater, we need somewhere to store it, which may be difficult above ground in urban areas. If natural aquifers are present beneath the city these may be very convenient for storage as they also additionally treat the stormwater prior to reuse.

Our response

Managed aquifer recharge and stormwater harvesting

Managed aquifer recharge is the purposeful recharge of water to aquifers for subsequent recovery or environmental benefit. This method of harvesting and storing stormwater can help diversify urban supplies for increased flexibility and security in the face of Australia's variable climatic conditions and growing population.

The Managed Aquifer Recharge and Urban Stormwater Use Options project is a partnership between CSIRO, government and industry that ran from 2010 to 2014. We assessed the public safety, community engagement and acceptance, economic, environmental, infrastructure and aesthetic aspects of managed aquifer recharge. This work provided water managers and community with the information they needed to make decisions on harvesting and storing stormwater for future use.

Through this partnership, we were able to:

  • deliver accurate information by which to assess public safety, the implications for existing infrastructure, and the economic viability of a range of stormwater use options
  • using a catchment-based approach, analysed water quality risks and potential hazardous events identified by scientists, water managers and the general community
  • develop water safety plans for managing risks to human health, the environment and water supply infrastructure
  • engage the community about potential uses of harvested stormwater.

The results

The future of stormwater

Our research focused on quantitative risk assessment and management to ensure the safety of stormwater for each type of use.

Outcomes include:

  • Catchment water quality hazard assessment
  • Risk assessments for stormwater use options and economic analyses
  • Risk management plans, and
  • Research on social factors relating to stormwater use options including public acceptance.

We found that stormwater can be treated for drinking water, as well as open space and industrial use. This study shows that the costs of augmenting existing drinking water supplies with stormwater are similar to treatments costs for water sourced from reservoirs in open catchments. Aquifer storage increases the volume of storage available and reduces the overall per unit cost of supply due to the potential of aquifer storage for water treatment.

Stormwater is potentially a supplementary source of urban water – policies are necessary to align commercial opportunities with the best and most efficient use of available water resources.

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