Young scientist shortlisted for 2024 NSW Water Awards

27 FEBRUARY 2024

Why does your drinking water sometimes taste or smell a bit unusual but at other times smells fine?

Sometimes it could be what’s called ‘biogenic’ tastes and odours caused by algae and other microorganisms. The water is treated and safe to drink, but an usual taste or odour remains.

Water utilities around the world are trying to work out how to deal with these biogenic tastes and odours as they become more common due to the combined effects of climate change and more nutrients accumulating in reservoirs.

In Sydney it’s even trickier to identify the cause as water treated at Prospect comes from many sources – not just Warragamba Dam but the Upper Nepean dams of Cataract, Cordeaux, Avon and Nepean, as well as Prospect Reservoir itself.

To address this gap, WaterNSW, which manages Warragamba Dam and multiple reservoirs supplying Sydney’s drinking water, developed a research proposal and enlisted UNSW to collaborate on this research. UNSW PhD student Jin Zhu led this study, working closely with WaterNSW scientists and Sydney Water. And now her work has been shortlisted for a prestigious 2024 NSW Water Award.

“We are delighted some of our many important research projects have been recognised in this way,” WaterNSW Executive Manager, Strategy & Performance, Fiona Smith, said.

“Our joint research has been shortlisted in two categories – the R&D Excellence Award, and the Student Water Prize – recognising outstanding achievements of innovation in the water sector.”

Jin Zhu has been working with Dr Lisa Hamilton, WaterNSW Strategic Research and Innovation Manager, and Kaye Power, Sydney Water Principal Public Health Advisor, researching taste and odour causes in the Prospect Reservoir supply system.

Prospect raw water supply has higher complexity and uncertainty due to the mixing of odorants and odour-producing algae from many reservoirs.

There are currently limited tools to identify, track and manage odour issues from source water, through treatment processes and to consumers.

The project took a multidisciplinary approach integrating biochemistry, water treatment technologies and statistical analysis.

The research outcomes will help water utilities around Australia to develop improved ways to identify odorants, define thresholds for early detection of odour development, and implement proactive odour management in drinking water supplies.

“WaterNSW undertakes research on the health of the Greater Sydney drinking water catchment, to help us manage and protect water quality for the 5 million people of Greater Sydney,” Fiona said.

“Our scientific research priorities focus on understanding how catchment health and water quality work together to ensure a safe drinking water supply.

“Integrated water management is our other main research priority – understanding how environmental and supply change impacts water quality and quantity, and how we can improve water quantity without compromising water quality.”

Jin Zhu is a final-year PhD student in the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering at UNSW supervised by Dr Bojan Tamburic. She is a finalist for the Student Water Prize for a joint research project with WaterNSW and Sydney Water – Biogenic Taste and Odour in Drinking Water.

Winners of the Australian Water Association NSW Water Awards will be announced on 1 March in Sydney at the NSW Heads of Water Forum, Gala Dinner and Awards.

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