Project Number # 2043
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Due to significant recent investment in water security infrastructure, water utilities around the country are operating in a capital constrained environment needing to do more with less and ensure prudent and efficient investment to constrain price increases to customers. At the same time environmental regulators are under pressure to protect the environment with less resources while also ensuring they do not place unreasonable burdens on industry that could unnecessarily stifle economic growth or raise the cost of essential services. It is in the interest of both parties therefore that a defensible risk-based approach to management and regulation of wastewater discharges be developed so that limited available resources can be focused on the wastewater discharges with the greatest risk of causing environmental harm. In the absence of a framework that can be applied to transparently assess the risks from one wastewater discharge relative to another, it is difficult to ascribe priority for attention and ultimately investment. Regulators can be left to assess wastewater discharges in isolation and often against generic guidelines, and utilities potentially required to invest solely on the basis of guideline exceedance rather than elevated risk or evidence of environmental impact.
This project seeks to address this situation by developing an assessment framework that draws on elements of risk-based approaches in use by some Australian and overseas environmental regulators and prior research by the US Water Environment Research Foundation (WERF). As part of the framework, risk characterisation and assessment techniques best suited for application by utilities will be identified based on the pollutants of concern in the wastewater eg toxicants, nutrients, suspended solids, pathogens.