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Risk-based approach to the management of on-site wastewater treatment facilities

Carroll, Steven, Goonetilleke, Ashantha, Hargreaves, Megan, & Dawes, Les A. (2005) Risk-based approach to the management of on-site wastewater treatment facilities.

Abstract

Background On-site wastewater treatment system (OWTS) siting, design and management has traditionally been based on site specific conditions with little regard to the surrounding environment or the cumulative effect of other systems in the environment. The general approach has been to apply the same framework of standards and regulations to all sites equally, regardless of the sensitivity, or lack thereof, to the receiving environment. Consequently, this has led to the continuing poor performance and failure of on-site systems, resulting in environmental and public health consequences. As a result, there is increasing realisation that more scientifically robust evaluations in regard to site assessment and the underlying ground conditions are needed. Risk-based approaches to on-site system siting, design and management are considered the most appropriate means of improvement to the current standards and codes for on-site wastewater treatment systems.

The Project Research in relation to this project was undertaken within the Gold Coast City Council region, the major focus being the semi-urban, rural residential and hinterland areas of the city that are not serviced by centralised treatment systems. The Gold Coast has over 15,000 on-site systems in use, with approximately 66% being common septic tank-subsurface dispersal systems. A recent study evaluating the performance of these systems within the Gold Coast area showed approximately 90% were not meeting the specified guidelines for effluent treatment and dispersal.

The main focus of this research was to incorporate strong scientific knowledge into an integrated risk assessment process to allow suitable management practices to be set in place to mitigate the inherent risks. To achieve this, research was undertaken focusing on three main aspects involved with the performance and management of OWTS. Firstly, an investigation into the suitability of soil for providing appropriate effluent renovation was conducted. This involved detailed soil investigations, laboratory analysis and the use of multivariate statistical methods for analysing soil information. The outcomes of these investigations were developed into a framework for assessing soil suitability for effluent renovation. This formed the basis for the assessment of OWTS siting and design risks employed in the developed risk framework. Secondly, an assessment of the environmental and public health risks was performed specifically related the release of contaminants from OWTS. This involved detailed groundwater and surface water sampling and analysis to assess the current and potential risks of contamination throughout the Gold Coast region. Additionally, the assessment of public health risk incorporated the use of bacterial source tracking methods to identify the different sources of fecal contamination within monitored regions. Antibiotic resistance pattern analysis was utilised to determine the extent of human faecal contamination, with the outcomes utilised for providing a more indicative public health assessment. Finally, the outcomes of both the soil suitability assessment and ground and surface water monitoring was utilised for the development of the integrated risk framework.

The research outcomes achieved through this project enabled the primary research aims and objects to be accomplished. This in turn would enable Gold Coast City Council to provide more appropriate assessment and management guidelines based on robust scientific knowledge which will ultimately ensure that the potential environmental and public health impacts resulting from on-site wastewater treatment is minimised. As part of the implementation of suitable management strategies, a critical point monitoring program (CPM) was formulated. This entailed the identification of the key critical parameters that contribute to the characterised risks at monitored locations within the study area. The CPM will allow more direct procedures to be implemented, targeting the specific hazards at sensitive areas throughout Gold Coast region.

Impact and interest:

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ID Code: 54196
Item Type: Report
Keywords: on-site wastewater treatment, risk management, risk assessment, multivariate analysis, water contamination
Subjects: Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification > ENGINEERING (090000) > ENVIRONMENTAL ENGINEERING (090700) > Environmental Engineering Design (090701)
Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification > ENGINEERING (090000) > ENVIRONMENTAL ENGINEERING (090700) > Environmental Engineering Modelling (090702)
Divisions: Past > QUT Faculties & Divisions > Faculty of Built Environment and Engineering
Past > QUT Faculties & Divisions > Faculty of Science and Technology
Past > Schools > School of Life Sciences
Past > Schools > School of Urban Development
Copyright Owner: Copyright 2005 The Authors
Deposited On: 17 Oct 2012 10:21
Last Modified: 17 Oct 2012 22:51

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