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    INNOVATION IN WATER MANAGEMENT RECOGNISED

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    ERA Nurseries in Hamilton has been awarded a State Government grant to complete final works, then monitor and publicise their innovative water recycling system.

    The collection, treatment and re-use system, which will significantly augment existing water sources, received a Smart Water Fund grant from the Victorian Government is one of 36 organisations across the state to receive funding this year.

    ERA joint directors, Ted Allender and Peter Sandow, were happy to receive the funding. “Although it represents only a small fraction of the overall cost of the project it is the peer recognition that’s important to us especially given that the project had to pass a rigorous assessment process by water scientists and other experts”, Mr Sandow said Water from the holding dam has been used exclusively in the nursery since last December when our production season started, Mr Sandow said.

    The nursery has been at its present site for nearly 3 years having moved from a site near the Hamilton Airport and produces mainly forestry seedlings but also a large range of local species and more recently a range of advanced trees and shrubs.

    Mr Allender said that water recycling was an integral part of the new nursery design concept from the outset. The nursery complex has a comprehensive network of interception drains which allows rainfall and irrigation run-off to be diverted to a primary holding dam.

    Water from the primary holding dam flows through a constructed gravel reed bed system planted with cumbungi (phragmites australis). “According to existing research, the reed bed will remove something over 90 per cent of the nutrients and all of the pathogens from the water flowing through it,” Mr Allender said.

    It is important to remove nutrients from the water before it is stored to avoid the formation and development of algal growth.

    Treated water from the reed bed flows to a storage dam that holds five to six megalitres.

    Stored water is pumped back up to the nursery where its receives a final treatment with an iodine water treatment system prior to its reuse.

    ERA anticipates that at their current usage levels they will have enough water in the system to last until mid-April but both men are, like most people in the area, hoping it will rain before then. “Without the normal rainfall additions it may become necessary to cart water for a period this autumn” Mr Sandow said

    “Wannon Water has undertaken to provide larger industrial water users in the area with reclaimed water from its Monivae winter storages. There are some serious salinity issues with the existing treated effluent, however additional treatment options such as microfiltration and reverse osmosis are currently being investigated by Wannon Water” Mr Allender said.

    Although ERA has an allocation of mains water available under its private water agreement it should be possible for the business to operate at normal levels using a combination of its own recycled water and Wannon Water reclaimed water once it received additional treatment.

    “Our production is considerably scaled back this year because of the drought so we are keen to fully explore all water source alternatives,” Mr Sandow said.

    “But we don’t want to continue reducing our production when we have a facility to grow around double our current output.”

    “The reason ERA’s water recycling system was recognised by the government was because of the innovative way that the various components had been integrated into the operation”. Mr Allender said.

    “We will be monitoring the project closely and the information gained about the performance of the system will be made available to anyone that is interested,” Mr Allender said. “Smartwater are very keen to see this that this project is widely publicised and taken up by other nurseries or similar industries.”

    For now they expect the water recycling system to provide at least half their yearly water needs in an average rainfall year with the rest coming from Wannon Water’s recycled water services once they have that operational.

    Both directors praised the Government in making the funding available to rural projects, not just metropolitan initiatives; a third of the $6 million worth of grants in this round went to regional projects.

    Smart Water Fund spokesman, Dennis Cavagna, said it was critical that we continue to find new and innovative ways to conserve and recycle water.

    “We’re really excited by the calibre of the successful applicants in Round 4 of these grants,” he said.

    “One of the fund’s key objectives is to share the learnings – what works, what doesn’t and how we can improve water savings to secure water supplies, not just for now but for future generations.”