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Recycled wastewater the basis for circular economy in South Australian agriculture

Reuse of recycled wastewater is underway in Adelaide Hills, where SA Water has established an ongoing circular economy connecting pasture cultivation, livestock grazing and abattoir production.

The program aims to enable a climate independent supply of nutrient rich water for primary producer Edward Ringwood to grow fodder, in turn helping livestock processor Thomas Foods International to avoid the cost of additional on-site treatment infrastructure.

The sustainable wastewater loop increases the volume of water recycled for productive use at SA Water’s Bird in Hand Wastewater Treatment Plant and reduces the amount of water returned to waterways.

The design was instigated by a fire at Thomas Foods International’s Murray Bridge facility, which required a change in production location and in turn increased the processing waste being discharged into SA Water’s local sewerage network.

New thinking

SA Water General Manager Customer Delivery Kerry Rowlands said the issue provided an opportunity to think laterally in order to assist a significant local employer that exports South Australian produce internationally.

“Large processors of meat, dairy and fresh produce are required to remove high-strength organic material from their wastewater before discharging it into our network, where it is then further treated for recycling or safe release back to the environment,” Rowlands said.

“We knew if we could find new recycled water customers who valued the types of nutrients present in this wastewater, we could help Thomas Foods avoid the significant capital cost of a new on-site primary filtration plant.

“Taking the time to understand our customer’s business, stepping back to see a wider perspective and communicating effectively, helped us bring together two businesses on different ends of the supply chain.”

In a time of economic uncertainty, pursuing opportunities that deliver notable savings was a welcome support, Thomas Foods International Chief Executive Officer Darren Thomas said.

“Our ability to sustain a successful business is influenced by creating efficiencies, and in this instance, SA Water formulated a clever solution,” Thomas said.

“We were faced with investing hundreds of thousands of dollars in capital to upgrade our Lobethal plant’s trade waste pre-treatment to ensure we continued to meet our compliance obligations.

“SA Water showed a genuine willingness to help and through an open-minded approach we achieved a symbiotic and sustainable outcome, improving a local farmer’s capacity for growth and freeing up resources for our business to invest and further contribute to the state’s economy.”

An internal network of pipes around 3000 metres long now irrigates 20 hectares of farmland with nutrient rich recycled water Pictured (left to right): Thomas Foods International Chief Executive Officer Darren Thomas, Woodside primary producer Edward Ringwood, and SA Water Manager Business Relations David Eggers

Growth and sustainability

A pipeline from the SA Water facility’s network was constructed to connect Edward Ringwood's property to a supply of recycled water.

Ringwood said securing a new 160 megalitre per annum supply of recycled water will enable the expansion of breeding stock.

“Water availability in primary production is paramount — especially in our naturally dry state — and having a reliable climate-independent water source has drought-proofed our property,” Ringwood said.

“Our previous dependency on rainfall was holding us back, and we now irrigate 20 hectares with nutrient rich recycled water through an internal network of pipes around 3000 metres long.

“We’re now able to grow more pasture all year round, providing certainty in our capacity to breed lambs to a heavier weight, increasing our profitability.”

Ringwood said SA Water’s support has allowed his business to grow while also increasing the sustainability of farming practice.

“It’s nice to know that our product is more sustainable as we minimise resource inputs, and in some ways, the animals that were raised on these paddocks then return to rejuvenate them and start the cycle going again,” he said.

“Our sights are firmly set on helping satisfy the local and international demand for South Australia’s world class produce and we’re grateful for SA Water’s support in unlocking potential in our business.”