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NT engineer investigates water treatment solutions in the Middle East

Innovative water treatment solutions developed in the Middle East could help improve water quality in regional and remote Australia.

While there is almost universal access to drinking water across Australia, some smaller communities still face water security challenges. This is in part because treatment options designed for use in larger cities are often too expensive for regional locations.

As a senior project manager at Power and Water Corporation in the Northern Territory (NT), Eric Vanweydeveld has seen the complexities of delivering infrastructure projects to these communities firsthand.

Vanweydeveld said it was this experience that motivated him to apply for a Churchill Fellowship, which he was awarded in 2018. 

Created by the Churchill Trust in 1965, the fellowship helps Australians travel overseas to undertake research and bring back learnings they can apply in a local context. 

For Vanweydeveld, this meant spending eight weeks in the United Arab Emirates, Israel and Oman investigating water treatment technologies

“My motivation was to discover what other nations … are doing successfully to manage their small regional and remote communities’ water supplies and learn about their expertise and experience in dealing with similar challenges,” Vanweydeveld said. 

“The Middle East presents an interesting comparison to Australia because it faces similar water scarcity challenges, provides water services to a large number of small regional and remote communities, and is at the forefront of a series of water innovations in operational practices, technologies and institutions.”

Since returning to Australia, Vanweydeveld has developed nine recommendations he believes are worthy of exploration for the local water industry. He will discuss these at the Australian Water Association’s NT Water in the Bush conference later this month. 

This includes possibly using membrane desalination technology in remote areas, which Vanweydeveld said he saw in Israel and Oman. 

“Brackish water desalination in inland regions is increasingly being used as the main method of drinking water production to overcome deterioration of natural water sources and fresh water scarcity issues associated with climate change,” he said.

Vanweydeveld also had the opportunity to learn more about using renewable energy desalination for remote water supply systems. 

“This technology is being tested through pilot projects by water utilities and private companies in Oman and the UAE,” he said.

“The coupling of renewable energy sources with water desalination systems holds great promise to provide a reliable and economical source of safe drinking water for Australia’s remote communities, whose water quality and water scarcity issues are exacerbated by the deterioration of natural water resources and climate change.”

Read Eric Vanweydeveld’s Churchill Fellowship report here, and see him speak at the AWA’s NT Water in the Bush Conference in Darwin from 17 to 18 October. To find out more and to register, click here