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MPs to inspect Byron Bay effluent re-use project


20 March 2002
Pioneering research involving effluent re-use in Byron Bay by a Southern Cross University environmental science team will be inspected by Richmond MP and the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Larry Anthony, on Friday, 26 April (time to be advised) and by NSW Opposition MP Duncan Gay MLC, Shadow Minister for Local Government and Energy & Mineral Resources, this Friday, 22 March, at 11.30am.

The project, coordinated by Dr. Keith Bolton from SCU's School of Environmental Science and Management, centres on Paperbark (Melaleuca quinquinrvia) plantings near West Byron Bay sewage treatment works. Over the next five years, half a million Paperbark seedlings will be planted on a 24ha wetland in Byron Bay, the aim being to combat an acute acid sulphate soil problem and to re-use effluent generated by the town's main sewage plant.

Already more than 100,000 trees have been put into the boggy, peat-like soil, according to Dr. Bolton, who has a passionate commitment to turning society's wastes into useful resources.

"The project is an important collaboration between SCU, Byron Shire Council, Environment Australia (which has supplied $250,000 through the Coastal Acid Sulphate Soil Project) and NSW Agriculture's Wollongbar Institute," Dr. Bolton explained.

The project also received an Australian Research Council grant exceeding $500,000, the submission being facilitated by SCU. The site allocated by the Council as an effluent re-use wetland once contained a portion of the paperbark wetland complex that dominated the coastal vegetation around Byron Bay.

"However, it was extensively cleared for agriculture and urbanisation, and the active acid sulphate soils oxidised when they were drained, forming sulphuric acid that contributed to the increasingly prevalent fish kills," Dr. Bolton said.

The new trees are spaced closely, at two per square metre, because a pilot study showed that the higher the density, the more water they transpired.

According to Dr. Bolton, the trees will process the effluent by acting as high-rate pumps that remove up to 170,000 litres of effluent per hectare per day.

"In addition, they will clean the water to a high standard, known as 'effluent polishing', while the effluent irrigation will cause the water table to rise, preventing the oxidation of the soil and the exporting of acid from the site".

Another goal is to use the effluent to regenerate the wetland, connecting up two fragmented portions of the one-extensive complex and unifying the ecology around the sewage treatment works. A final benefit is that paperbark wetlands produce peat - partially decomposed organic matter - which is more than 50% carbon. Accumulating to several metres' depth, the peat locks up thousands of tonnes of carbon per hectare, thus reversing the accumulation of Greenhouse gases. In the future, valuable 'carbon credits' will be earned from the relevant government funding bodies.

"The project is a full-scale effluent re-use wetland that will become a showpiece for responsible environmental management and planning," Dr. Bolton said proudly. "The technology will be 'exported' to other areas affected by these problems, so encouraging other local authorities to adopt similar sustainable practices".

For further details, please contact

Dr. Keith Bolton on (02) 6620 3505/0428 888 123

or Mr Robin Osborne, Media Liaison,

Marketing & External Relations,

Phone: (02) 6620 3039 Mobile: 0418 431 484

Email: [email protected]