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Research aims for clean water


16 March 2004
A study of the nutrient cycle in a local dam being conducted at Southern Cross University (SCU) may ensure cleaner water supplies into the future, according to PhD candidate at the School of Environmental Science and Management, Darren Akhurst.

Emigrant Creek Dam is an 830 megalitre water storage located on Emigrant Creek, just upstream of Killen Falls, near Tintenbar in the Ballina Shire, which currently supplies water to a population of approximately 15,000 people in Ballina and Lennox Head.

Mr Akhurst’s research will be focussing on how nutrients are cycled in the dam, how to limit nutrients coming in, and limiting algal and nutrient growth within the dam.

Mr Akhurst has a three-year PhD scholarship to support his study, funded by SCU, Rous Water and Virotec International.

He describes his research as crucial to the future of water storage.

“Computer modelling of climate in Australia predicts that drought will increase and that water levels will decrease over the next hundred years,” he said. “During recent droughts consumers in the Rous Water area were subject to Level 5 restrictions as supply reservoirs were drawn down to unprecedentedly low levels. These conditions lead to water stagnation, which is conducive to the release of nutrients from the sediments which in turn fuels excessive nutrient growth and algal production.”

Mr Akhurst, 21, comes from Ashford, 50 kms north of Inverell and has had an interest in environmental issues from childhood, having grown up around sheep, cattle, lucerne and hay farming. His family worked in the Department of Water Conservation and his Honours degree was also about nutrients in water storage.

“This is a very significant time to be investigating these conditions, especially with recent blue-green algae scares,” Mr Akhurst said. “Because there are a lot of agricultural activities around the dam, we will be investigating which activities are most critical to nutrient cycling within the water storage.”

Mr Akhurst’s supervisor is School of Environmental Science and Management Associate Professor Dr Graham Jones.

Media: Contact Kath Duncan on 02 6620 3144 or Brigid Veale on 6659 3006/0439 680 748.