Pictured above: University of Western Australia’s Professor of Environmental Engineering Anas Ghadouani holds the innovative sonar boats with SA Water Technical Support Officer Wastewater Treatment Michael Corena, SA Water Wastewater Treatment Process Analyst Katherine Reid and the University of Western Australia’s Research Associate – Environmental Engineer Liah Coggins.

SA Water’s wastewater treatment plants will be monitored by two new remote-controlled boats to improve sludge management and minimise odours.

Developed by the University of Western Australia, the 10kg, 1m-long vessels use sonar navigation technology to remotely survey sludge build-up at the bottom of wastewater lagoons.

Fine sediment that remains suspended in the water after primary treatment stages settles at the bottom of wastewater polishing lagoons to form a sludge, which is then periodically removed to maintain the lagoons’ holding capacity and minimise the potential for odour to develop.

SA Water’s Senior Manager Production and Treatment, Lisa Hannant, said the new technology was making a vital maintenance task more efficient and enjoyable.

“The boats are controlled in a similar way to other battery-powered model vehicles, with a sonar unit scanning the bottom of the lagoon and recording data to an SD memory card that is then overlaid with a Google Earth map to visually display the sludge depths,” Ms Hannant said.

“We had a bit of fun naming the craft and came up with ‘Indeepship’ and ‘Plop-eye’, through an internal ballot of our wastewater treatment plant operators.

“Maintaining public health is a serious responsibility, so we take hold of any lighter moments that come up!”

SA Water acquired the unique vessels after a successful trial in 2017 confirmed them as an accurate and cost-effective measurement tool.

“Removing sludge is an important but often time consuming exercise, and this new technology provides a highly efficient way to accurately survey and know when to desludge,” Ms Hannant said.

“Until now, our operators would launch a full-sized boat and manually take depth measurements across a grid pattern, but now they can use the sonar to accurately record the sludge’s profile.

“As the sludge layer builds up over time, the treatment capacity of the facility is reduced and the risk of odour generation increases. This technology allows us to identify the optimum time to desludge which provides the best value for our customers, maintains optimal treatment and minimises odour risk.”

SA Water’s wastewater treatment plants across South Australia have the capacity to receive and treat thousands of kilolitres of waste each day.

Photos supplied by SA Water. 

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