Determining a sustainable and economically optimal wastewater treatment and discharge strategy

Paul Hardisty, M. Sivapalan, R. Humphries

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Citations (Scopus)


Options for treatment and discharge of wastewater in regional Western Australia (WA) are examined from the perspective of overall sustainability and social net benefit. Current practice in the state has typically involved a basic standard of treatment deemed to be protective of human health, followed by discharge to surface water bodies. Community and regulatory pressure to move to higher standards of treatment is based on the presumption that a higher standard of treatment is more protective of the environment and society, and thus is more sustainable. This analysis tests that hypothesis for Western Australian conditions. The merits of various wastewater treatment and discharge strategies are examined by quantifying financial costs (capital and operations), and by monetising the wider environmental and social costs and benefits of each option over an expanded planning horizon (30 years). Six technical treatment-disposal options were assessed at a test site, all of which met the fundamental criterion of protecting human health. From a financial perspective, the current business-as-usual option is preferred - it is the least cost solution. However, valuing externalities such as water, greenhouse gases, ecological impacts and community amenity, the status quo is revealed as sub-optimal. Advanced secondary treatment with stream disposal improves water quality and provides overall net benefit to society. All of the other options were net present value (NPV) negative. Sensitivity analysis shows that the favoured option outperforms all of the others under a wide range of financial and externality values and assumptions. Expanding the findings across the state reveals that moving from the identified socially optimal level of treatment to higher (tertiary) levels of treatment would result in a net loss to society equivalent to several hundred million dollars. In other words, everyone benefits from improving treatment to the optimum point. But society, the environment, and the Corporation are all worse off when treatment levels are pushed beyond what is economic and sustainable. © 2012 Elsevier Ltd.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)285-292
JournalJournal of Environmental Management
Publication statusPublished - 2013


Dive into the research topics of 'Determining a sustainable and economically optimal wastewater treatment and discharge strategy'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this