Graduate captures top prize at Ozwater '09

Monday, 30 March, 2009

Amid the bright lights of the Ozwater ’09 Gala Dinner last week, one of the brightest stars was Alexandra Bennett, winner of this year’s AWA National Undergraduate Water Prize and graduate engineer from international advisory and design firm Hyder Consulting.

Alexandra’s presentation, delivered to some of the industry’s most respected professionals, was based on her thesis ‘Fill in the Dams?’ (supervised by Dr William Peirson from the University of NSW).

The presentation examined the feasibility of converting small farm dams into groundwater dams by filling them with coarse material such as gravel or sand. The distinct advantage of groundwater dams over conventional small farm dams is that evaporation losses are significantly decreased. As the water level decreases below the surface of the coarse material, evaporation also decreases until at a depth of about 0.9 m, evaporation becomes negligible.

“Alexandra Bennett's submission stood out on the basis of its clear scope, transparent assumptions, meaningful output and potential for applied benefit,” said one of the Ozwater judges.

When asked how her proposal might be developed further, Bennett remarked, “It would be great to undertake a full scale trial in arid, inland regions and compare existing farm dams and groundwater dams more extensively.”

“As I see it, engineering is a key factor to closing the gap in the quality of life between global communities,” Bennett said.

“There’s something ‘full circle’ in how things have turned out. My proposal for a water-saving model was discussed in the Australian context, yet I drew inspiration from a traditional method of water storage in arid climates that’s been used for thousands of years and mostly in developing countries.”

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