Managed aquifer recharge: rediscovering nature as a leading edge technology

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Use of Managed Aquifer Recharge (MAR) has rapidly increased in Australia, USA, and Europe in recent years as an efficient means of recycling stormwater or treated sewage effluent for non-potable and indirect potable reuse in urban and rural areas. Yet aquifers have been relied on knowingly for water storage and unwittingly for water treatment for millennia. Hence if ‘leading edge’ is defined as ‘the foremost part of a trend; a vanguard’, it would be misleading to claim managed aquifer recharge as a leading edge technology. However it has taken a significant investment in scientific research in recent years to demonstrate the effectiveness of aquifers as sustainable treatment systems to enable managed aquifer recharge to be recognised along side engineered treatment systems in water recycling. It is a ‘cross-over’ technology that is applicable to water and wastewater treatment and makes use of passive low energy processes to spectacularly reduce the energy requirements for water supply. It is robust within limits, has low cost, is suitable from village to city scale supplies, and offers as yet almost untapped opportunities for producing safe drinking water supplies where they do not yet exist. It will have an increasingly valued role in securing water supplies to sustain cities affected by climate change and population growth. However it is not a universal panacea and relies on the presence of suitable aquifers and sources of water together with effective governance to ensure human health and environment protection and water resources planning and management. This paper describes managed aquifer recharge, illustrates its use in Australia, outlining economics, guidelines and policies, and presents some of the knowledge about aquifer treatment processes that are revealing the latent value of aquifers as urban water infrastructure and provide a driver to improving our understanding of urban hydrogeology.

Keywords: contaminants, economics, groundwater, guidelines, passive treatment, pathogens

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