Sky is the limit for top notch environmental engineer

Date: 06/11/2002

A University of Western Sydney environmental engineering student has added a new feather to her cap by winning first prize for her thesis in an Australian Water Association (AWA) sponsored competition.

Margaret Riley, from Killara, Sydney, walked away with $500 and two years membership of the AWA from the Hilton Hotel in Sydney where a special ceremony was held to honour her achievement.

As part of her submission Ms Riley researched the quality of water at Shrimpton's Creek in North Ryde before, during and after rehabilitation work.

The Environment Protection Authority funded the research through its Storm Water Trust Grant. Ryde City Council jointly supported the project.

An interesting aspect of her findings was the large quantities of gross pollutants entering the creek line and the long-term commitment needed by local residents, government, business and industry to maintain and continue water quality improvement.

"Then there were material such as syringes and plastic in the Gross Pollutant Trap (GPT) (a trap installed to collect material being washed from the stormwater drains into the stream)," says Ms Riley.

Although the time span of the project was too short to come to any definite conclusions, Ms Riley says there was strong merit in introducing rehabilitation programs in local creeks which bear the brunt of indiscriminate disposal of rubbish.

"Two thirds of what was found in the GPT was organic matter such as leaves and twigs. The rest were pollutants such as plastic bags, broken glass, plastic bottles, to name a few.

"These end up in our creeks because people are not aware of the consequences, have a don't care attitude and are not concerned about the long term effects of disposing material indiscriminately."

Although there was no marked change in water quality, the visual quality was enhanced through in-stream works and revegetation and several tones of material was captured before these entered the creek line. Water quality can be improved through community awareness, changing people's behaviour and constant vigilance, says Ms Riley.

Running for the third year, the competition attracted nine entries from universities in New South Wales. Ms Riley is among the first batch of students in the environmental engineering degree at UWS.

An Australian winner will be declared in April next year when state finalists are decided.

"All the entries were of a very high standard and Margaret's work was exceptional. Her topic was well researched and the findings were relevant to water management and urban river management," says Neville Hutton, one of three panelists form AWA who judged all entries.

"Her project involved monitoring of water quality, taking water samples, analyzing and assessing the results. The whole project was well wrapped up and impressive."

NSW Department of Public Works and Services sponsored the first prize. The department's Infrastructure and Environmental Services general manager, Will Strachan, said Ms Riley's work was excellent.

"It is great to see the excellent work that is emanating from students preparing to enter the water industry."

Ms Riley says her findings were an eye opener. "There is a public misconception that there is a huge gap between science and daily life. My personal challenge is to bring the reality of science into people's living rooms and make a difference by educating the masses on the importance of caring for our environment, our future.

"All this will be a huge learning curve for me, moving from the classroom into the real world and I am prepared to tackle this head on.

"The win was great and the ceremony was icing on the cake as I was able to rub shoulders with the top guns in the field of environmental engineering."

Her supervisor, Dr Surendra Shrestha,says sky's the limit for Ms Riley who has shown consistent good work throughout her term at UWS.

"She's an exemplary student who is motivated to take up challenging tasks."

For more information or requests for interviews:
Asha Chand
Senior Media Officer
Phone: 96787473