While substantial progress has been made in increasing access to clean drinking water and sanitation, billions of people—mostly in rural areas—still lack these basic services.
– United Nations

Sustainable management of water is a major focus for Victoria University. We strive to improve water quality, develop effective wastewater treatment and increase water-use efficiency through research, teaching, and university infrastructure.

We undertake applied research in drinking water, wastewater, recycled water, stormwater and industrial water applications, providing solutions for industry and communities.

Our on-campus pool includes rainwater harvesting and backwash treatment, which saves approximately 2 million litres of water annually.

Goal 6 Clean water and sanitation, (water glass icon)

Research, engagement & education 2020-21

Research with impact

Australia is the driest populated continent in the world. The work of VU’s water researchers in Australia and the Asia-Pacific area is critical to securing the future of regional populations and agriculture in the face of increasingly volatile water resources due to climate change.

Centralised water systems established over the last 100 years around the world are under increasing pressure from a variety of sources, including growing populations and climate change.  Globally the existing centralised systems will not be able to meet service needs without a significant increase in investment to enhance system capacity.  Integrated Urban Water Management approaches using decentralised and distributed water supply and treatment are being implemented to supplement the existing systems for longer term sustainable and fit for purpose solutions to system shortcomings.  Dr Ashok Sharma and Professor Stephen Gray addressed the Integration of Decentralised and Centralised Water Systems to Address Current Water Servicing Challenges, for the International Conference on Sustainable Development through Engineering Innovations.

Membranes can be used for drinking water production by removing contaminants, however, the current membranes have significant limitations for this use.  The water treatment research team is looking at development of the next generation of membranes for freshwater production and sustainable maintenance of the membranes.  Membranes used for freshwater production require regular cleaning with harsh chemicals that present a challenge for safe use in remote communities.  Mikel Duke led a team of VU’s water treatment researchers in a collaboration with researchers from the University of Colorado examined the potential for using a solar cleaning method for membranes used for freshwater treatment – using simulated sunlight – as a step towards development of an alternate cleaning method. 

Associate Professor Shobha Muthukumaran collaborated with water researchers from Australia and the United Arab Emirates to conduct a review of the potential for the next generation membranes to be used for drinking water production in 2D nanosheet enabled thin film nanocomposite membranes for freshwater production.  The review examines current limitations in the technology with the aim to develop the next generation of 2-D enabled separation membranes that would provide scalable and long-term separation of solubles, such as saline (salt), to produce freshwater.

Dr Muhammad Tariq and Dr Nitin Muttil mentor undergraduate students interested in conducting research for publication.  Kelden Wangchuk, a civil engineering student from Bhutan, co-authored a report with Dr Tariq and Dr Muttil, making recommendations for management of water resources in Bhutan, to improve the nation’s water security.  This was the fourth paper published by an undergraduate student in Engineering and Science with the Institute for Sustainable Industries & Liveable Cities (ISILC) researchers.

In wastewater treatment research Mikel Duke led a team of VU researchers to improve the removal of herbicide from industrial wastewater and develop a method using light conducting photocatalytic membrane for sustainable, low-chemical filtration of polluted water; Jianhua Zhang teamed up with researchers from the CSIRO to conduct A Review on Current Development of Membranes for Oil Removal from Wastewaters.

Heavy metals are extremely poisonous, even at low concentrations.  Current methods for detection of heavy metals, such as lead, involves either very bulky lab equipment or more portable sensors that have some fundamental limitations.  Researchers from VU, the CSIRO, Kuwait and China joined in the first work to develop a multi-purpose optical fibre as portable onsite sensor for detection of lead at low concentrations.

The treatment of wastewater in manufacturing is essential to prevent pollution of land and water.  Further to this, the proper treatment of wastewater for reuse can reduce water usage and it is possible to achieve zero water discharge with a combination of technologies.  ISILC researchers joined CSIRO researchers with this aim in A review of process and wastewater reuse in the recycled paper industry.

PFAS (Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl compounds) contamination is a developing crisis, as the chemicals are toxic, highly persistent and accumulate in the bodies of fish, animals and people.  The water researchers continue their search for viable methods for the removal of PFAS contaminants from wastewater by using in-situ formed ferric nanoparticles.

Conflicts between territories over water sharing arrangements may become more severe due to additional dependency on water, growing population, and reduced availability as a result of climate change. This complex issue is addressed in An Engineering Perspective of Water Sharing Issues in Pakistan, in relation to the water sharing arrangements between Pakistan, India and Afghanistan in the Indus Basin, by Muhammed Atiq Ur Rehman Tariq from VU and researchers from the Netherlands and Pakistan. Equitable management issues and outdated irrigation practices are exacerbating a water shortage in the basin which is now increasingly countered by the use of groundwater. This sudden high extraction of groundwater is causing depletion of the groundwater table and quality issues, which is heightening provincial conflicts over water. Policy, enforcement, engineering and social support are all needed to develop a comprehensive, fair and transparent water strategy.

Ashok Sharma and Ted Gardner tackle regional water planning issues both in Australia and in other countries. The researchers developed a methodology to ensure that rain water policies are effective for achieving predicted tank water savings for urban water supply planning; and teamed up with researchers from Nepal to examine Impacts of climate change on the flow of the transboundary Koshi River, with implications for local irrigation.

In advancing the treatment of wastewater, researchers contributed numerous reports.

Two reports by Peter Sanciolo and Stephen Gray looked at the viability of pasteurisation for the treatment of wastewater as an alternative to chemical treatment. Pasteurisation does not produce harmful by-products and so could offer a sustainable alternative, with a lower pre-treatment requirement, to other disinfection processes. The researchers teamed up with water supply industry researchers in Australia and the United States for Selection of surrogate pathogens and process indicator organisms for pasteurisation of municipal wastewater and for Effectiveness and Energy Requirements of Pasteurisation for the Treatment of Unfiltered Secondary Effluent from a Municipal Wastewater Treatment Plant.

In other wastewater treatment research: Mikel Duke led a team of VU researchers to improve the removal of herbicide from industrial wastewater and develop a method using light conducting photocatalytic membrane for sustainable, low-chemical filtration of polluted water; Jianhua Zhang teamed up with researchers from the CSIRO to conduct A Review on Current Development of Membranes for Oil Removal from Wastewaters.

Investigations to improve water supply included a collaboration by Anne Ng and Chris Perera with Sri Lankan researchers to look at the issues, challenges and opportunities of Optimization of Green Infrastructure Practices in Industrial Areas for Runoff Management; and Sharma Ashok co-authored a paper to examine the Economic Viability of Water-Supply Gravity Main which can provide cost savings, as it does not require power and is more reliable than a pumped system.


Our water research and on-campus activities engage industry, other universities and school groups in our local area.

Making water sources palatable and safe to drink, to expand the available water sources, will be necessary to sustain regional populations in the face of climate change. The VU water researchers work with the regional statutory water corporations to solve problems related to water supply and security. The problem for the regional water supply was high levels of natural organic matter causing a distasteful odour and smell. Dr Daniel Ooi from VU worked in partnership with RMIT and Goulburn Valley Water on Evaluating ways to remove odour from residential water supply in Euroa, regional Victoria – using coagulants to remove earthy odour and taste from feedwater. The project used a triple bottom line assessment to determine the best option for water treatment to remove the taste and odour from the water supplied to local towns, taking into account the financial, environmental and social impacts.

The demonstration green roof at Victoria University’s Footscray Park Campus was designed by the Water Supply, Demand and Security research group. It is the first installation in a longer term project to transform VU into a green, sustainable and climate smart campus.  The goal is to develop a Green Living Lab on VU’s Campuses, which will comprise green roofs, green walls, and other sustainable initiatives. The green roof is used for research, teaching and community education on the value of green infrastructure for building thermal properties, to counter the urban heat island effect, for the quality of water run-off capture and to boost biodiversity across sites.  Guided tours for schools and community groups are part of community events on the campus, which in 2021 included Footscray High School and Wonthaggi High School.


A project led by Dr Nitin Muttil for City West Water in 2019-2020, to reduce the problem of bursts and leaks in the pipe network, had great success for saving water, reducing repair costs and for developing a source of clean energy. When looking into the causes of pipe failure, Dr Muttil identified excess pressure in sections of the network causing pipes to burst could be used to drive water turbines to generate electricity and, at the same time, relieve the pressure. This project involved developing AI algorithms to predict locations of leaks. This allows the water utility to develop a pipe replacement plan based on the risk factors identified.

Victoria University partnered with EGL (Environmental Group Limited) Water to develop a process to separate and destroy harmful PFAS (Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl compounds) in contaminated water. PFAS is a developing crisis, as the chemicals are toxic, highly persistent and accumulate in the bodies of fish, animals and people. EGL applied for a patent in 2020 after successful trails at a pilot plant, with the oversight and technical guidance of VU researchers.



Greater Western Water is a close industry partner working with our engineering researchers and teachers to solve water security issues for the west of Melbourne and to train the next generation of water engineers.

Bachelor of Engineering (Honours) (Civil Engineering) covers planning, design, construction and management of water infrastructure, including: water supply and wastewater systems, and irrigation, drainage and flood protection systems.

The Master of Engineering specialisation in civil engineering offers learning in sustainable design and development of infrastructure, urban water management and smart water systems design. 

Wyndham Tech School, managed by VU, in partnership with Greater Western Water, offer an Industry Program  AI Engineering to regional secondary students in solving real world problems of water network management and waste treatment using artificial intelligence, remote-operated vehicles and robotics. Students use design thinking strategies to ideate, prototype and test engineering and design-based solutions to this problem using Lego Mindstorms, Google Teachable Machines and Scratch.

The  Women in Science & Engineering program supports VU’s current university students, and inspires women to choose engineering and science careers.

Water research is a major focus at Victoria University

A group of school kids and adults near a rooftop garden

The demonstration green roof, open to school groups at Victoria University’s Footscray Park Campus, was designed by the Water Supply, Demand and Security research group.

Sustainability on campus

Water conservation on campus: 2021 Water Reuse and Harvesting 1495 (kl) out of 73,906 (kl) consumption total = 2.0%