Underground dams — the new water-storage solution?
[ Research Review 0906 : Engineering ]
By Emma Koch
Current research at the University of Melbourne may change the way water resources are managed — a topic of increasing importance in Australia and throughout the world.
Amgad Elmahdi’s PhD thesis, Improved Seasonality of Flows through Irrigation Demand Management and Water Bank Approach, aims to identify opportunities to manipulate seasonal irrigation demand and supply in a way that optimises the social, environmental and economic outputs from all available water resources within a catchment.
Amgad has more than 11 years’ experience in various aspects of hydrology and water management and holds three Masters degrees. He earned a Master of Science in Water-Ecological Studies from the University of Manosoura in Egypt, won a European Union scholarship to study environment conservation in Greece and completed a second Masters degree at the Mediterranean Agronomic Institute of Chania.
Amgad completed his third degree, a Master of Land and Water Management, at Trieste University in Italy — and wrote the thesis in Italian. In 2003, his latest thesis was named Best Master Thesis in Water Resources Management by the Egyptian Ministry of Water Resources and Irrigation.
In August 2003, Amgad was awarded an Australian Government International Postgraduate Research Scholarship and started his PhD at the University of Melbourne.
His research at the University of Melbourne focuses on the Murrumbidgee River, and will increase understanding of how to improve the environmental quality of the Murrumbidgee through better irrigation-demand management and the use of an underground dam.
His research is being supervised by Associate Professor Hector Malano, Head of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Melbourne; Dr Teri Etchells, a Research Fellow in the Department; and Professor Shahbaz Khan, Professor of Hydrology at the Charles Sturt University.
Using a combined system-dynamics and multi-objective optimisation approach, plus spatial and modelling data, Amgad is developing an integrated hydrological economic model which will assist land and water managers to make decisions based on the evaluation of the trade-off between the triple bottom line (environmental, social and economic). This research will enable farm, system and catchment managers to collectively optimise water resource management and distribution at both the short-term tactical and long-term strategic levels.
Amgad’s research investigates storing water in the aquifer (an underground layer of gravel or porous stone that yields water), creating a ‘water bank’ 50 metres or deeper underground. The research indicates the potential to store up to 200 gigalitres of water in the aquifer (imagine the MCG filled 476 times over). One advantage of storing water underground is that no water is lost to evaporation or leakage; any water lost from the aquifer simply seeps back into the river system.
Using the aquifer improves the efficiency of the water distribution system and also improves the natural seasonal flow of the river by releasing water from the head dams during the winter or wet months and storing it for recovery during dry months or the high-demand period. This in turn improves the health of the river by freeing more water to the environment and mimicking the river’s natural flow.
Due to finish his PhD later this year, Amgad is planning to work in the field of water resource management research and hopes one day to work with the United Nations, assisting developing countries to manage their water resources.
In addition to his ground-breaking research, Amgad is very active in the life of the University of Melbourne. He was elected as a postgraduate councillor for the University of Melbourne Postgraduate Association (UMPA) in 2004, and then as the Activities and Communication Officer.
In July of this year Amgad was named the SBS Australian Harmony Hero for his work promoting cross-cultural understanding and dissolving cultural barriers amongst students at the University.
The Australian Harmony Hero award is administered by the Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs (DIMIA), which aims to promote community harmony and address issues of racism in Australia.
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