Monday, April 25, 2016

Recycled Snow Down Under

Snowmaking at Mt Buller - Courtesy of Mt Buller
The Mt Buller and Mt Stirling ski area in central Victoria, Australia has a strong background - and high ranking - in eco-tourism. But, like all ski regions threatened by global climate change, it has to address the tricky issue of producing artificial snow to bolster natural snowfalls.

Naturally, snowmaking requires large volumes of water which usually comes from nearby lakes and rivers. But as the resort’s website says: “A priority of the Mt Buller and Mt Stirling Alpine Resort Management Board is protection of the high country streams and rivers which originate from the snowfields and alpine slopes. The Delatite and Howqua Rivers ….sustain neighboring farm and town communities as well as provide lasting enjoyment to thousands of people including bushwalkers, canoeists, anglers and campers. Protection and preservation of water quality and quantity are of paramount importance to the wider community and a key objective of environmental management of the Resort.”

So, while its snowmaking water was traditionally provided by Boggy Creek, a tributary of the Delatite River, the resort has spent considerable time and money looking elsewhere for supplies.

Its Snowmaking and Wastewater Recycling Pilot Study investigated making snow from treated effluent (sewage!) from the local wastewater treatment plant run by the Mt Buller and Mt Stirling Alpine Resort Management Board. This would have two potential eco benefits: firstly decreased volumes of effluent released into the environment and secondly decreased extraction of water from Boggy Creek. Before using the wastewater for snowmaking, it had to be further purified both for health and environmental reasons to Class A standards (those required for human food crops and irrigation of parklands and golf courses).

Using ultra-filtration and ozonation via a $1million filtering system, the resort was able to produce clean, pure water to pump through the snowmaking guns onto the slopes. Purifying around 800,000 liters of wastewater each day, the resort initially hoped to meet around 10 per cent of its needs over a three-year period from 2008. Since then, a new Class A Wastewater Treatment Plant can now provide up to two million liters of recycled water for snowmaking per day, increasing Mt Buller’s capacity by 30 per cent. There is a fail-safe mechanism that ensures that the system automatically stops during a system malfunction to prevent any untreated water from entering Sun Valley Reservoir, the snowmaking dam. Requiring 24-hour monitoring for consistent water purity, the project has cost in the region of $3.43 million.

The Mt Buller and Mt Stirling Alpine Resort Management Board was recognized for this innovative work by the United Nations Association of Australia at the World Environment Day awards in 2002. 

Mt Buller’s Environmental Policy is designed to meet criteria outlined in AS/NZS ISO 14001:1996, the leading international standard on environmental management. The ski area is committed to an Environmental Management Plan which guarantees protection of the natural environment while ensuring the sustainability of resort activity and development. The plan incorporates flora and fauna, ecosystems, environmental values and useful information about climate and geography. As the resort is on Crown land, it encourages community input into management with an extensive committee established to address environmental matters.

With a resort entry fee instigated at Mirimbah, at the base of the mountain, some of the burden of funding environmental programs is shifted to the resort’s guests. The fee - which grants access to both mountains - helps maintain essential infrastructure and services including roads and water treatment. Future aims include utilizing the recycled water for household use in new developments and for irrigating open spaces.

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