How is climate change affecting the longevity of our water infrastructure?

How is climate change affecting the longevity of our water infrastructure?

An RMIT graduate has created a model that could predict the future impact of climate change on water pipeline infrastructure.

Humans are just beginning to see the effects of climate change on our lives.

However, the full impact of a permanent alteration in the Earth’s climate has yet to be realised.

There is little mainstream discussion of the impacts of climate change on aspects of life like infrastructure.

Water pipelines exist in every country and every city at various levels, ensuring quick and efficient transfer of supply to areas where it is needed most.

Bachelor of Environmental Science/Bachelor of Engineering (Environmental Engineering) (Honours) graduate Rebecca Audy developed a model that could predict future outcomes for not only water pipelines, but a host of other long-term infrastructure that is directly affected by climate change.

Rebecca Audy Bachelor of Environmental Science/Bachelor of Engineering (Environmental Engineering) (Honours) graduate Rebecca Audy.

“The project aims to identify whether any environmental parameters affected by climate change will affect underground water pipeline infrastructure,” said Audy.

“The implications of the research are obvious: consistent pipeline failure will lead to shortages of water in certain areas, which makes it almost impossible for societies in areas of lower rainfall to function reliably.”

Senior lecturer and project supervisor Dr Mojtaba Mahmoodian said the importance of our infrastructure should not be taken for granted.

“Infrastructure is in the veins of the country. Without them, we cannot live the life we do,” Mahmoodian said.

“Billions of dollars are spent on building and maintaining infrastructure in Australia every year and it creates thousands of jobs.

“At RMIT, we work extensively on reliability and maintainability of a wide range of critical infrastructure including pipelines, roads, bridges, ports, mines and energy infrastructure.”

Dr Mojtaba Mahmoodian Senior lecturer and project supervisor Dr Mojtaba Mahmoodian.

Audy began by studying the data from South East Water and Yarra Valley Water of pipeline history and failure.

Audy said one of the major challenge of the project was accessing the data while researching remotely.

“Several water distributors were informed about this project and were keen to participate, prior to realising the encryption and data privacy issues regarding transmitting private data around Melbourne’s water network,” Audy said.

“Thankfully, Yarra Valley Water and South East Water already had strong encryption and file transfer mechanism in place within their own workplace.

“I was able to access the data through the use of KiteWorks and continue remotely.”

Using the data, she came up with a model that could predict future outcomes for a host of other long-term infrastructure directly affected by climate change – not only water pipelines.

Audy's capstone project looked at the environmental variables affecting infrastructure longevity.

Audy said she came up with 12 equations that could be used to predict the average pipeline failure rate.

“The variables I used were all environmental, mirroring different effects of climate change,” Audy said.

“Hopefully this will mean in the long term, climate change is factored into infrastructure planning and costs, and we will begin allocating budget more efficiently, as well as improve preparedness for extreme events.”

“For example, if we had a drought season, what would happen to the rate of failure for water pipelines? There are many implications.”

Since completing the capstone project and graduating from the undergraduate honours degree, Audy has accepted an offer for a PhD at RMIT.

Her research will look at the impact of micro-plastics as an aggregate within roads as an alternative means of recycling.

Audy said she had enjoyed the capstone project and was part of the reason she decided to persue further research.

“I have always had an interest in engineering. I particularly enjoy the environmental engineering as I believe it is extremely relevant in all infrastructure projects,” she said.

“I thoroughly enjoy research and I aim to continue in tertiary research as a part of my future career.”

Congratulations to RMIT’s Class of 2020. This year’s graduating class are like no other: strong, resilient, and inspired. RMIT is excited to welcome the graduates into our global alumni network, spanning more than 140 countries and 400,000 alumni.


Story: Finn Devlin and Caleb Scanlon

15 December 2020


15 December 2020


  • Science and technology
  • Sustainability
  • Environment
  • Engineering

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