Technical report

File type: PDF

Rohmana QA, Fischer A and Gemmill J (2023) National Outfall Database: outfall ranking based on 2020/2021 nutrient loads discharge. Report to the National Environmental Science Program. Clean Ocean Foundation and University of Tasmania.

July 2023


This report provides an analysis of the Australian coastal outfalls and ranks them according to the total flow volume and nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus) load to prioritise the potential degree of impact of each source to the environment and human health.

Wastewater quality data was collected from 42 out of 43 water authorities (WTAs) with 178 out of 192 outfall sites (93%) around Australia by either downloading the water quality data reports directly from WTA websites or by formally requesting the data through email. 

The pollutant contribution index, based on nitrogen and phosphorus loads, was calculated for each outfall.  Nitrogen and phosphorus loads were calculated according to the Load Calculation Protocol of New South Wales Department of Environment and Climate Change.  Outfalls were ordered from lowest to highest index value to rank them according to their relative pollutant contribution to the coastal and marine environment.  The index is based on a total nutrient load discharge using the variables of flow, nitrogen and phosphorus.

The results show that the outfalls released 1,453 gigalitres of effluent into the marine environment between July 2020 to June 2021.  The total nutrient load from individual outfall sites around Australia ranged from 7 to 4,669,238 kg with a mean of 103,552 kg.  The ranked loads throughout Australia were mapped by quartiles.  The outfalls in the top 25% quartile were more prevalent in regional areas and discharge less nitrogen and phosphorus loads into the coastal and marine environment.  The bottom 25% quartile, on the other hand, with higher nutrient loads, principally occur around the major cities.  The phosphorus concentrations contribute less to the overall outfall nutrient load and vary less between outfall sites.  Nitrogen, on the other hand has a higher median contribution and high variability across the sites. 

In general, the outfalls contributing higher nitrogen and phosphorus loads varied more than those discharging lower loads.  There may be many reasons for this, but it could be related to treatment plant capacity, population growth, and licensing requirements, resulting in increased discharge at metropolitan outfall sites.  There are some exceptions to this pattern where rural/regional sites contributed higher nutrient loads than urban areas (e.g., Warrnambool, VIC). The reasons may vary; however, the main contributor is the level of technology employed to remove nutrients. This ranking of nutrient loads from Australian outfalls by site at a national scale can therefore be useful in prioritising treatment upgrade resources to manage biodiversity impacts and human health concerns.