The Grand Challengers Podcast Episode #12

“Pondering” conversations around banana bread and boats from across the fence

Guest: Liah Coggins

June 6th, 2023


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Have you ever had a conversation with your neighbour across the garden fence, only to feel like you’re talking to the wall? Or what about impacting the water industry with just a simple piece of technology?

My guest today is Dr Liah Coggins, a cake enthusiast and researcher at the University of Western Australia. Liah has been on a mission to improve our understanding of waste stabilization ponds for over a decade armed with nothing but a miniature boat. In addition to being passionate teacher for a new generation of engineers, she is also the co-host of her own podcast: Water You On About.

In today’s show, we delve into the increasing complexity of challenges that urban water systems are facing and the essential skill sets that engineering education urgently needs to embrace.


Liah is an environmental engineer with 10 years postgraduate experience collaborating with industry while completing her honours, PhD, and continuing into her current postdoctoral position. Her research is around the treatment of wastewater in waste stabilisation pond (also known as wastewater lagoons) assets, including sludge accumulation, microbial community characterisation, hydrodynamic modelling, and greenhouse gas emissions. Liah’s work is strongly end-user focussed and based, and has involved strong links with industry partners, including five major Australian water utilities. 

Demonstrated outcomes of Liah’s research include a remote control boat platform and software used for conducting bathymetry surveys of water bodies, and waste stabilisation ponds in particular (i.e., sludge mapping). Her research has also involved development and implementation of training plans for water utilities for the uptake of this technology for use on their assets. This technology has been successfully implemented at five major Australian water utilities, but has seen broader applicability to the water industry and in environmental management. 

Aside from research in wastewater treatment, Liah has also been invovled in the bathymetry mapping and water quality assessment of urban lakes and rivers, including the first ever bathymetry mapping of the salt lakes on Rottnest Island, and quantification of sedimentation in natural pools along the Canning River. She is also obsessed with cake and has perfected her secret banana bread recipe!

Resources Related to the Episode (being updated…)

  • References to other episodes:
  • Waste Stabilization Ponds:
    • What is a waste stabilization pond? [Wikipedia]
    • Liah’s Overview of the Challenges for Waste Stabilization Ponds: Coggins, L.X., Crosbie, N.D. and Ghadouani, A., 2019. The small, the big, and the beautiful: emerging challenges and opportunities for waste stabilization ponds in Australia. Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Water6(6), p.e1383. [Open Access Link]
    • Discussion around the configuration of such ponds: Coggins, L.X., Sounness, J., Zheng, L., Ghisalberti, M. and Ghadouani, A., 2018. Impact of hydrodynamic reconfiguration with baffles on treatment performance in waste stabilisation ponds: A full-scale experiment. Water10(2), p.109. [Open Access Link]
    • Sludge Accumulation: Coggins, L.X., Ghisalberti, M. and Ghadouani, A., 2017. Sludge accumulation and distribution impact the hydraulic performance in waste stabilisation ponds. Water research110, pp.354-365. [Link]
  • More information about The Werribee Treatment Plant or Western Treatment Plant in Melbourne
  • The RAMSAR Convention on Wetlands [Official Page]
  • Bathymetry Mapping, also includes the study we did on the stormwater wetland: Coggins, L.X. and Ghadouani, A., 2019. High-resolution bathymetry mapping of water bodies: Development and implementation. Frontiers in Earth Science7, p.330. [Open Access Link]
  • On green house gas emissions: Bartosiewicz, M., Coggins, L.X., Glaz, P., Cortés, A., Bourget, S., Reichwaldt, E.S., MacIntyre, S., Ghadouani, A. and Laurion, I., 2021. Integrated approach towards quantifying carbon dioxide and methane release from waste stabilization ponds. Water Research202, p.117389. [Open Access Link]
  • Liah’s work using flow cytometry: Coggins, L.X., Larma, I., Hinchliffe, A., Props, R. and Ghadouani, A., 2020. Flow cytometry for rapid characterisation of microbial community dynamics in waste stabilisation ponds. Water Research169, p.115243. [Link]

Connect with Liah Coggins