UNSW graduate engineer Alexandra Bennett has won recognition for an undergraduate project focused on an innovative way to help Australia's farms to withstand drought.

Alexandra, now working at Hyder Consulting, won the 2009 Australian Water Association National Undergraduate Water Prize for her thesis project, Fill in the Dams.

The project, supervised by UNSW Water Research Centre co-director Dr Bill Peirson, looked at converting small dams in inland Australia to groundwater dams by filling them with coarse material such as sand or gravel. Such groundwater dams, where the water is held in the gravel or sand, dramatically reduce the evaporation losses compared with conventional dams.

Judges for the award commended Alexandra's work for its "clear scope, transparent assumptions, meaningful output and potential for applied benefit".

Groundwater dams are used in arid countries elsewhere in the world and Alexandra said she would like to see a full-scale trial of her proposal carried out in Australia.

"As water scarcity increases we'll get more serious about securing reliable water supplies in these areas, so there'll only be greater potential for funding real-life projects like this," she said.

Alexandra, who graduated in 2008, won the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering Prize for Civil Engineering Practice and taught English to underprivileged children in Ethiopia for three months before beginning work with Hyder. Her project won the NSW undergraduate category in 2008 before going on to win the national award.

Media Contact: Peter Trute | 02 9385 1933 | p.trute@unsw.edu.au