The 4350water Blog highlights some of the issues relating to proposals for potable reuse in Toowoomba and South East Qld. 4350water blog looks at related political issues as well.

Monday, December 22, 2008

SEQ water - Brisbane pushes ahead with water recycling plan ...

Brisbane pushes ahead with water recycling plan

Australian Broadcasting Corporation

Broadcast: 19 November 2008

Reporter: Peter McCutcheon

Questions are being raised as to why the Queensland Government is pushing ahead with a contentious multi-billion dollar water recycling scheme, despite a reasonably wet year in the states south-east.


KERRY O'BRIEN, PRESENTER: Brisbane's devastating storm this week damaged thousands of homes, but also brought welcome rain to the region's catchments, rounding off what has been a reasonably wet year for south-east Queensland after years of drought.

And that's why questions are being raised as to why the Queensland Government is pushing ahead with a contentious multi-billion dollar water recycling scheme.

From early next year, Brisbane will be the first city in Australia to have its drinking supplies topped up by purified recycled water sourced from sewage treatment plants.

Peter McCutcheon reports from Brisbane.

MERILYN HAINES, QUEENSLANDERS FOR SAFE WATER: We don't live in the middle of a desert. We don't live on a space ship where you have to have recycle water. It's not desperate times.

JOHN BRADLEY, QUEENSLAND WATER COMMISSION: The key thing is not to count our chickens before they're hatched.

PETER MCCUTCHEON, REPORTER: South-east Queensland is recovering from one of the worst droughts on the record.

But the State Government is committed to a $2.4 billion dollar water recycling project as insurance against future droughts, climate change and the demands of a growing population.

The Queensland Premier Anna Bligh is resisting calls to cut off the supply of recycled water to Brisbane's Wivenhoe Dam.

ANNA BLIGH, QUEENSLAND PREMIER: the only circumstance that I could see is if we got so much rain that the dams were overflowing and there was frankly nowhere to put it.

SNOW MANNERS, TOOWOOMBA COUNCILLOR: We'll have to drink recycled water because it's the Armageddon solution. The Armageddon solution, there is destruction confronting us, therefore we must drink from the sewers.

PETER MCCUTCHEON: The debate over Australia's largest and most ambitious water recycling project has seen at least one scientist break ranks about advanced water purification.

PETER COLLIGNON, ANU MICROBIOLOGIST: My view is that this is good technology or as good technology as you can get, but you should only use it as last resort, you shouldn't use it routinely.

PAUL GREENFIELD, CHEMICAL ENGINEER, UNI. OF QLD: The risks will be no higher; in fact in some cases they will be lower.

KEITH DAVIES, BUNDAMA WASTE TREATMENT: By the time we get the water, it's almost clear.

PETER MCCUTCHEON: The head of the Western Corridor Recycled Water project, Keith Davies, took the 7.30 Report on a guided tour of a water treatment station at Bundamba, west of Brisbane.

(Extract, Corporate Video)

NARRATOR: Our droplet then takes the first step toward purification.

(Extract ends)

PETER MCCUTCHEON: He explained how the water is put through micro filtration, a reverse osmosis membrane, then finally a process called advanced oxidation.

KEITH DAVIES: I'm passing it through a very intense dosage of ultraviolet light.

PETER MCCUTCHEON: So you zap it?

KEITH DAVIES: We zap it. This is hundreds of times stronger than the sun.

PAUL GREENFIELD: The water coming out of the advanced water treatment plant and going into the dam is in fact cleaner than a lot of the water that runs across the land on which there may be cattle feed lots etc going into the dam.

DR PETER COLLIGNON: This is basically a high risk procedure and also in fact very high in energy use as well.

One scientist who does have a different view is microbiologist Professor Peter Collignon from the Australian National University.

He concedes Queensland is using state-of-art technology, but he's worried that over time, something could go wrong.

Would it also be fair to say that you expertise is in microbiology, not in water technology?

DR PETER COLLIGNON, MICROBIOLOGIST, ANU: Well I think it's true, but I do know that germs kill lots of people and I've seen the effects of those and I do know that some of those germs got through the water we could have a lot of people very sick.

PETER MCCUTCHEON: So what's the general public to make of all this?

Well the definitive authority in Australia is the National Health and Medical Research Council's Advisory Committee on water quality chaired by Professor Don Bursall who hasn't always been a fan of recycled drinking water.

DON BURSALL, WATER SCIENTIST, NHMRC: My personal preference is for water authorities to have a look at all the other conventional options first.

PETER MCCUTCHEON: However Professor Bursall says he's been impressed by both the technology and regulatory regime being proposed in Queensland, and his committee looked closely at whether the risks can managed.

DON BURSALL: We came to the conclusion that they can, and can be made very safe and the risks aren't zero but neither are they in conventional water supply systems, but we felt that they were virtually as safe as conventional water systems.

PETER MCCUTCHEON: The debate amongst scientists has been seized on by opponents of water recycling, such as Merilyn Haines from Queenslanders for Safe Water, who organised a meeting of concerned residents in Brisbane on the weekend.

SNOW MANNERS: We don't know what it is that we don't know about. And history would tell us that that's a very, very dangerous place to go.

MERILYN HAINES: If there's a risk, if there's a danger, then you should be using the precautionary principle, you shouldn't be bulldozing ahead using untried technology. I mean, no one in the world does this.

PAUL GREENFIELD: We're not being guinea pigs. There are a number of places, not a huge number, that have this direct or planned, I should say, recycle approach.

PETER MCCUTCHEON: But the Queensland Water Commission says the whole international comparison debate is a furphy, because just about everyone consumes recycled sewage water in some form.

JOHN BRADLEY: Anyone that's living in Sydney is receiving supplementation from sewage treatment plants upstream of Warragamba Dam and similar supplementation occurs in Melbourne and in Adelaide.

PETER MCCUTCHEON: As the construction of Australia's biggest water recycling project comes to an end, the scene is being set for a possible political showdown, with the Queensland Opposition promising to only use recycled water when the dams are critically low.

But this multi-billion dollar piece of infrastructure has been designed for the long-term, not an emergency stop gap.

PETER COLLIGNON: We are better off taking the lowest lot of risks we can take.

JOHN BRADLEY: We have every confidence that the water that goes into the dam will be higher than the quality of the dam itself and that the system as a whole will pose no additional risk to public safety and public health in south-east Queensland.

KERRY O'BRIEN: Peter McCutcheon reporting from Brisbane.

See - ABC 7:30 Report - Brisbane pushes ahead with water recycling plan.


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