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.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

WA debate heats up - Recycled sewage — a taste of the future ...

Recycled sewage — a taste of the future

5 March 2009

Are we prepared to drink our own bodily wastes, no matter how highly purified? That was the simple question posed by a report on page two of this newspaper on Saturday.

There’s a view among some newspaper people that page two can be a bit of a graveyard for good stories, so that could explain why Alana Buckley-Carr’s exclusive report has not caused the public outcry some might have expected. The newspaper had received only one letter to the editor by yesterday.

The proposal is contained in
a draft policy released yesterday under which the Water Corporation sets a target of recycling 30 per cent of Perth’s waste water by 2030 and as much as 60 per cent by 2060.

The treated sewage would be pumped into groundwater aquifers and would eventually find its way back into the domestic supply.

Now maybe the issue was overlooked last Saturday, maybe 2030 seems a long way away, maybe people were waiting for the report to be released — it’s open for public comment until May 15 — or maybe no one really cares anymore.

But when this matter has been raised in other parts of Australia, it has created great passions.

Back in 2006, it split the Queensland city of Toowoomba in a bitter debate. A referendum of its 100,000 residents eventually rejected the plan by 62 per cent after a strong No campaign led by millionaire property developer and former mayor Clive Berghofer.

“We had the image of a garden city here with carnival of flowers,” Mr Berghofer said. “You go round Australia and now it’s Poowoomba. And that’s not good for our image.”

One of the biggest issues to emerge in the saga was a scare campaign built around concerns that bacterial and viral pathogens cannot be eliminated from wastewater.

Queensland Premier Anna Bligh is running away from plans to put recycled water into Brisbane’s main dam in the face of public unrest as she tries to win a knife-edge early election.

WA’s new Water Forever plan notes that most people in the community now believe that a long-term, sustained focus on using less water is central to living with less rainfall. “Since 2001, the average water use per person has decreased by 20 per cent,” the report says. “This translates to a saving of approximately 61 gigalitres of water over the last seven years.”

As impressive as that might sound, when the Water Corporation calculates our needs against assumptions of reduced rainfall and population growth, it comes up with the figure of an extra 120 gigalitres a year needed by 2030 — more than 40 per cent of our current use.

By 2060, Perth and connected towns will need an additional 365 gigalitres a year. However, the Water Corporation says it can meet that target by reducing the amount of water used, recycling more water and developing new water sources.

From my point of view, I’d be happier with extensive recycling into the domestic supply than increased desalination, if the health issues are irrefutably settled.

Dependence on desalination just highlights the unsustainability of big numbers of people in a place where the climate can no longer support them. And the previous government’s attempted deception that the first desalination plant did not depend on fossil fuel, a clear indicator of unsustainability, still rankles.

A sustainability index in the new report lists desalination as second last of the seven available water source options.

Water Forever proposes the expansion of the three existing wastewater treatment plants at Beenyup, Subiaco and Woodman Point and two new ones, at Alkimos and East Rockingham. It suggests four plants in the Mandurah area could be consolidated into two.

Regardless of the health concerns about the recycled water itself, the corporation is aware the odours inherent in these plants cause problems with neighbours. “The complete elimination of odours is difficult to achieve,” the report notes.

That aside, the Water Corporation intends to push ahead this year with
a three-year trial to test the viability of returning wastewater into the ground “to ensure that neither the environment nor human health would be impacted”.

“If the trial is successful and groundwater replenishment has regulatory approvals and community support, the Water Corporation will develop a groundwater replenishment scheme which will provide around 35 gigalitres of water for public water supply by 2030, enough to supply 145,000 households,” the report says.

“In the longer term to 2060, groundwater replenishment could provide up to 115 gigalitres, enough to supply almost half a million people. “Future treated wastewater from the Beenyup Wastewater Treatment Plant has been reserved for groundwater replenishment, subject to the outcomes of the trial.

“Recycled water from the Subiaco Wastewater Treatment Plant could replenish groundwater to prevent salt water from the ocean entering aquifers used as a drinking water source in the Gwelup area. Recycled water from Woodman Point could also be considered for groundwater replenishment in the longer term, potentially returning high quality recycled water into groundwater near Jandakot.”

Interestingly, there is no attempt in the report to canvass the health issues. Obviously, the authors decided to leave that fight to another day.

These matters are both real and perceived. There will be many in the community who baulk at the thought of drinking recycled sewage, whether they have real health concerns or not. There are others who will just want to be reassured that the water is safe to drink and won’t worry about the perceptions of gargling their own recycled outputs. However, it’s possible that the penny has really dropped with West Australians about the consequences of our drying climate and that the very existence of the desalination plant has changed our thinking.

The West - Recycled sewage - a taste of things to come.

Also see - Water Forever: Directions for Our Water Future.

A three-year trial to test the viability of returning wastewater into the ground “to ensure that neither the environment nor human health would be impacted”?

And yet Anna Bligh is prepared to pour it into Wivenhoe Dam for human consumption as soon as she's elected in her own right and 'dam levels' drop below 40% ...


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting how they have always had to credit Clive Berghofer with the win for the No vote. While Clive was a supporter and a friend to the CADS team he did not lead it or fund the fight. There were many , many more who put up money from their hard earned income.

It always looks better for the State and Federal governments to credit a millionaire with the victory but it was the every-day citizen who put every thing on the line and they won!

The government would loose face if the truth was printed because they spent the millions and the Toowoomba people spent a fraction of that money. The truth is hard to hide and under extreme conditions the CADS group got the message out to the people.
Processed sewage as a water supply is never a popular solution to a water crisis and they know it so they have to start to scare the people all over again.
Prof Collignon from Camberra has voiced his concerns and he is an expert in the field of water.

If Anna Bligh wins her State election she will tell the people that she has a mandate to use processed sewage into Wivenhoe Dam even before it gets down to 40% -so please consider your vote.

8:22 AM, March 06, 2009


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