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.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Toowoomba NO vote win in 2006 means greater access to water for all in 2010 ...


The Wivenhoe pipeline water is flowing and replenishing one of Toowoomba's three dams.

It's been an arduous (almost) five years since the debate over Toowoomba's water sources began. A failed attempt to construct a recycled water plant for Toowoomba. A referendum which overwhelmingly defeated the proposal. A former Mayor who went to hide in Tasmania. Political buck passing and hidden agenda. But finally a solution.

It might not be everyone's ideal solution.

The YES voters will say it's too expensive to pump water up from Wivenhoe Dam.

The NO voters will say there's still a risk of recycled water going into Wivenhoe Dam.

It's not possible to completely satisfy everyone, particularly given the animosity between opponents which still exists in Toowoomba. An enduring discontent caused by the proposal by the Qld Government and the former Toowoomba City Council to use Toowoomba as an initial experiment for a broader rollout of recycled water for drinking. The mere mention of the topic of water still results in a flurry of letters to the Chronicle.

To the YES voters - the recycled water plant was overwhelmingly rejected by a majority of voters at the 2006 Referendum. That's democracy - live with it. The recycled water, chlorination and fluoride mistakes and accidents that have occurred in recent times in Brisbane and the Gold Coast show that people were right to be cautious about the Government's ability to properly manage these projects.

To the NO voters - the Wivenhoe pipeline was one of the NO Case alternative water source options for the 2006 Referendum. It might not have been the option at the top of some people's lists but it was on the list. Brisbane dam levels are over 96% - the 40% trigger point for recycled water seems some time away, possibly after the next State election, depending on water usage and rain. The trigger point may always change depending on the political wind blowing at the time.

To both the YES and NO voters - any water source solution was going to be expensive. The rejected recycled water plant would have cost far in excess of the amount claimed by the former Toowoomba City Council. One of the problems is that the Qld government has wasted so much money in recent years, it has to force the Toowoomba ratepayers to bear a disproportionate amount of the Wivenhoe pipeline cost burden - something which is at odds with other State government sponsored infrastructure projects.

Toowoomba never ran out of water as foreshadowed by those favouring a recycled water solution but, three and a half years on from the 2006 Referendum, Toowoomba's dam catchment areas still haven't received sufficient rain to replenish the dams. Toowoomba has been able to rely on bore water to supplement its water supplies and can continue to do so. However, access to Wivenhoe water allows a greater degree of comfort that Toowoomba's water needs are covered - until such time as sufficient rain does fall. The need for additional water sources is especially relevant given the desire of both the Qld government and the Toowoomba Regional Council for further development and further increases in population.

An interesting recent statistic from The Australian:

"Australia-wide, once smaller industrial and bore-water purification plants are counted, 294 desalination plants are already in operation, with 976 more under construction and another 925 in planning."

The number of recycled water plants in operation, under construction and in planning is miniscule by comparison. The 2006 Referendum in Toowoomba has played no small part in the decision by governments to use desalination as a future water source. Desalination is being marketed as a 'rain independent source of water'. Unlike claims that recycled water is 'rain independent', this is actually true.

Recycled water proponents were caught out when claiming it would never rain again while advocating a rain dependent water source. You can't have it both ways.

As the drought continued and people's water consumption decreased, the figures for the rejected Toowoomba recycled water plant looked worse and worse.

In the end, to support the former Toowoomba City Council's output projections, it would have needed to produce more recycled water than the amount of sewage it was taking in - an impossibility - futher evidence that the proposal was doomed from the start and its rejection by Toowoomba's voters was the correct choice ...


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