Water Recycling

Last Saturday I launched a petition to encourage people living in South East Queensland to express their support for fully reusing wastewater. It has been made clear time and again that most political leaders at state and local level generally do not have the courage to bring in full water recycling because they are too scared of a community backlash. So the more people in the South-East Qld region who put their hands up and say they support full recycling, the better chance there is that political ‘leaders’ will follow. More...

The evidence is very strong that reusing purified wastewater is safe, as well as clearly being cheaper, more reliable and less socially and environmentally damaging than other alternatives.

It is also clear that most political leaders know this, which makes me amazed that the government is more willing to destroy the communities and lives of thousands of people around the Mary River, at massive economic and environmental cost, rather than run the risk of mildly upsetting a million or so voters in the wider region by putting purified water into their water supply.

It’s a good example of a minority being sacrificed and having to pay a severe price to avoid possibly upsetting the majority. If people throughout the South-East region indicate their support for water recycling, it would also help overcome the feeling that some people in Toowoomba have that they are being used as guinea pigs to test recycling, while other communities are not being subjected to it.

The Toowoomba referendum is this Saturday, and it will certainly be a setback to the wider implementation of water recycling if it does not succeed, although personally I think it is a question of when, not if, recycling is widely implemented. However, the sooner the better for our region and its environment, so I very much hope it does succeed this weekend. I hope to travel up to Toowoomba again on Saturday to do my bit to encourage people to vote Yes.

If you want to sign the petition or print out copies to hand around, click on this link.

(Note that this petition is designed specifically for people of South-East Queensland. While the environmental and health advantages of recycling are the same anywhere, the economics and water supply issues are different in other regions. I know for sure it well and truly stacks up for my own region in the South-East, but I can’t say for sure in every other area).

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20 Comments

  1. Andrew, I believe water recycling MUST & will inevitably play a part in the future of South-East Queesland’s water system…the dry spells we’ve experienced in the past decade are surely indicative of climate change due to factors such as Global Warming (changes in sea temp.& resultingly organisms in the sea, volcanic activity in Indonesia, solar intensity, CO2 buildups, deforestation & fires in the North & neighbouring regions & so on).

    My Father-in-Law is 70 this year & has spent much of his life on the land out near Beaudesert & socialising w/ many a wise old farmer…he was skeptical of the Global Warming pronouncements a few years back…over a beer we’d chat about the dry spells the oldies remembered or were told about from the beginning of the 20th Century. He told me a couple of years ago that some of the oldies were sure the drought would end that year & we’d get plenty of flooding etc. It didn’t materialise to any consistent extent.

    My wife & I lunched w/ him down by a creek recently. He marvelled that it was running well…running at all in fact…& made the pronouncement that it had remained far drier than he & his mates had expected. He’s starting to worry that the Global Warming advocates might be right. He even commented that recycled water might be ‘the go’ rather than ‘kicking folk off the land to build dams that won’t get enough water where they’re being put’.

    I reckon the wrecking ball that destroyed the ‘Yes’ campaign was the sudden rainfall. There’s nothing like hope…being provided with evidence that there might be a reprieve on the way…that the pragmatists are merely alarmists…any excuse to stick w/ the comfy old status quo…particularly when you think you might have to drink water from ‘icky’ effluent for the rest of your days – I guess most people are unconcerned about the other type of pollutants & animal crap that get into their water before it’s treated.

    Interesting how the climate came to the ‘No’ campaign’s rescue, yet will probably prove to be a capricious friend to them at best. Ironic…but I guess that’s what we get in a world of ‘chaos’ & unpredictability. Gaia can be a harsh mistress…:)

  2. Hello Andrew,

    I don’t think the Toowoomba result is a setback for water recycling at all.

    Exit polling (undertaken by the “no” campaign) indicated that the major factors for “no” voters were the lack of (early) community consultation and a perceived unwillingness of the council to give due consideration to alternative water management options. I believe these were much more significant issues than the suggestion that there may be something fundamentally wrong with the concept of planned potable water recycling. Toowoomba residents are not as irrational as they are currently being portrayed.

    There are many lessons to be learned from Toowoomba. The most important of these relate to the process (and timing) of providing people with information and allowing them to respond to it. If we don’t learn these lessons, we are doomed to repeat the mistakes. Watching people in the media lashing out at Toowoomba residents for being stupid, naive and irrational is not encouraging.

  3. That ex major made me just want to reach threw the tv screen and give him a good shaking,I think his a property develpor and he seems more concerned about his business then anything? (he was allways going on about how people would not settle in the region etc… But I think the oppisite maybe more people will chose to settle in the city when they show how progressive they can be?more business may also settle their as well if they no theirs a reliable and cheap water supply?

  4. good to be back in cyberspace with you Andrew,
    you could have used the opportunity of a new site to transcend purple, but anyway.

    I am not a strong supporter of recycling sewage into our water system. Not because of the yuk factor but because the whole system is based on flush toilets.

    I would have voted yes in Toowoomba though.

    We(e) need a poo focus rather than a drinking water focus.

    Where does our poo come from? From the land. The nutrients in the soil feed the plants, some of which we eat, some is eaten by animals that some of us eat. The nutrients then go through us and get reincarnated as poo which, theoretically should go back to the soil to fertilise the next cycle.

    However instead of pooing into the soil, we poo into clean fresh drinking water and flush it into river or ocean systems where the nutrients turn evil and cause all sorts of imbalances such as massive algae blooms that cover and kill all other marine plant life, which kills fish, that we omnivores can’t eat any more. e.g. Moreton Bay.

    Centralised recycling projects such as the ex-Toowoomba plan will do great things to improving marine ecology by no longer dumping sewage into waterways, but it still is a water focus to poo rather than a real poo focus.

    The Answer? Dry compost toilets, simplicity itself. Apart from creating brilliant fertiliser that can be collected by councils or free enterprise if home residents don’t want it, and it immediately reduces household water consumption by 30%.

    Compost toilets, water tanks and greywater recycling can all be done at the individual household level. If the massive cost of dams or centralised recycling systems could be channelled into private home recycling systems (that could connect to local centralised systems) we have a cost effective recycling system that does not involve the immediate metamorphosis of poo into drinking water.

    It would increase the value of private properties through such state subsidised toilet renovations too, as water becomes a more desperate issue in the future.

    I’ve got nothing against recycling poo into drinking water, there is no new water in the world, it has all been recycled for millions of years and the clean water we drink today has been a lot of peoples poo in the last few million years.

    However the simple design function of the “S bend” in toilets to keep the smell out of the house is the only reason for flush toilets. This minor design function has become a major factor of water use, and it doesn’t have to be.

    There are all sorts of gadgets and gizmos on the 21st century’s range of off-the-shelf hygenic compost toilets that easily outperform the S” bend”. There is even one where you step on a pedal and your poo magically dissappears as a new recepticle appears.

    However many councils will not allow compost toilets and some changes to law will have to occur for such a simple cost effective solution to be implemented. Just like what is happening with water tanks. I remember when you were not allowed to have water tanks in Brisbane, now they are encouraged and subsidised.

    The next best thing to dry compost toilets is the biolytix (company name) system which recycles poo and grey water producing clean water for the garden (but not drinking) and lots of fertiliser too.

    I reccomend biolytix for those habitually addicted to flush toilets, if you have enough excess water, why not?

    but the dry compost toilet is our real poo-savior.

    po poo pee do!

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  6. If the population of south-east Queensland doubles by 2050 (as State government forecasts predict) there is no way we can survive without water recycling. And I think the people of Toowoomba have been fairly short-sighted in rejecting this proposal. I hope they realise that their rates are now likely to increase because almost every other solution is more expensive.

    Let’s not forget that Malcolm Turnbull was ready to give money for the recycling scheme before Ian MacFarlance (I believe) stepped in to ensure there was an unnecessary referendum.

    And in a chance to bring in a slight change of topic, like Andrew, I belive water recycling is inevitable in the same way a republic is inevitable. But you have to agitate to make it happen.

  7. Many people in Toowoomba voted No, not because of any scare tactics, but because they had read the Council’s NWC funding application that Mayor Thorley tried to keep secret. This document showed the project as being fundamentally flawed.

    The Water Futures project was never a solution – where was the RO waste stream going to go. Where was Thorley going to hide it? Acland Coal didn’t want it. Without their involvement, the project’s cost doubled. How high would rates be then?

    You will be surprised at how quickly other water source options are now adopted for Toowoomba.

  8. When its lying in the feild they hit it with a chemical which is basically radio active.

    I posted about this once before.

    There is no way you can remove that back out again.

    I suggest we find the name of the chemical they are not telling us about.

    I had a friend that dedicated much of her life to this years ago.

    Its about time we collected the water running down the gutters outside your homes.

    There was a profesor living in Australia that turned water into sea water.

    We are surrounded by ocean?

    The recycled water in other countries i heard were one percent poo and ours was to be twenty five percent ?

    I agree with John C.

    However John dont be surprised if the federal Government and the Premier work together to over ride the vote and stick a plant there anyway.

    If they do then between the migrants the tourists and then our water being the same as overseas we will see the same diseases here in Australia.

    They dont tell you about that do they.

    The counter argument would also be as Australia is the country with the least water then surley we need to stop people coming to stay not bring more.

    QLD recives thousands of people arriving on a permanant bassis each week.

    Look at the high rises all over the place.
    Of course we are running out of water.

    The Gold Coast for eG was never meant to carry this amount of people even in our best rain fall.

    More trees cut down and less rain.

    More people coming and more trees cut.

    The answer is looking at us all in the face.

  9. Andrew is it possible to do a national petition for Recycled water? This is a national issue and one that is particularly important to states that are much drier than QLD like SA and WA.

  10. Exactly Davo. I am from South Australia and we are essentially drinking recycled water now. All the major towns along the Murray pump treated sewage water back into the Murray.

    The water from the Murray is then piped (from Murray Bridge and Mannum) to Adelaide’s Dams and then goes through the standard drinking water treatment process.

    The fears of recycled water that have been used by the ‘No’ campaign in Toowoomba, QLD probably would not work here because of it.

  11. There is no evidence to support the reuse of purified sewage as safe.

    At all times, we should take the position of using the best possible source of water for potable use.

    Our first option should be recycling sewage to free up drinking water in preference to directly replenishing current supplies.

    Good reasons for this approach include the unknown long-term outcomes from ingesting recycled wastewater and the expense involved in programs that monitor the quality of treatment to avoid the possibility of adverse effects.

    Since there is no scientific evidence to support the safe use of recycled wastewater for drinking purposes, more research is required on long-term health effects and the impact on the environment.

  12. There was an informative article by Peter Fisher from CQU in last Wednesday’s Higher Education supplement in the Australian. The summary line read ‘Water can be made fit for re-consumption, but research reveals it isn’t a simple process.

  13. True it isn’t possible to produce 11000ML from 8000ML. Acland coal doesn’t want their 2000ML. So 11000 – 2000, leaves 9000, an awful lot closer to the 8000ML produced from sewage. There are plenty of other companies that could use the waste water, but that is only if people refuse to drink it.
    The point is that 8000ML is currently leaving the system can be reclaimed.
    More importantly the current water supply, the Dams don’t disappear and will continue to produce water a current 13600ML yield, once you add 8000ML that really does improve the figures significantly. More than another dam would in fact.
    http://www.usc.edu.au/NR/rdonlyres/24D5012C-F91A-4C47-8459-CE8005B284E9/0/Dianne_Thorley_WW.pdf#search=%22recycled%20water%20toowoomba%22

    Everything I have read refers to the RO system reducing the amount of waste water Singapore dumps into the sea, as this is what they do with their sewage if it isn’t recycled. The waste left from the RO process can be used to produce greenhouse gas neutral power and is one of the best benefits is that this waste. See http://www.fuelcells.org.au/waste-water-recycling-Australia.htm for how it works.
    The cost of a RO plant is $68 million compared to other options such as desalination plants that run into the billions. It is relatively cheap, see for details on the NSW plan. http://www.smh.com.au/news/national/sewage-to-star-in-water-plan/2005/07/14/1120934364087.html
    Not too mention that most Dams cost in the vicinity of 50 -100’s of millions and they almost always blow out to cost %50 more than the budgeted cost and fail to meet their expected yield. http://www.irn.org/wcd/

  14. Andrew.

    Perhaps you would like to debate that with the guys from Singapore brought here to do the job.

    Their office is just down from the Nernag RSL club on the Gold Coast.

    Thats not far from the old Nerang Council Chambers.

    We just put up on of them for a week.

    Hes now been posted to the plant and only left two hours ago.

    His mate has been here much longer working on this.
    Long before it was made public.

    For a start I cant, or as Donna might insist I can not see why our Australian people dont do the work.
    However apart from that of course nobody wants to drink it. Certainly not them thats for sure.

    The fire fighters in Sydney clearly have done a bit more reading than some.

    The Skin takes in more than anything else which is their concern.

    Yes we will have to use it because we watch water go down the drain quite literally.

    However people have a right to be told everything.

    I made a point of asking both men about my friend Dales reasearch regarding the chemical added to it when its left laying in the field to sun.
    They said yes she was totally correct.

    Once you add it there is no way to get it out.

    They also said it does make many people sick in time.

    Now thats from the guys doing the job!

    Perhaps they know more than we do.

    As far as QLD is concerned we need to stop people coming here to live until this is sorted.

    In the mean time I have spoken with the manager of a company that installs the small machines that make water from air.

    They are only nine dollars a week or two thousand dollars to buy.

    If we use those for drinking and cooking and rain water for showers or to water vegetables we can use the other for everything else.

    That sounds ok to me however I do think people have a right to be told the truth.

    In the end it will save the tax payers and the Government a lot on Health Services if they are honest now.

    Of course we have to use recycled water for tiolet, washing machines and industrial work washing cars and household work etc.

    That simply makes good sense.

    I will find the numbers and post it on your page
    The company is looking to meet with QLD Government.

    Perhaps you might like to help with that.

  15. Thanks For That Andrew.
    As soon As everybody wakes up i will track down where they put my pamplet on it and post the information.
    In the mean time i was thinking.
    I asked the manager about larger ones. I was mainly thinking for regional areas for droughts etc.
    He said yes they have a big one.
    The biggest one so far is about two hundred and fifty thousand.

    I am sure if the Government got behind this they could made huge ones.

    I know this is a bit off post but i thought that might be a good start to insist these sheep and cattle people had one on each station.
    Its criminal of the Government to ALLOW them to breed , knowing that animals die of thirst in padocks.

    Then again compaired to what happens it might be kinder to leave them their.
    Business could get involved with projects as well.

    High Rises could have them instead of knocking off our dam water.
    Anyway i will get the details to you soon.

  16. I would like to draw Andrew’s and everyone else’s attention the following website “Tanks not Dams”.
    http://www.tanksnotdams.com/

    The website is just a new experiment at present, it will develop but is a basic expression of the concern of a numbr of Toowomba water activists that did not fit into the yes/no of the Toowoomba referendum.

    In short these people say that, given the expected rainfall in S.E.Qld. reduction due to climate change, by the time the mega dams and recycling systems are built rainfall will not be enough to fill the dams. This is where the science beyond my knowledge comes into it. A reduction in rainfall will result in a greater reduction of run off water into dams. Less rain will fall and an even smaller percentage of the rain that does fall will end up in the dam. I guess this is because the dry earth and vegetation will soak up the same amount leaving less for run off, but I haven’t looked into the science of it. Also evaporation rates increase with decreased humidity and is a constant issue in dams..

    However with tanks, the amount of rainfall reduction will match equally the amount the roof and tank collect. No loss through evaporation too.

    These people argue that the millions of dollars that is going into the mega dams and recycling should go into water tanks on private homes and other buildings. That things like home water tanks should be the frontline of a government water policy, not an optional private extra.

    They also stress the need for water reduction at the household level including domestic water recycling.

    In my opinion there has been a confusing of the real issues through the very real sensation of communities under threat from dams which the greens have focused on, especially bringing Bob Brown into the campaign. They have been somewhat simplistic in supporting centralised water recycling such as the Toowomba option.

    The Greens water policy
    http://qld.greens.org.au/policies/urban-water-policy
    includes subsidies and water tanks being compulsory in new houses but nearly all of us live in existing houses and this is where much of the water is being consumed and very little is being collected.

    I believe there is a lot of merit in the “Tanks not Dams” people’s argument that domestic tanks should be a priority of government policy and expenditure, not just a subsidy for private choice but a systematic instalment of tanks and recycling devices into existing buiildings. These tanks will catch the next few big rainfalls, which might be the last for a while?, and when rainfall drops this will not impact as much as the dam options. The dam options will miss the next few wet seasons but the S.E.Q. population continues to grow and demand more and more water.

    Tanks not dams seems to be a good policy to me, not to totally replace other options but as a significant support to them especially existing dams, reducing the need to wipe out communities and ecosystems through more dams which may may not fill for 70 or 80 years, or maybe never?.

    My friend who put the site up is aware that are many issues covered such as connections to existing systems, health regulations for water use and a million other details that as a small community group is beyond them. But he feels this issue is such a crisis and is frustrated as his fellow water activists are frustrated that not all options have been seriously explored and the ones that are better than dams have been ignored as a factor of mass or social water collection and distribution. Just private optional add-ons. the subsidy approach.

    Andrew’s site, similar to the Greens. offers tanks as an “additional” option.
    http://www.andrewbartlett.com/faq.php?id=13&category=1
    The democrats support the local collection of storm water which may be an option in some situations, especially through such things as revitalising wetlands in line with natural ecology. My tanks not dams friend had some concerns about this as it may deny natural river systems the run off for them to survive. And of course the water collected from roofs is of a better quality and in need of little treatment if any to be potable.

    I am sure that this tank approach is relevent to most areas of Australia, not just S.E. Qld.

  17. Dont Let The city Slickers plumbers fool you.

    For those considering buying a water tank to take advantage of the Government rebate here are a few tips.
    order the Tank Direct From The manufacters to cut out the middle man. You should be able to buy a five thousand liter tank between $900.00 To $ 1000.00 dollars.
    The Tank will take between one month and six to arrive depending on where you order.
    Next order about on cubic Square meters of cracker dust and spread it yourself. If you land is on a slope you will need to level an area. If its very steep you might have to box itin with some hardwood timber.
    In most cases putting it on a stand is not necceassary and just more expense.
    Next pick a plumber you know. You should be able to hook it up to a down pipe and connect a pump in an hour or the most and hour and a half.
    Dont buy a cheap pump for two hundred they break down. get one for four hundred with a good warrenty.
    I posted this because city people are being ripped off. Many people are being given quotes between three and four grand.
    You get two hundred to five hundred back from the council and one thousand from the federal Goverment. You can double dip. The Federal Government do not inspect just send your paid account. There is up to a 60 day wait for refund.

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