Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Australian City Ponders Recycling Sewage For "Fresh" Water

From the AFP:

Residents of a drought-stricken Australian town will vote this week on whether they're prepared to drink water recycled from sewage -- the first such scheme in the country and one of only a handful in the world.

The controversial proposal has divided the town of Toowoomba in the state of Queensland, which has faced water restrictions for a decade.

Local Mayor Dianne Thorley, who is leading the "Yes" campaign, said that without drought-breaking rains the town's dams could dry up within two years.

She insisted the 73 million dollar (US 55 million dollar) plan to pump purified wastewater back into the main reservoir for drinking was safe.

"Somewhere, sometime we have got to stand up and change the way we are doing things," she told AFP as the town prepared for the July 29 referendum.
Given the city's location near a sea coast, one might think there would be other options. Then again, others might not relent in their mindless opposition. For more details, click here. For a more local view, click here and here.

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Paul Studier said...

Sounds like the Ground Water Replenishment System in Orange County, California. See
In Orange County, they use the ground water aquifer like a storage tank. It has an infinite amount of water in it, but if you pump too much, you suck up salt water from the ocean. So this storage "tank" is carefully managed and replenished with water from the Santa Ana River and other sources. The Ground Water Replenishment System will fill this aquifer with recycled sewage. This water will percolate through the ground for a couple years before actually being pumped up for drinking water, giving an extra layer of safety. It will be about half the cost of desalination of seawater, because sewage is less salty than the ocean.

Robert Schwartz said...

Everybody drinks recycled sewage. It is just a question of how far downstream you are.

john c said...

Toowoomba does not currently draw water from any river.

That's why it's so tempting for the recycled water companies to want to use Toowoomba as a test case.

FYI - Toowoomba is over 100kms from the coast.

That creates real problems for disposal of the RO waste stream. You can't pump it out to sea like Singapore.

Mayor Thorley is relying on a coal company to take the waste stream for coal washing but they don't want it.

Without their involvement, the project's costs double as hundreds of acres of evaporation pond will need to be built - something that is not in the Council's costings. Council also refuses to have the costs of the Water Futures project independently assessed.

The recycled water project does not solve Toowoomba's water issues. We will still need another water source. Toowoomba produces 8,000ML of sewage per annum and they think they can get 11,000ML of recycled water out of this. It's crazy. Singapore works on 80% recovery.

The other difference with the Singapore project is it recycled around 1%. Mayor Thorley's scheme involves 25-29% recycled sewage water for drinking.

No other planned indirect potable use project in the world uses such high levels. Even Council's advisers, CH2M Hill, think this rate is "high by international standards and will require further studies".

Robert Merkel said...

While desalination (nuclear or otherwise) is a good option for water supplies(and one that has already been adopted in Perth, Western Australia), it is generally a more expensive option than recycling sewage, which has been adopted in a number of countries and has proven quite safe and effective.

Recycling sewage and nuclear power are similar technologies in terms of public acceptance, actually - a lot of irrational fear that doesn't match up to a very safe record in practice.

So, with respect, I think you might be barking up the wrong tree this time; just because nuclear technology is often the right answer doesn't mean it's always the right answer.

In any case, there's nothing stopping the recycling plant from using nuclear-generated electricity!

wateruser06 said...

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.