I chaired a water seminar for Martin Leet of The Brisbane Institute a couple of weeks ago. Martin has put a report together on the event, click here. I introduced the seminar by suggesting there was nothing more important, after water, than the exchange of information. The first speaker, Blair Nancarrow from CSIRO Land and Water, promptly explained how you could provide people with all the information in the world, but if they didn’t trust you, or the process, you would get nowhere.
Blair was specifically talking about the difficulty of getting people to accept that recycled waste water from sewerage treatment plants can be made safe to drink.
Various studies have indicated that recycling is a real option for many Australian cities and probably one of the best option for securing Brisbane’s water supply in the medium term. But it is politically difficult.
The Mayor of Toowoomba, a regional centre 100 odd kilometers to the west of Brisbane, is trying to force the concept on residents and she is encountering a heap of resistance.
Interestingly, according to Blair’s survey work people are more likely to accept recycled waste water if it comes via an underground aquifer – rather than straight from the treatment plant.
The Western Australian Government has perhaps picked up on this finding with an announcement today that it is considering “injecting” treated waste water into a local aquifer:
The Western Australian Government is examining ways to convert waste water into drinking water. The Managed Aquifer Recharge Project will look at the potential to inject treated waste water into aquifers and then reclaim the water for irrigation and hopefully for drinking. Premier Geoff Gallop says 100 gigalitres of waste water is pumped into the ocean each year. Dr Gallop says while $3 million will be spent on the study, similar schemes are already in operation across the world.
I was interested to read that this recycling project could recover perhaps 100 gigalitres of water. The proposed Perth desalination plant was only going to deliver 45 gigalitres – about the same amount that could be produced by reducing tree cover in the catchment.
And a cautionary note on water restrictions:
Before it started raining here in Brisbane, the local city council introduced water restrictions with much fanfare about how we should all do the right thing by the environment and not water our gardens, shower together, etcetera, etcetera. Anyway, the restrictions have proven so popular we have saved twice as much water as intended. The Mayor is now complaining because there will be a hole in his budget from all the water savings – water Brisbane residents won’t be paying for.