Drought-stricken Australia Considers Accepting Reality

As a scientist, I’m amazed this is even being debated.

Drought-stricken Australia considers drinking recycled sewage

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.

“Otherwise our great grandchildren are going to be living in something like the Sahara desert.”

A vocal “No” campaign opposes the proposal, and says there are unforeseeable health risks for the town’s 100,000 residents.

“The scientists say it should be safe,” said local councillor Keith Beer, one of three members of the nine-strong council that opposes the plan. “That is not good enough for me, for my kids and my grandkids.”

For those of you cringing out there, I have some bad news for you. Every drop of water you’ve ever consumed has been recycled sewerage. Yes, even that fancy French bottled stuff.

Water, like everything in life, has a cycle. That coffee you consumed this morning was dinosaur excrement at one time. I live at the bottom of the Mississippi river. I don’t need to tell you what I drink every day.

We’re so self-deluded. We’ll dump treated sewerage effluent into a natural body of water then we’ll later use that same body of water as an input for a municipal system… But if you try to hook one to the other, people freak. What do they think happens in the middle and why don’t they think we can reproduce it?

A closed system is actually safer as there is less chance of accidental contamination by toxins.

I understand it’s “icky” to many people but closed (actually they’re semi-closed) systems make infinitely more sense.

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  • 914

    DavidG, My septic drains downhill on the other side of the house (frontyard) really a field of trees and shrubs, My well is 180 ft deep as of 1981.. the nearest neighbor is a half mile away and I live in sandy soil. I have never had any problems thank God it will continue.. Thanks Jeff

  • ReadyFirst

    tblubird, I think Janet was referring to my second post about recycling. God forbid you poke a little fun at the Church of environmentalism.

  • 914

    Falze

    No i’ve never had stomach cramps for no reason! I had food poisoning from a chicken sandwich from Hardees before..thats about it. have not ever even had a toothache or headaches. must be blessed I guess.

  • Yes, I was referring to ReadyFirst’s second thread and no, I wasn’t bashing him. I am just weary of the tendency we have too often to paste convenient, simplistic labels on issues and then refuse to address them because they are what the “others” propose. I tend to take rocks from both sides of the political spectrum because I don’t properly follow the dogma of either side. I find as soon as soon as the sneers start, thought stops. I like to listen to people who disagree with me because either they convince me, or they make me think more deeply about my opinions and understand them more thoroughly. Or they cause me to pick up a plank without adopting their entire platform. I happen to think that using limited resources responsibly is intelligent and not a conservative or a liberal issue. I am not prepared to worship the Earth Goddess or accept every word an environmentalist says just because they said it.

    So I wasn’t bashing ReadyFirst, but challenging the rather facile use of labels. Challenging one another’s thinking is what discussion is supposed to be all about.

  • penster

    Not all Aussies are funny about drinking recycled water, but the people of “Poowoomba” (as they are now being called) are Queenslanders, after all. Our northerners are rather like what I’ve heard about your southerners…

    I grew up in Adelaide, a southern city which is at the end of a river flowing through 3 of our 6 states. The water doesn’t taste great and they only got the yellow tinge out of it about 15 years ago. Moral of the story though: never did us any harm.

    Great idea about the nuclear reactor – we’re in the middle of a debate about that, too.

    Also, in case you’re wondering, it’s pronounced “t-WOOM-bah” (woom like cook). It’s an aboriginal word.

    Thanks for this blog. I laughed and laughed (with relief that some Americans have a decent sense of humour, among other things!).

    Cheers!

  • ed

    Hmmmm.

    DavidG, My septic drains downhill on the other side of the house (frontyard) really a field of trees and shrubs, My well is 180 ft deep as of 1981.. the nearest neighbor is a half mile away and I live in sandy soil. I have never had any problems thank God it will continue.. Thanks Jeff

    So…. How high is the hill your house is sitting on? 180 feet? Just joking. But when your septic runs down hill it’ll end up in the water table. How far below ground level, at the base of the hill, is your well?

    And btw. My father ran a municipal sewage treatment plant in New Hampshire for 25 years or so. He checked the quality of our water every 6 months and we had a somewhat similar setup. The septic tank was sited waaaayy in the back and the well was in front of the house.

    He still checked the water quality though. *shrug* it’s your GI tract. But a $15-$30 water test is a better option than getting parasites or any number of other nasty things.

  • 914

    Shrug its Your GI tract. but a 15-30$ is a better option then getting parasites or any number of other nasty things.”.

    Like liberals in the White House again pray tell?

    You have so much common sense You should write a book. Thanks Ed.. Jeff

  • John C

    Toowoomba does not currently draw water from any upstream river with discharge effluent.

    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”.

  • Paul

    Interesting post John

    As far as the evaporation fields there has been good work done firing water thru high pressure jets to atomize it and speed evapoation, this of course equires energy so it is not used to save money but land. That sounds like the oppsite of your problem.

    you typed:

    Toowoomba produces 8,000ML of sewage per annum and they think they can get 11,000ML of recycled water out of this.

    Did you flip those humbers? If not it really is crazy.

    Even Council’s advisers, CH2M Hill, think this rate is “high by international standards and will require further studies”.

    They might say that publically but that’s for the media. Any decent “water guy” in the world could design this system. Maximizing the yield is an issue as is energy usage.

    What nobody “in the general public” knows or understands is that treating water is dead simple with unlimited energy. The trick is to not use a KW/h of electricity for every gallon of water processed.

    If we ever hit the energy jackpot (fussion, Hydrogen etc) clean water everywhere is child’s play.

  • penster

    p.s. Sorry if this is all bit old news for you, but it’s one of the biggest issues in Australia, and will remain so for a LONG time.

  • John C

    Nope, the numbers are right. Trying to get 11,000 ML of water from 8,000 ML of sewage. Crazy.

    The comments by CH2M Hill weren’t public comments. They were made in the Council Federal funding application, which the Council resisted releasing to the ratepayers until a request was made under local freedom of information laws.