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ENVIRONMENT & TRAVEL March 2007
 
 Soon a single tap ?
Reduce, Reuse and Recycle Australian Water
by Amy KRAFT

Residents of Queensland, Australia, are heating up as the government pushes to introduce recycled water into the state’s drinking supply.

Recycled water has been a point of debate in Australia for some time now as a record-breaking decade-long drought in the southern states has brought about a need for drastic change. With a current population of 6 395 000, the drinking supply for residents is quickly drying up.

Treated effluent is already topping off drinking water supplies in Singapore, Namibia, and various U.S. cities, while wastewater has been recycled and used in aquatic recreational facilities in Australian towns for decades. However, the water treatment plan proposed in Queensland is much more than "topping off" as the entire drinking supply is expected to derive from treated effluent.
Since talk of recycled water began, residents have created "yes" and "no" campaigns, both of which are very logical. The "yes" campaign promotes the safety of the proposed purification process and the necessity for a larger water supply in Australia, while the "no" campaign is more concerned with the psychological effects on residents who might be drinking water that once sat in a toilet, along with doubts about the safety of the purification process.
In a recent poll, residents of the city of Toowoomba in south-east Queensland rejected the idea of recycled water, and a group of residents collected nearly 10 000 signatures for a petition opposing the project.

The southern Australian city of Goulburn-Mulwaree is also considering a similar effluent recycling plan to ease water shortages, and the town's mayor Paul Stephenson says he will not wait to see what Toowoomba is doing before they start work on the project.
The project to introduce recycled water is being primarily funded by the Australian Research Council and the Federal Government. The Australian Research Council discusses the project in further detail on their website: "Toowoomba would have been the first city in Australia to use recycled sewage for drinking water, with its proposal for a new $68 million wastewater treatment plant to top up potable water supplies at Cooby Dam. The Goulburn proposal - which is still being considered - involves building a new wastewater plant as part of a $32 million project to recycle effluent and return it to the Sooley Dam catchment."*

Proposed purification methods for sewage water, groundwater and seawater include distillation, freezing, reverse osmosis, electrodialysis or ion exchange. According to the Australian Academy of Science, "[R]esearchers and water authorities in Australia say there's no scientific or health reason that recycled wastewater can't be safely used as part of drinking water supplies if treated properly."**
So the main problem for Australians is getting over the "yuk factor" and not thinking too hard about what they are drinking. Australian plan commissions have discussed the maintenance of confidence and trust between water agencies and their consumers to ensure the effectiveness of this project. Once plans in the southeast [...] are accepted, the Australian government hopes to introduce recycled water to all major Australian cities within the next 20 years.


Sources : * "Making Every Drop Count," http://www.arc.gov.au August 2006.
** "The Water Down Under," http://www.science.org.au.nova February 2007.
"Australians to Turn To Recycled Water," The New York Times 30 January 2007.

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