Monday, November 07, 2005

Bring on the turd towns

Proposed waste water recycling program draws an emotional response Perhaps you saw the SBS Insight forum last week (transcript) about supplementing current mains water with purified "waste water". I hope I have used the best terms, because "recycled waste water" seemed to be an emotive term on the show as Toowoomba's mayor pointed out. Since the wasted water is not just being recycled but also purified we may as well say it!

I remember Rosie Beaton casually commenting on Triple J that she didn't want to drink water recycled from sewerage and politely noting that several people had called to say she shouldn't say that, but that she still really "didn't like the idea". It's okay for Rosie to have that opinion privately, but she probably hadn't thought about it at the time and she's influencing the nation's youths here! It's practically the only thing she's ever said that disappointed me.

Now, here's the bottom line. Buried deep in that transcript in one line is the revelation that the recycled waste water is purified to a level that's equivalent to that of current mains water! Greg Leslie (UNSW) says:
The relative risk associated with this is less than or at worst equal to what we are doing right now.
Or to move away from those dry technical terms, it's 100% safe to drink, which represents a small fraction of overall water usage. If you live in Adelaide you probably don't drink Adelaide water anyway. I'll look forward to purified waste water which actually will be potable!

On a side note: the purified recycled water also doesn't taste or smell shitty. This was demonstrated during the forum and seemed to convince a few participants to change their mind over recycled water.

The rest of that entire forum danced around the issues of public perception and unsubstantiated fear-mongering regarding the shrinking of male genitalia! And then we were distracted by the outspokenness of Toowoomba's vociferous mayor, Dianne Thorley who visited Singapore and learned all about recycling waste water for human consumption, and loudly defends her decision to implement it in Toowoomba! Well I will excuse her for her loud voice. She had to deal with such thickheadedness; primarily a lobby group made up of Toowoomba residents who were afraid of their city being nicknamed "Turd Town". Well I could come up with some more: we can call Sydney "Shit City"... or Adelaide "Crapelaide"... or Tassy "Turd Island"...

...Or we could just leave the playground, start being smart about water recycling, and be proud of our water-smart cities.

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Blogger Sarah said...

You know, I'd never heard that 'turd town' tag until those Toowoomba anti-recycling morons brought it up... I figure they coined it themselves. It was nice to see a Mayor who believes in doing something for the future of the community, unlike Brisbane's own Campbell Newman (whose mummy was a former Howard Gvt minister, don'tcha know), whose idea of being Mayor involves strutting around with a puffed up chest covered with a big gold chain and getting on TV a lot.

November 07, 2005 10:44 pm  
Blogger mick said...

I think purified water is a great idea. I mean, it's kinda what we do already. Do people think that water coming out of a lake that is surrounded by farms and other such things is clean?

November 08, 2005 12:43 am  
Blogger geoff said...

I do too mick. At least recycled water has been through purifying processes to the nth degree. The lab where i work tests water samples for compliance with the Aust drinking water standard for radioactivity. I'm betting recycled water is much lower in radium levels than "normal" water which contains natural radioactivity.

In fact, most groundwater isn't purified much at all before we drink it ('cos it hasn't got much bacterial activity), and surface water is treated as little as possible (and it's been exposed to all the farm gunk, as you say).

November 08, 2005 11:29 am  
Anonymous djfoobarmatt said...

I've been following the Toowoomba thing since last year and reading the lobby groups blog on the against team. They really have a lot of predudice on this issue - reinterpreting everything in their own paranoid way but I don't think thay are alone. It will take a better educated community to accept purified recycled water. It seems that there is a lack of trust for these people.

Having said that, I worry about the possibility of accidents with this kind of scheme. You'd want to make sure they have lots of redundancy built in so that if one part of the system fails, they can get by on a secondary set of filters or whatever. I worry that in order to keep costs down, this side of things might be scaled back.

November 08, 2005 7:53 pm  
Anonymous Geoff said...

Don't forget that Dr Leslie (UNSW) also works for CH2M Hill, the contractor building the proposed Toowoomba plant. Independent he is not.
Also, one point not raised on SBS is that there are three reports prepared for the Federal government in the past 5 months which all say maybe recycled water is safe but we need to do more research.
Please don't lump me in with the extreme anti-lobby - I would just like to see the Federal government resolve their outstanding issues before it is adopted. Otherwise, Toowoomba will be the experiment for the rest of Australia as those outstanding issues are resolved.

November 08, 2005 8:43 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You're right that there is a real lack of trust. People in Toowoomba would be more accepting if the Council hadn't gone about this in such a secretive manner. Even now, they still have closed meetings to discuss water issues.

November 08, 2005 8:45 pm  
Blogger Lisa said...

Good point regarding Dr Leslie. I think I missed this fact, Geoff. In the end, I just hope we can be open to the idea of recycling waste water because the possibility is there for it to be purified to a level which is completely acceptable.

Of course it would be foolish to throw our skepticism of the politicians and industry frontmen out of the window. We should retain that regardless of how good a proposition sounds!

In this case though, I hope we can right the bias that's imposed simply by instinctive distaste for the thought of water derived from a waste product.

November 10, 2005 1:38 pm  
Blogger geoff said...

Well there’s geoffs 1 & 2 here Lisa! Nature of course is the ultimate (and best) recycler of waste water. There’s no doubt that technologically we can do as good. But like you warn, with the inevitable involvement of politicians and giants of industry, there’s every reason to retain a healthy level of cynicism.

It’s perhaps all about the drivers – if the motivation is dollars or political kudos, beware. If it’s community concern about living in the driest continent, and doing the best we can with a precious resource, then it will probably work well (and very safely).

Appreciate your efforts to demystify an emotive topic!

November 11, 2005 1:06 pm  
Blogger waterfutures said...

There's a lot more to the Toowoomba debate than meets the eye. I run the "paranoid" blog and have to re-interpret a lot of the mis-information that has been presented to the community. Come to Water Futures Blog
and join in - you are most welcome to express a pro-recycling stance.

December 14, 2005 8:59 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

its all fine to say you would drink it when its not your health at risk
singapore only uses 1%recycled water they want to use 25%
if it is so good y does csiro want to test it 4 5 years before we drink it?
easy to say we need it when your not the lab rat besides we will be out of water b4 its up & running
and if it doesnt work they will have ruined our only dam
how about a dam @ tully & pipe the water down?they did it 4 gas

July 18, 2006 5:43 am  
Anonymous john c said...

The problem with the recycled sewage plant proposed for Toowoomba is that it just would not work.

It is not possible to produce 11,000 ML of recycled water from 8,000 ML of sewage. Toowoomba City Council also had nowhere for the RO waste stream to go. Acland Coal did not want it. Singapore pumps its RO waste stream into the sea.

The plant could never have been built for $68 million - closer to $150-200 million would be more accurate when you take into account the hundreds of acres of evaporation ponds required which were not included in the budget.

Regardless of your view on recycled water use, the no vote in Toowoomba was correct because the proposal was a dud.

August 19, 2006 11:14 pm  
Blogger Lisa said...

John C there's absolutely nothing wrong with what you say. No reader of this blog would have a problem with what you say.

What this post was about was criticising the people who oppose an idea on the grounds that they don't like it and come up with emoptive anti-logic and pseudo scientific reasons why it's wrong.

Instead you have logical reasons and solid scientific grounds on why the idea can't be implemented. That's fine.

Still is a good idea.

September 23, 2006 12:28 pm  
Blogger W.F. Blog said...

Toowoomba has voted again.

This time they have elected one of the prominent opponents of sewage water, Snow Manners, to Council with 30% of the vote in a 16 horse field.

Perhaps Toowoomba people know more about the whole issue then the rest of the country.

Remember this whole recycled sewage water thing is being proposed by one foul mouthed ill-informed Mayor. No other educated person is promoting it.

Think before you drink.

October 28, 2006 10:03 pm  

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