Saturday, December 01, 2007

Penny Wong – Minister for Water

In the wash-up of last weekend’s federal election, we have awoken to a very different political landscape in Australia. John Howard’s Coalition Government has been replaced after 11.5 years by the Australian Labor Party (ALP) led by Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard.

We have a full suite of new Ministers to get to know, including Penny Wong who is now in charge of the Cabinet portfolio ‘Climate Change and Water’.

There are two things about Penny Wong that journalists never fail to mention when they write about her. One is that she is a woman and the other is that she was born in Malaysia.

Both facts may be significant in that they make her unusual in the Australian Parliament (and did even more so when she was first elected). However, this really tells us more about the Australian Parliament than it does about Penny Wong.

Wong’s mother was Australian and her father Chinese. The family settled back in her mother’s home city of Adelaide in 1977 when Wong was eight years old. She studied Law at Adelaide University and was admitted to the Bar in 1993.

The earliest newspaper reference that I can find to Wong comes from the Adelaide Advertiser in March 1998. She was a lawyer representing a driver for Adelaide’s public train and tram service TransAdelaide in the South Australian Industrial Relations Court.

At the time, TransAdelaide had a growing habit of employing workers in “part-time” positions, but still having them work 38 hours per week or more. Being part-time, these workers were not entitled to full-time pay and conditions, including long-service and sick leave. Wong was quoted referring to the workers as "Clayton's part-timers" and arguing that TransAdelaide “can't have its cake and eat it too".

Wong won the landmark case with the court finding that all TransAdelaide's part-time drivers who worked 38 hours a week or more should be paid as full-time employees. Furthermore, those who worked on Sundays and more than 48 weeks a year were also eligible for full-time pay and conditions.

A few months later in August 1998, the Adelaide Advertiser again referred to Penny Wong, -this time as a rally organizer and representative of the “Celebrating Diversity Coalition”. The rally involved more than 4000 people marching through Adelaide in a candlelit demonstration of solidarity against racism.

Penny Wong - Minister for Climate Change and Water

In the years preceding the 2001 Federal election, Wong was preselected as the No 1 candidate on the ALP Senate ticket in South Australia. Wong was (and remains) a member of the ALP Left faction and her preselection occurred amid the usual factional manoeuvring. She had the numbers and replaced the sitting Senator (and former State secretary of the ALP and Keating minister) Chris Schacht. The dislodging of such sitting members is extremely rare in the ALP.

Both Wong and her No 2 Senate candidate Linda Kirk were established legal professionals (Kirk was a lecturer in Law at Adelaide University). However, a month out from the election, classy newspapers like the Sunday Mail were running such in-depth analyses as the one headlined “Labor's lipstick warriors” (7 Oct, 2001). The first line read “They’re smart, attractive - and Labor's "lipstick weapons" against the popularity of the Democrats' Natasha Stott Despoja”. Hard-hitting Australian journalism at its best.

2001 was the year that The Tampa had sailed in over the horizon spurring John Howard and ALP "leader" Kim Beazley to undertake a refugee kicking contest as an election campaign. Beazley demonstrated that he could kick any refugee just as hard as Howard could, but in the end the election was won by Howard’s solemn pledge that “we will decide who comes to this country and the circumstances in which they come”.

An article in The Australian referred to the Senate win by Wong and Linda Kirk as “the sole highlight for Labor” in the election.

Wong was sworn into the Senate in August 2002. The Adelaide Advertiser ran a feature in which Wong listed the environment, salinity and the River Murray among her top policy priorities. "Depending on what study you read, the water in Adelaide will be undrinkable if we don't fix this," she said.

Wong’s Maiden Speech has been well reported and reminisced during the past few months. Much of the speech criticised Prime Minister Howard for inflaming racial division during the election campaign. She observed that “we have a climate in which someone who speaks out about injustice or prejudice or discrimination is dismissed as simply being politically correct. Compassion has been delegitimised – instead it is seen as elitism”.

Referring to Pauline Hanson's warning that Australia was “in danger of being swamped by Asians”, Wong said "instead I believe we are in danger of being swamped by prejudice."

If such words had been uttered by ALP "leader" Kim Beazley just a few months earlier, perhaps the outcome of the 2001 election may have been different. It certainly would have been easier to watch.

By the end of 2002, the big issue was our apparently unbridled enthusiasm to join the USA in an illegal invasion of Iraq. Wong was quoted in the Sunday Age: "This government speaks of the danger of Saddam Hussein using weapons of mass destruction against his own people. Why waging war against these people is a way of protecting them against such a threat is beyond logic."

From what I can tell, Wong’s introduction to water policy in Australia came with her appointment to a Senate Committee charged with conducting an inquiry into Australia's management of urban water.

The Committee, Chaired by the Democrats' Lyn Allison, produced a high impact report in 2002. The report identified widespread measures that should be taken to improve management of urban water resources throughout Australia. Practically all of the recommendations have since been adopted to some degree and the report became an important foundation document in the establishment of the National Water Initiative. Wong told the Courier Mail that "as the most precious resource in the nation, we say [water] management is deserving of national leadership".

In the lead-up to the 2004 federal election, Wong went in to bat for the highly stressed River Murray. The ALP pledged to restore 1500 gigalitres of environmental flows over a 10 year period and Wong unsuccessfully challenged the Government to match this pledge.

Subsequent to the 2004 election, Wong was promoted to the Opposition front bench with the dual portfolios of ‘employment and workforce participation’ and ‘corporate governance and responsibility’. Anthony Albanese took on responsibility for water and thus it is he –not Wong- who has had the most to say on this issue since.

However by 2007, Wong’s role had been broadened somewhat to include ‘public administration and accountability’. This gave her the opportunity to question the Finance Minister Senator Nick Minchin about the Government’s recently announced $10 billion water plan for the Murray-Darling Basin. Upon questioning from Wong, it was revealed that the plan was so hastily cobbled together that it had not been considered by Cabinet or fully costed by finance bureaucrats.

"The Prime Minister really needs to explain how it can be that he can put this solution forward, as a considered solution to our national water crisis, when the matter hasn't gone to Cabinet and when key departments were consulted so close to the announcement," said Wong at the time.

My understanding is that Wong’s public profile really picked up during the recent election campaign by regular television appearances. However, since I don’t own a television, I missed all that and she still seems like a bit of an unknown to me. Nonetheless, doing the research and background reading for this blog post has encouraged me in terms of her commitment to the environment and her ability to win battles and make things happen.

I am optimistically looking forward to great developments for water management in Australia. As Wong would surely be aware, water management is of the greatest fundamental importance for the future of this country. There is scant room for error and there is no time for dithering.

Good luck -and hard work!- Penny Wong.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

World’s largest IPR scheme opens

The world’s largest indirect potable water recycling (IPR) scheme will begin operation this week. The scheme, in Orange County California is known as the Groundwater Replenishment System (GRS) and is essentially an upgrade of the earlier Water Factory 21, which began operation in 1976.

Thanks to the four separate individuals who sent me this article from the New York Times. It’s nice to have a few vigilant spotters out there!

It’s worth clicking on the link below, back to the original source, which includes a couple of nice pictures of the plant. Check out all those membranes!

Oh, speaking of membranes… I happened to visit the advanced water recycling plant at Sydney Olympic Park this afternoon. They had only just recently made the first replacements of some of the reverse osmosis membranes that were installed when the plant was first commissioned back in 2000. Eight years is an excellent achievement!

From Sewage, Added Water for Drinking
By Randal C. Archibold
New York Times
November 27, 2007

FOUNTAIN VALLEY, Calif. — It used to be so final: flush the toilet, and waste be gone.

But on Nov. 30, for millions of people here in Orange County, pulling the lever will be the start of a long, intense process to purify the sewage into drinking water — after a hard scrubbing with filters, screens, chemicals and ultraviolet light and the passage of time underground.

On that Friday, the Orange County Water District will turn on what industry experts say is the world’s largest plant devoted to purifying sewer water to increase drinking water supplies. They and others hope it serves as a model for authorities worldwide facing persistent drought, predicted water shortages and projected growth.

The process, called by proponents “indirect potable water reuse” and “toilet to tap” by the wary, is getting a close look in several cities.

The San Diego City Council approved a pilot plan in October to bolster a drinking water reservoir with recycled sewer water. The mayor vetoed the proposal as costly and unlikely to win public acceptance, but the Council will consider overriding it in early December.

Water officials in the San Jose area announced a study of the issue in September, water managers in South Florida approved a plan in November calling for abundant use of recycled wastewater in the coming years in part to help restock drinking water supplies, and planners in Texas are giving it serious consideration.

“These types of projects you will see springing up all over the place where there are severe water shortages,” said Michael R. Markus, the general manager of the Orange County district, whose plant, which will process 70 million gallons a day, has already been visited by water managers from across the globe.

The finished product, which district managers say exceeds drinking water standards, will not flow directly into kitchen and bathroom taps; state regulations forbid that.

Instead it will be injected underground, with half of it helping to form a barrier against seawater intruding on groundwater sources and the other half gradually filtering into aquifers that supply 2.3 million people, about three-quarters of the county. The recycling project will produce much more potable water and at a higher quality than did the mid-1970s-era plant it replaces.

The Groundwater Replenishment System, as the $481 million plant here is known, is a labyrinth of tubing and tanks that sucks in treated sewer water the color of dark beer from a sanitation plant next door, and first runs it through microfilters to remove solids. The water then undergoes reverse osmosis, forcing it through thin, porous membranes at high pressure, before it is further cleansed with peroxide and ultraviolet light to break down any remaining pharmaceuticals and carcinogens.

The result, Mr. Markus said, “is as pure as distilled water” and about the same cost as buying water from wholesalers.

Recycled water, also called reclaimed or gray water, has been used for decades in agriculture, landscaping and by industrial plants.

And for years, treated sewage, known as effluent, has been discharged into oceans and rivers, including the Mississippi and the Colorado, which supply drinking water for millions.

But only about a dozen water agencies in the United States, and several more abroad, recycle treated sewage to replenish drinking water supplies, though none here steer the water directly into household taps. They typically spray or inject the water into the ground and allow it to percolate down to aquifers.

Namibia’s capital, Windhoek, among the most arid places in Africa, is believed to be the only place in the world that practices “direct potable reuse” on a large-scale, with recycled water going directly into the tap water distribution system, said James Crook, a water industry consultant who has studied the issue.

The projects are costly and often face health concerns from opponents.

Such was the case on Nov. 6 in Tucson, where a wide-ranging ballot measure that would have barred the city from using purified water in drinking water supplies failed overwhelmingly. The water department there said it had no such plans but the idea has been discussed in the past.

John Kromko, a former Arizona state legislator who advocated for the prohibition, said he was skeptical about claims that the recycling process cleanses all contaminants from the water and he suggested that Tucson limit growth rather than find new ways to feed it.

“We really don’t know how safe it is,” he said. “And if we controlled growth we would never have to worry about drinking it.”

Mayor Jerry Sanders of San Diego, in vetoing the City Council plan there, said it “is not a silver bullet for the region’s water needs” and the public has never taken to the idea in the 15 years it has been discussed off and on.

Although originally estimated at $10 million for the pilot study in San Diego, water department officials said the figure would be refined, and the total cost of the project might be hundreds of millions of dollars. Although the Council wants to offset the cost with government grants and other sources, Mr. Sanders predicted it would add to already escalating water bills.

“It is one of the most expensive kinds of water you can create,” said Fred Sainz, a spokesman for the mayor. “It is a large investment for a very small return.”

San Diego, which imports about 85 percent of its water because of a lack of aquifers, asked residents this year to curtail water use.

Here in Orange County, the project, a collaboration between the water and sanitation districts, has not faced serious opposition, in part because of a public awareness and marketing campaign.

Early on, officials secured the backing of environmental groups, elected leaders and civic groups, helped in part by the fact the project eliminated the need for the sanitation district to build a new pipe spewing effluent into the ocean.

Orange County began purifying sewer water in 1976 with its Water Factory 21, which dispensed the cleansed water into the ground to protect groundwater from encroaching seawater.

That plant has been replaced by the new one, with more advanced technology, and is intended to cope with not only current water needs but also expectations that the county’s population will grow by 500,000 by 2020.

Still, said Stephen Coonan, a water industry consultant in Texas, such projects proceed slowly.

“Nobody is jumping out to do it,” he said. “They want to make sure the science is where it should be. I think the public is accepting we are investigating it.”

Monday, November 19, 2007

Toowoomba Effluent worth Fighting For

If you have been following water recycling issues in Australia during the past two years, The City of Toowoomba in Queensland will be a familiar location.

In 2006, Toowoomba became the first city in the world to vote directly on its water supply. The Citizens famously voted ‘NO’ to a plan to recharge an important drinking water reservoir with advanced-treated recycled water. It was a fairly landmark event for urban water management in Australia and we observed a number of lessons from it.

While it is not widely recognised, irrigators played a significant role in urging the citizens to vote against the proposed indirect potable reuse (IPR) scheme. Perhaps not surprisingly, they considered that there were ‘better uses for recycled water’.

Today it is reported in the Courier Mail that Toowoomba City Council has now signed an agreement to supply recycled water to a local coalmine for $1300 a megalitre. That’s about the same price that we pay in Sydney for reticulated potable water.

The trouble is that irrigators have been relying on the free resource of effluent as it has always been discharged from the sewage treatment plant and into local creeks. The Courier Mail article states that ‘farmers had rejected the chance to lock in supplies at $150 a megalitre in 2000’.

Given that Toowoomba now plans to pump potable water up the Great Diving Range from Brisbane’s Wivenhoe Dam, a good price for treated effluent seems like a good thing to help cover the cost of potable water pumping.

However, transferring water from one use to another is a big deal in Australia and carries significant social implications. A degree of disquiet is to be expected.

Mine buys out water allocation
Brian Williams
The Courier Mail
November 18, 2007

SIXTY farmers are threatening to sue Toowoomba City Council for $80 million after losing free waste water because a coalmine is prepared to pay $1300 a megalitre.

Farmers had rejected the chance to lock in supplies at $150 a megalitre in 2000.

Gowrie and Oakey Creek Irrigators Association spokesman Rod Sleba yesterday said farmers had legal advice they could sue for lost earnings based on notes taken at a meeting with council officers in the early 1970s.

Mr Sleba from Kingsthorpe, about 20km from Toowoomba, said farmers understood from the meeting they were guaranteed water.

"The council said they'd give us first opportunity. It seems like a vendetta," he said.

Mayor Di Thorley said the farmers had no agreement and had done well for decades, getting water for nothing.

State and federal funding had been sought in 2000 for a project to pipe water to farmers at $150 a megalitre but when irrigators were approached with the deal, they fought the offer, and the council lost the grants.

Farmers also backed a campaign last year to stop the council from controversially recycling waste water back into drinking water because it would have reduced their supplies.

Council engineer Kevin Flanagan said notes from meetings in 1982, 1988 and 2001 showed irrigators had never been guaranteed the water.

Mr Sleba said farmers had spent $80 million to $100 million on irrigation infrastructure.

New Hope chairman Robert Millner said a contract had been signed to buy recycled water for the Acland coalmine for 28 years from 2010.

"New Hope will build, own and operate a 47km pipeline from Toowoomba to Acland, which will essentially drought proof the mine," Mr Millner said.

Cr Thorley said the council would make about $4 million a year from the mine, which would take 3000ML a year and have an option on a further 2500ML if available.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Caboolture IPR Proposal 1996

One of the first towns in Australia to advocate a planned indirect potable water recycling (IPR) scheme was Caboolture Shire in South East Queensland. This post tells the story primarily in terms of the community reaction to the 1996 proposal.

The information is primarily sourced from local newspaper articles from the time as well as some discussions that I have had with people who were involved. If you have an alternative perspective on the story, I’d be grateful to receive it.

Caboolture shire, in South Eastern Queensland, is one of the fastest growing areas in Australia with a current population of around 140,000.

The Caboolture River runs through the centre of the town and, in part, supplies the town with potable water via a small weir. However, the quantities of water available from the weir have not been sufficient to meet the demands of the shire and most of the potable water is imported from Brisbane City Council.

Caboolture Weir (from Sweetwater Fishing)

The South Caboolture Sewage Treatment Plant (STP) is about a kilometre downstream from the drinking water weir. Unfortunately, the flow regimes of the Caboolture River have been insufficient to effectively flush the river at all times of the year and, by the 1990s, eutrophication of the river had become a significant problem.

The South Caboolture STP was identified as a principal point-source of nutrient inflow to the river and indications developed that the Queensland Environment Protection Authority may soon require improved protection of the river. One likely solution would have been the construction of an ocean outfall pipeline to Moreton Bay.

In 1995, the Caboolture Shire planning engineer was enthusiastic to address the problems facing the shire’s overall water management. He identified water recycling as a potential solution to reduce nutrient discharge to the river while also reducing the shire’s dependence on outside sources of potable water supplies.

The initial proposal was to significantly upgrade the South Caboolture STP and then pump the highly treated effluent back up above the weir for potable reuse. Such a scheme would involve negligible elevation and therefore minimal pumping costs.

The planning engineer proposed the scheme to the shire councillors, many of whom, including Mayor John White, became strong advocates.

The council implemented a strategy aimed at convincing the community that their shire would be a world leader and pioneer of water recycling systems. The treatment process would employ state-of-the-art technology and provide significant environmental and economic benefits to the community. The shire council expected that the community would see the scheme as a significant cultural achievement for Caboolture.

The plan was announced amid much fanfare in February 1996 and a process of public consultation initiated a few months later. It began with the distribution of brochures outlining the project to households and the establishment of a telephone hotline service for the community to provide feedback. The brochures depicted a number of possible scheme variations including recycling back into the town water supply.

The Caboolture Shire Herald reported:

Waste water views tapped.
16 July 1996
Caboolture Shire Herald

CABOOLTURE Shire Council has started public consultation on its waste water re-use proposal.

Brochures explaining the sewage reclamation project have been sent to all households and a phone hotline set up for people to call.

Council public relations manager Andrew Swanton said there had been a slow initial response to the invitation to comment on the scheme.

It involves upgrading the shire's sewage treatment works and a final option which may involve recycling waste water back into the town water supply.

In a letter to rate payers, Caboolture Shire Mayor John White states that the council has to examine all water saving options.

"With the enormous population growth taking place, water consumption within the shire has increased to the point where we are no longer self-sufficient," he said.

He said that while the council was continuing to examine solutions such as new dams and water conservation programs, the recycling option was effective and environmentally friendly.

Any reuse of water for human consumption would only be considered after exhaustive tests by health authorities.

Within a couple of weeks of the brochure distribution, it became very clear that there would be considerable community resistance to potable recycling. The local newspaper presented a ‘vox populi’ section on the question of whether ‘to drink or not to drink?:

Recycling reaction mixed.
30 July 1996
Caboolture Shire Herald

TO drink or not to drink? That's the question the Caboolture Shire Herald asked people in King St last week about the shire council's sewage recycling scheme.

The proposal involves recycling highly treated water from the new South Caboolture Sewerage Treatment Plant back into the weir for drinking purposes.

The response from people was mixed with some thinking it a good idea but others saying it "stunk".

Debbie Ashton, of Burpengary, said she would rather the council encourage people to install rainwater tanks.

She personally would not drink the recycled water.

Annette Berger, of Caboolture, said she supported the scheme as it would be good for the environment.

She said the current Caboolture town water was so bad, it couldn't get any worse. "As long as they did the proper tests, it would be better than what we are drinking now. I used to think the kids were peeing in the shower, the water is so bad."

Sean Wood, of Morayfield, said he would not like his kids to bath in the recycled water. He said it would be all right to use for agricultural purposes but not for human consumption.

Nola Lea, of Wamuran, said the idea "stunk". She said one of her children had been born premature because she drank contaminated water and she would not like to take the risk again.

Nathan Bahre, of Caboolture, said he didn't know too much about the proposal but he didn't like it. "I wouldn't like to drink it," he said.

Kirsty Jones, of Caboolture, said her first reaction to the scheme was revulsion. "If they did strenuous tests, it would not be so bad, but I personally would not drink it," she said.

Tom Robertson, of Caboolture, said the scheme sounded like a good idea. "It worries me a little bit but if we can get assurances it is absolutely purified it should be okay to drink," he said.

Soon after, the council stepped up its public education campaign. This was focused around a very scientific presentation of information such as water quality data, health effects and relative risk description.

The council sponsored two full-day community workshops in August 1996. Speakers included the Caboolture Shire Council water resources planning manager, a representative of the Sunshine Coast Environment Council as well as other experts including microbiologists and water engineers. However, the presentation of such dry technical information proved to be no match for the opposing arguments, which were highly emotionally-based...

Stoush on tap.
12 November 1996
Caboolture Shire Herald

CABOOLTURE Shire Council's controversial sewage recycling debate continues to smoulder despite mayoral attempts to defuse the issue.

Cr Lynette Devereaux (division four) tabled a petition to the council last week. It was signed by 500 people opposing any plans to recycle sewage back into drinking water.

"People have expressed to me the view that they will consider leaving the shire because of this proposal," Cr Devereaux said.

Mayor John White told Cr Devereaux the present council was "not proceeding" with the scheme.

Cr White attempted to further allay community concerns in September when he assured residents they would have the final say on the scheme.

"I wish to give an assurance that no decision will be made on the possible reuse of treated water for at least four years and before doing so, the public will be surveyed to gauge acceptance," Cr White said.

However, Cr Devereaux said people still felt the proposal was "hanging over their heads".

Petition organiser Sue Hannam, of Burpengary, said 90 per cent of the people she spoke to opposed the scheme.

"They were worried about a number of things including health, the effect on real estate prices and the fact their children would have to drink water that was more chemically treated," Mrs Hannam said.

She said despite the Mayor's recent announcement delaying the scheme, the project "could be too far down the track to stop".

The Bribie Island Environmental Protection Association will hold its third community information night on the sewage recycling issue on Friday.

Guest speaker is Keith Harrison, of the Queensland Fertility Group, who will discuss links between male reproductive health and water contaminants.

The meeting will be held at the Bribie Island Community Arts Centre in Sunderland Dve from 7.30pm.

Local government elections took place in early 1997. While water recycling proposals were not the only issues arising during the election campaign, they were among the major issues.

The Mayor, along with a further vocal supporter of the recycling scheme, was not returned to the following council. All of the returned and newly elected councillors had agreed to a campaign policy to not proceed with the current potable recycling proposals and, further, that potable recycling would not be again considered by the council.

Many readers will not help noticing the parallels between this story and the situation in Toowoomba a decade later. Indeed, the Courier Mail carried the following story...

Former mayor warns Thorley
Amanda Gearing, Brendan O'Malley
27 June 2006
The Courier-Mail

The big dry

THE first Australian mayor to be dumped from office for backing recycled drinking water has warned Toowoomba Mayor Di Thorley she risks the same fate.

Ten years ago Caboolture Shire residents ditched their mayor, John White, after he had served for 16 years on the council.

He blamed his demise on a plan to recycle purified sewage from the local wastewater treatment plant.

"I didn't see it as an election issue, but very emotive terms were used and the topic was used to divide the public," he said.

"One day I was the rooster, the next I was a feather duster."

Cr Thorley, who plans to contest the 2008 council election, is backing a similar plan for drought-stricken Toowoomba, where residents are facing a July 29 referendum on water recycling.

Mr White warned she risked a similar fate and he called for a co-ordinated approach from the State Government instead of allowing individual councils to cop the flak.

"If (her) opposition chooses to use this as an issue then she will become a feather duster as well," he said.

He admitted that if he had been able to foresee the deep divisions the debate caused he would have advocated recycling for uses other than drinking.

Cr Thorley said that although she did not underestimate how concerned some residents were about the issue she would not back down.

"I've acknowledged that people take this seriously, but I have not seen that as a reason to make me lose courage," she said.

"I think 1997 in Caboolture was a very different time.

"They weren't faced with running out of water, no one thought Wivenhoe Dam could run dry and you didn't have climate change in the media day after day."

Mr White said he was pleased the debate had led Caboolture to spend millions of dollars to improve its water treatment facilities and to embrace recycling of water for parks, gardens and sporting fields.

"It defies logic to treat millions of litres of water and then dump it into the ocean," he said.

In 1999 Caboolture upgraded its sewage treatment works, treating the effluent to A-class standard rather than building an outfall pipeline to Moreton Bay.

The recycled effluent is now used for new housing and industrial developments and major water users including school grounds, the town's showgrounds and sporting fields, parks and gardens, roadworks and building sites.

It is interesting to note how nothing much changed in terms of community attitudes towards indirect potable reuse between 1996/97 and 2006/07. This is despite the vastly increased pressures on drinking water supplies noted in the article above.

The quote from the Toowoomba Mayor: “I think 1997 in Caboolture was a very different time” is clearly true in terms of some environmental and population density factors. However, it was apparently not correct in terms of social acceptance of the credibility and reliability of facts as they are espoused by scientists and engineers. For that, we can really only blame scientists and engineers...

What do you think?

Saturday, November 03, 2007

ALP Election Policies

As all Australian readers would know, we are approaching the federal election on November 24.

I expect that sometime during the next three weeks, the Howard Government will announce new policies building on the (very effective) National Water Commission (NWC) and associated funding programs. As I understand it, the major NWC funding programs are now essentially fully allocated so a major injection of funds will be required to sustain the role of the Commission. I’ll endeavour to take a look at any announcements as they come.

During the last two weeks, the Australian Labor Party (ALP) have announced what I presume to be their major election campaign policies regarding urban water supply. The centre piece is a $1 billion National Urban Water and Desalination Plan (NUWD Plan). This is to fund a 10% Water Tax Credit and grants for approved desalination, water recycling, and major storm water capture projects developed by the private sector, local governments, and State and Territory Governments.

Its not entirely clear (to me) how the tax credit will work. However, I assume that it means that an ALP Government would provide 10% of the up-front capital costs by allowing project proponents to keep an equivalent sum that would otherwise be required to be paid as tax.

Where the project proponent is a government-owned business that does not pay Commonwealth income tax, support from the NUWD Plan would instead be paid in cash.

Project proponents would be able to submit proposals for funding assistance up until the end of June 2009. To be eligible, projects must source 100% of their energy needs from renewable supplies or else fully offset the carbon impact of their operations using nationally accredited offsets.

There wasn’t much response from the Howard Government to this announcement. However The Greens did weigh in with Bob Brown stating that stormwater recycling and water harvesting are good ideas but desalination plants are not. Brown noted that desalination plants are “energy guzzlers” and claimed that the ALP’s plan to keep the plants carbon-neutral was unrealistic. He said “they use vast amounts of energy and if you're going to (divert) Australia's flow of wind power into these desalination plants you're simply taking it away from households and businesses elsewhere and burning more coal”

Kevin Rudd at the Gold Coast Desalination Plant

The ALP has also promised to establish a Centre of Excellence in Desalination in Perth and a Centre of Excellence in Water Recycling in Brisbane. These Centres would each be funded at $4 million per year for five years.

Universities, government agencies and other interested stakeholders will be asked to develop collaborative bids to competitively bid for the opportunity to be part of each Centre.

I haven’t seen any specific detail regarding the proposed activities of the Water Recycling Centre yet. However, the activities of the Desalination Centre of Excellence were described during a recent ALP visit to Perth:

  • Investigating ways of optimising and adapting desalination technology for optimum use in Australia’s unique circumstances;
  • Expand on research into the use of desalination technology in rural and regional areas;
  • Researching ways of efficiently and affordably reducing the carbon footprint of desalination facilities; and
  • Accelerating ground breaking research on energy efficient bulk water supply technology being developed in Australia.

These seem like very noble goals indeed. I think it is appropriate that the focus appears to be on addressing some of the existing technical limitations of seawater desalination (predominantly the energy costs and carbon footprint).

Personally, I would have added research towards achieving environmentally sustainable management of concentrated desalination brine streams. While this is extremely important for coastal areas, it is the major limiting factor for the increased uptake of brackish water desalination in inland areas. Perhaps it comes naturally under the first two dot points.

One quick pedantic point before I finish this post...

Perth’s existing seawater desalination plant at Kwinana is normally described as having a capacity of 125 megalitres per day (ML/day) or 45 gigalitres per year (GL/year). However, for some reason the ALP’s media release this week prefers US Gallons: “The Kwinana Desalination Plant already turns water from the Indian Ocean into nearly 40 million gallons of drinking water a day”. Presumably this is a result of having sourced the information from Wikipedia which states: “The Kwinana Desalination Plant, located just south of Perth, Western Australia, turns water from the Indian Ocean into nearly 40 million gallons of drinking water per day”. I guess they must be pretty busy in the ALP campaign office right now.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Drinking Recycled Stormwater

A few months back, there was some discussion on this blog regarding opportunities for the use of urban stormwater as a drinking water supply (see comments from Mark at the bottom of this post). An article from the Adelaide Advertiser this week, points to the likelihood of such a strategy being undertaken on a large scale in Australia sometime in the future.

The City of Salisbury in northern Adelaide is where most of the activity has been focused. A decade ago, the city began to investigate potential means of eliminating the flow of polluted stormwater into the environmentally sensitive Barker Inlet of Gulf St. Vincent. The Inlet is a significant fish nursery which supports the majority of South Australia’s fishing industry.

The key strategy adopted was the creation of wetlands for stormwater treatment. Some of this treated water is now reused for a variety of non-potable purposes in the region. The scheme has been very successful and there has been great interest in expanding it in order to be able to reclaim larger volumes of water.

Among the main challenges has been the need to overcome the seasonal variability between available water supply and demand. Naturally there is more stormwater available during the wetter months, but these wet months are when irrigation users (in particular) least require it.

To address this need for large-scale water storage, the CSIRO has spent more than a decade researching a process known as aquifer storage and recovery (ASR). This involves preparing the water to a suitable quality whereby it can be safely used to recharge a depleted aquifer and then recovered at a later time when required. The general concept is nicely summarised in the following figure from CSIRO Land & Water.

As the above figure indicates, ASR can be used for appropriately-treated reclaimed water from any source including stormwater and municipal sewage. Under suitable conditions, it can even have a significant benefit in terms of further improving the water quality during the process.

Given these benefits, it may be no surprise that the Government of South Australia and the National Water Commission appear to agree that there is great potential for Adelaide to use urban stormwater reclaimed by ASR as a future drinking-water supply.

The article from The Adelaide Advertiser appears below.

I’d be grateful for your thoughts or comments...

Stormwater for drinking
The Advertiser (Adelaide)
October 22, 2007
By Cara Jenkin

ADELAIDE residents will be drinking recycled stormwater as traditional water supplies continue to dwindle, says the National Water Commission.

South Australia's representative on the commission Dr John Radcliffe says treated stormwater will form part of SA Water's metropolitan supply in the future to ensure long-term water security in the city.

Dr Radcliffe said governments had traditionally treated stormwater as a "hazard" and as waste which could not be used.

He said stormwater should instead be seen as a resource.

"People naturally feel a little concerned about drinking water that doesn't fall off the hillsides, but some of these hillsides aren't that pristine," he said.

"All water is recycled water, that's the hydrological cycle."

Stormwater is already collected, stored and used for irrigation purposes in parks across Adelaide.

A world-first trial to treat stormwater naturally in underground aquifers to a standard suitable for human consumption is now under way at Parafield.

Dr Radcliffe said the trial was one reason why South Australia was more advanced in stormwater reuse than elsewhere in Australia. "One has to look at all water resources that are around and there is no perfect resource for a particular circumstance," he said.

"One of the benefits is that (treated stormwater) has a lot less salinity than is found in Adelaide tap water."

Treated stormwater will be added to the mains water pipes and dispersed among households.

The water will supplement existing sources but figures on what portion of existing supply could be supplemented are yet to be researched.

Draft guidelines on the use of recycled water for drinking have been developed by the National Water Commission.

They are expected to be endorsed by state water ministers, including SA Water Security minister Karlene Maywald, when they meet to discuss the guidelines early next year.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Election Promises

I happened to stumble upon two articles published in the Sydney Morning Herald on Saturday 7th January, 1995. They include lots of talk about phasing out Sydney’s ocean outfalls and recycling the water “for everything from industry to drinking”.

Oh…look out for that old line about water from the Rhine or Thames passing through eight sets of kidneys before it reaches the sea. Perhaps this was the original source in the Australian media?

The second article is particularly interesting. It features the then Labor opposition leader Bob Carr pontificating about ocean outfalls and arguing that Sydney's (coastal) sewage treatment plants must be upgraded to at least secondary treatment.

My back-of-an-envelope calculation tells me that roughly 2500 billion litres of primary treated effluent has been discharged from those outfalls since then.

The only thing different almost 13 years later is that nobody seems to care as much anymore.

A timely reminder about election promises...

Why Sydney May Soon Be Drinking Treated Sewage
Sydney Morning Herald
7 January 1995
By James Woodford, Environment Writer

Sydney's householders will be urged to reuse sewage effluent as drinking water under an ambitious new strategy to be launched next month by Sydney Water.

The plan is to persuade the public that the billions of litres of polluted water that pour into the oceans off the city need to be reused for everything from industry to drinking.

The release in the middle of next month of an issues paper - Choices Issues Paper No 1: Re-use - dealing with the reuse of effluent will be the most significant change in the way we get our water since the building of Warragamba Dam.

Community consultation, including the use of independent consultants, has played a crucial role in the development of the paper.

By July this year, Sydney Water's new legislation requires it to complete effluent reuse targets and in the long term contains an objective to phase out dry weather discharges from the deep ocean sewage outfalls.

The Environment Protection Authority (EPA) signalled this week that in the long term the $309 million outfalls will need to be phased out.

But according to Sydney Water, unless the public is able to change its attitudes about reusing effluent, it will be difficult to cut back on the use of the outfalls and delay the construction of new dams.

Some of the options for Sydney include:

* Sewer mining - tapping into the sewerage system to remove the effluent so it can be treated and used.

* Direct potable reuse - the establishment of a sewage-treatment system with possibly dozens of treatment plants, each serving several suburbs. The waste water from homes would be collected and highly treated and returned to the local water supply.

* Indirect potable reuse - the collection of vast quantities of highly treated effluent that would be pumped back into Warragamba Dam or Prospect Reservoir.

In all cases the water would be as clean, if not cleaner, than the present Sydney supply, says Sydney Water.

For the authority the prospect of water reuse opens up huge commercial possibilities and would ensure protection of the environment.

The treated effluent could be used for anything from industry, which would require less treatment, to domestic household use, including drinking.

The manager of demand management for Sydney Water, Mr George Bawtree, said: "Basically all of us here today are used to the option that there's fresh clean water out there for us to drink and that effluent is some other product.

"It (using effluent) requires a change in our perception of water. We will have to absolutely address this issue and it's absolutely critical that the community is part of this debate." Mr John Denlay, a researcher employed by the Sydney Water Project - an independent team of consultants set up by the then Water Board - prepared a study which analysed all of the reuse options available.

A shift to the use of "highly treated waste water" was the best way of drought-proofing Sydney, he said.

"Even during the drought we are still generating more than a billion litres of waste water a day that just pours out into the oceans." This water could be used providing the public was made comfortable with the idea that it was safe, he said.

In Europe and other parts of the world treated effluent had been commonly used for decades for drinking. "They say in the Rhine or the Thames that the water passes through eight sets of kidneys before it gets into the sea," Mr Denlay said.

"Reusing highly treated waste water for drinking purposes is well established overseas. For example, a plant in Namibia has been recycling up to 40 per cent of the water supply for the last 25 years.

"If the recycled water is only used for non-drinking purposes we will only be able to utilise 10 per cent of the waste water. To exploit the opportunities of reuse fully we also need to move to potable uses."

Carr Lashes 'hypocrisy' Over Outfalls
Sydney Morning Herald
7 January 1995
By Paola Totaro

The call by the Environment Protection Authority (EPA) to scrap ocean outfalls was hypocritical because it had consistently allowed the old Water Board to increase levels of toxic discharges into the sea, the Opposition Leader, Mr Carr, said yesterday.

A NSW Labor Government would immediately conduct a review of the operations of all sewage treatment plants to try to identify reuse options where possible and upgrade the plants to use the best technology for the least cost.

Mr Carr was responding to an EPA report which called for the phasing-out of the use of the $309 million sewage outfalls.

He said new outfalls were now planned at Coffs Harbour, Port Macquarie, Cronulla and Ballina, and Labor would place a moratorium on all such projects along the coastline.

"A moratorium is needed to force Government, the community and industry to seek environmentally responsible reuse alternatives to outfall disposal, including the use of new technology treatments," he said.

Mr Carr said that it was possible to stop short of upgrading to tertiary treatment levels while significantly upgrading the treatment already available.

"Tertiary treatment is a big step," he said. "We have to set that as a goal and move towards it. But before that, there is a lot you can do to upgrade (to) secondary treatment. That means reducing and setting targets to phase out toxic substances that are going into the ocean at the moment.

"No area in environmental science is developing faster than water treatment technology. We have an opportunity to use this cost-effective new technology that can significantly increase the treatment of water to tertiary standards." Mr Carr said the ALP would:

* Require the EPA to set targets for the phase-out of the dumping of toxic substances into the sewerage system, including mercury, cadmium and other bio-accumulating substances;

* Enshrine the $7 billion Clean Waterways program into special legislation to force Sydney Water to finance the upgrading of sewage treatment;

* Overhaul and tighten Sydney Water's pollution licences to require the progressive upgrading of ocean sewage treatment plants.

However, according to a spokesman for the Minister for Planning, Mr Webster, the new legislation which corporatised the Water Board provides a detailed framework to establish pollution targets.

You remember Sydney in 1995!

Friday, October 12, 2007

UV-Advanced Oxidation Seminar

In an earlier post, we took a look at the use of ultraviolet (UV) radiation for advanced oxidation treatment of organic chemicals in recycled water.

Most of that post was based on work undertaken at Duke University (USA) by Associate Professor Karl Linden and his research group.

Now we are very fortunate to have the opportunity to learn more about this important topic from Karl as he visits the University of New South Wales to give a seminar. This is a free public seminar and all interested persons are welcome to attend.

Ultraviolet light: Beyond water disinfection

Associate Professor Karl G. Linden
Duke University, NC, USA

DATE: Wednesday, October 24 2007
TIME: 12-1pm
VENUE: Room 701, Civil & Environmental Engineering (Building H20), University of New South Wales.


Although used in wastewater disinfection for years, ultraviolet light technology has only recently been seriously considered for drinking water treatment.

Because of its singularly high efficiency for inactivating protozoan pathogens, such as Cryptosporidium and Giardia, UV is now expected to be widely adopted for water treatment disinfection in the coming years.

But there is another side of UV not widely appreciated - that of contaminant remediation via photolysis and oxidation processes, specifically for water reuse.

UV mediated destruction of chemical contaminants is a very promising treatment process with interesting fundamental research opportunities and practical applications for indirect potable reuse.

This seminar will provide an overview of where UV technology for water treatment has been, and focus on the fundamentals of UV based remediation, drawing on our recent research findings for conventional and emerging environmental pollutants of concern in water including N-nitrosodimethylamine (NDMA), pharmaceuticals, and endocrine disrupters.

Some related recent Linden Group publications:

Chen, P.J., Kullman, S.W., Hinton, D., Linden, K.G. (2007) "Comparisons of Low- and Medium- Pressure UV lamps on the Removal of Bisphenol A Estrogenic Activity in Water following Direct Photolysis and UV/H2O2 Oxidation Processes" Chemosphere, Vo. 68, No. 6, 1041-1049.

Rosenfeldt, E.J., Linden, K.G., (2007) "Hydroxyl radical formation during the UV/H2O2 processes: The ROH/UV concept" Environmental Science and Technology. Vol. 41, No. 7, 2548-2553

Rosenfeldt, E.J., Chen, P.J., Kullman, S.W., Linden, K.G., (2007) "Destruction of estrogenic activity in water using UV advanced oxidation" Science of the Total Environment, Vol. 377, No. 1, 105-113.

Chen, P.J., Rosenfeldt, E.J., Kullman, S.W., Hinton, D., Linden, K.G. (2007) "Biological Assessments of a Mixture of Endocrine Disruptors at Environmentally Relevant Concentrations in Water following UV/H2O2 Oxidation" Science of the Total Environment, Vol. 376, No. 1-3, 18-26.

Shemer, H., Linden, K.G. (2007) "Aqueous photodegradation and toxicity of the polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons fluorene, dibenzofuran and dibenzothiophene", Water Research, Vol. 41, No 4, 853-861.

Pereira, V.J., Weinberg, H.S., Linden, K.G., Singer, P.C. (2007) "UV degradation of pharmaceutical compounds in surface water via direct and indirect photolysis at 254 nm" Environmental Science and Technology Vol. 41, No 5, 1682-1688.

Wu, C., Shemer, H., Linden, K.G. (2007) "Photodegradation and Byproduct Formation of Metolachlor in Water via UV and UV/H2O2 Treatment" J. Agric. Food Chem. Vol. 55, No. 10, 4059-4065.

Shemer, H., Linden, K.G. (2006) "Photolysis, oxidation and subsequent toxicity of a mixture of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in natural waters", Journal of Photochemistry and Photobiology A: Chemistry Vol. 187, No. 2-3, 186-195

Shemer, H., Sharpless, C.M., Elovitz, M.S., Linden, K.G. (2006) "Relative rate constants of contaminant candidate list pesticides with hydroxyl radicals" Environmental Science and Technology Vol. 40, 4460-4466

Chen, P.J., Linden, K.G., Hinton, D.E., Kashiwada, S., Rosenfeldt, E.J., Kullman, S.W. (2006) "Biological Assessments of Bisphenol A Degradation in Water following Direct Photolysis and UV Advanced Oxidation" Chemosphere Vol. 65, 1094-1102.

Shemer, H., Linden, K.G. (2006) "Degradation and byproduct formation of diazinon using UV and UV/H2O2 processes", Journal of Hazardous Materials Vol. 136, No. 3, 553-559

Shemer, H., Kunukcu, Y.K., Linden, K.G. (2006) "Degradation of the Pharmaceutical Metronidazole Via UV, Fenton and photo-Fenton Processes, Chemosphere Vol. 63, 269-276.

Rosenfeldt, E.J., Melcher, B., and Linden, K.G. (2005) "Treatment of Taste and Odor Causing Compounds in Water by UV and UV/H2O2 Processes", Journal of Water Supply: Research & Technology -AQUA Vol. 54, No. 7, 423-434.

Rosenfeldt, E.J. and Linden, K.G. (2004) "Degradation of endocrine disrupting chemicals bisphenol-A, ethinyl estradiol, and estradiol during UV photolysis and advanced oxidation processes" Environmental Science and Technology, Vol. 38 No. 20, 5476-5483

Sharpless, C.M. and Linden, K.G. (2003) "Experimental and Model Comparisons of Low- and Medium-Pressure Hg Lamps for the Direct and H2O2 Assisted UV Photodegradation of N-nitrosodimethylamine in Simulated Drinking Water", Environmental Science and Technology, Vol. 37 No. 9, pp. 1933-1940

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Wave Energy to Power Desalination?

Perth is the first Australian city to have its drinking water partly supplied by desalinated seawater. A 45 GL/year plant was constructed and began operation at Kwinana, 40 km south of the city in 2006. Since then, the West Australian Government has announced plans for a second plant to be sited 155 km south of Perth near Binningup and to produce another 45 GL/year desalinated water by 2011.

Among the major issues with seawater desalination is the necessary energy consumption and the associated greenhouse gas production and cost impacts. The Kwinana desalination plant is powered from the local power grid. While the grid is predominantly supplied by coal-fired power stations, the equivalent energy required for the plant has been formally off-set by the construction of a wind-farm about 260 km north at Cervantes.

After plans for the second (Binningup) seawater desalination plant were announced, a West Australian company began vigorously promoting a new energy-supply technology, which is currently under development. The company is Carnegie Corporation and the developing technology is named CETO, -possibly after the hideous sea monster from Greek mythology (or perhaps there is another explanation for the name!).

The CETO Technology is actually owned by the London-based Investment Company ‘Renewable Energy Holdings Plc’ (REH). However, CETO is an Australian designed and developed technology. Much of the development has been undertaken (and continues to be undertaken) by the Perth-based company ‘Seapower Pacific Pty Ltd’. REH collaborates with Carnegie Corporation on financing CETO development in the Southern Hemisphere.

CETO is designed to harness ocean wave energy by using it to pressurise seawater and transport it onshore. The energy from the pressurised seawater can then by utilised by pushing the water through a reverse osmosis membrane (to produce desalinated water) or recovered by using it to run a turbine (to produce electricity).

The technology behind CETO is relatively simple. A buoyant bladder is restrained just below the sea surface and moves in an elliptical path as a result of wave-action. The bladder is connected to a piston which moves inside a narrow pipe fixed to the sea floor. The movement of the bladder pulls the piston up and down, producing pumping forces. These pumping forces are then used to drive pressurised seawater to shore via a pipeline.

Proposed CETO Wave Farm (© SeaPower Pacific Pty Ltd)

Plans are currently underway for a pre-commercialisation pilot-scale trial of CETO at Fremantle (WA) during 2007-2008. Based on the success of this trial, it is hoped that the first full-scale implementation of the technology can be developed during 2009-2011. Carnegie Corporation expects that this timing is just right for CETO to be employed for Perth’s second desalination plant.

The possibility of using CETO to power the future desalination plant was recently discussed in a short article appearing in CSIRO’s Ecos Magazine. The article quoted Phillip Jennings, Professor of Energy Studies at Murdoch University pointing out that while the technology is exciting, it is currently experimental and untested on a large scale:

‘Currently, the government is looking for an assured water supply,’ says Professor Jennings. ‘If the new desalination plant is not reliably producing clean drinking water by the target date, there will be a shortfall in Perth’s water supply. ‘First, CETO would need to prove itself at a smaller scale for a use that is not as critical as Perth’s drinking water supply. The company needs to demonstrate that the technology would be cost-competitive at a larger scale with other energy sources, such as wind power.’

A recent independent technical appraisal of CETO was undertaken for Renewable Energy Holdings in the UK. It noted “…Even with this price advantage, the CETO device will require financial support either through capital grants at the front end or through ongoing support as is available through the Renewable Obligation arrangements in the UK.”

As a whole, Australian governments have generally been very poor at investing in renewable energy technologies (why would they when burning coal is so cheap?). In order for a technology like CETO to be fully developed and commercialised, it is likely that either some government incentive will be required, or that the Australian population simply demand (and be prepared to pay for) clean energy alternatives.

Of course, one government intervention that would drastically improve the competitiveness of renewable technologies overnight would be the implementation of a carbon tax. Even the indication that such a tax would be instituted some time in the future would stimulate research and development. But which Australian government would be so foolish as to implement something that would be so vigorously opposed by the lucrative fossil fuels sector?

An alternative strategy is to sit back and let innovative Australian technologies be commercialised by overseas companies and then Australia can contract those companies -at significant cost- when we finally decide that we need the solutions that they provide. This is the model followed for hollow-fibre microfiltration membranes currently being installed in advanced water treatment plants around the country.

The independent technical assessment of CETO identified the West Australian coast as “an ideal location for the [first full-scale implementation] due to the high and constant wave energy (waves over 2 m occur 90 % of the time) that occurs along the south west coast”. However, ultimately, the assessment authors concluded “that a good commercial project test site may be in Northern Ireland, where there is economic support available for renewable energy projects in terms of the NIROC, combined with a good wave energy resource”.


The above text may sound pessimistic about Australian inclinations to support the development of innovative energy sources. However, stock exchange investors have a solid reputation for their collective ability to predict future events and they appear to be optimistic.

The Binningup desalination plant was announced by the West Australian Premier on May 15 2007. From that date over the next four weeks, the Carnegie Corporation share price rose from around 3.5 cents to more than 20 cents. It has since corrected to around 13 cents, but it is still an impressive sudden rise.

The red line is the share price, the burgundy line is the 20-day moving average and the blue line is the Australian stock exchange index “S&P/ASX 200”.

I wonder whether similar impacts were observed for other West Australian energy sector companies...

[Please note that I am not in the business of giving investment advice and nothing on this blog should be mistaken for such!]

Friday, September 28, 2007

Beware the Deadly Microsystems

Could water recycling help prevent blue-green algal growth in our reservoirs?

Sydney’s Lake Burragorang (Warragamba Dam), currently has a considerable growth of blue-green alga on the surface, -see the article and image below.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise to most people that if you dam a river and cause the water to sit in a huge puddle, algal growth is always a possibility. Add to that the nutrients run-off into the reservoir from last month’s rain and the current warm weather, and algal growth becomes almost inevitable.

As the article below suggests, it’s probably not a major problem. Blue-green algae tend to float towards the surface, whereas we have the capability to draw water supplies from much deeper. Nonetheless, these types of algae do produce a number of chemicals which are released into the water. Some of these may simply cause the water to taste or smell bad, but some are highly toxic.

The article quotes NSW Water Minister Phil Koperberg stating that recent testing has “detected some Microsystems” in the water. This could possibly mean that there are lots of computers that have been dumped in the reservoir. However, it is more likely that Mr Koperberg was misquoted and was actually referring to microcystins, -a type of blue-green algal toxin.

The current NSW Government does not plan to construct a planned indirect potable water recycling scheme that involves recharging Warragamba Dam. They have clearly stated that they are opposed to such a scheme because they don’t believe that the public would support it and because it would be expensive.

Nonetheless, it would be interesting to consider the impact that such an IPR scheme may have on the propensity for algal growth. We could look at the relative loads of the key nutrients nitrogen and phosphorus in the reservoir and at how effectively we may be able to dilute these with lower concentrations of nitrogen and phosphorous from advanced-treated recycled water.

Furthermore, recharging the reservoir and extracting the majority of our water supplies from it, would keep the water moving through the system, -preventing nutrient build-up and stagnation. Compare this with the current plan to replace much of the eastern suburbs’ water use with desalinated seawater pumped directly into the distribution system. This would reduce demands on Warragamba supplies (as it is intended to do), causing the water there to travel more slowly through the system.

Just another angle to consider for water supply planning…

Damn that algae - it's a blooming nuisance

Alexandra Smith
Sydney Morning Herald
September 28, 2007

A BLUE-GREEN algal bloom has taken over most of Warragamba Dam, with small levels of toxins found just below the surface.

Recent testing of the algae had shown three positive samples of microcystins, toxins that can cause skin irritation and stomach upsets if consumed in large doses. But NSW Health has stressed that the quality of Sydney's drinking water is not under threat.

Kerry Chant, the acting NSW chief health officer, said the levels of toxins were very low and had been found about three metres below the surface, not from where drinking water was being sourced.

The Water Minister, Phil Koperberg, said the bloom now stretched across 75 per cent of the dam - more than 58 kilometres - and more than twice the area it occupied at the beginning of the month.

He said it was possible drinking water could be mildly affected, but this would be limited, with water being safely drawn from 48 metres below the algae.

"There could be a discernible odour or taste with the water in the coming months," he said.

Warmer weather had provided the perfect conditions for the bloom to grow and could be present until at least Christmas.

"It is a bloom which, due to the warm weather, is likely to persist," Mr Koperberg said.

"It is very unlikely, unless there is some unforeseen meteorological event, that this bloom will either dissipate or disappear during the summer. It's, more likely than not, going to be around at Christmas."

Mr Koperberg said he would be provided with updates on water quality and testing.

"Testing is being conducted regularly by the Sydney Catchment Authority and Sydney Water of both the raw and treated water before it is supplied to Sydneysiders to drink," Mr Koperberg said.

"It is not a health risk whatsoever, even though part of the rigorous testing that Sydney Water and Health undertake has detected some microsystems - which are a group of molecules which contain some toxicity.

"Those levels are well below the Australian standards for drinking water safety.

"The main issue with this bloom is its visibility."

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

IPR Plans for San Jose

I know this blog is supposed to be “Water Recycling in Australia”, not “Water Recycling in The USA”. However, I think it is important for Australians to be aware that current Australian plans for indirect potable reuse (IPR) are not unique, -far from it!

The following is an article from the Contra Costa Times in San Jose. San Jose is the third-largest city in California, and the tenth-largest in the United States. It is a wealthy city, commonly referred to as the “capital of Silicon Valley”.

As the article makes clear, the major concerns are not whether the technology exists to safely recycle drinking water, but whether the community will be able to overcome the all-too-familiar psychological barriers to planned (as opposed to unplanned) drinking water recycling.

It will be interesting to watch the proposal develop (or otherwise!) during the coming months and years.

Making sewage water good to drink
Valley District, San Jose Look to Ensure Adequate Future Supply
By Paul Rogers
Mercury News
Contra Costa Times
25 September 2007

The Santa Clara Valley Water District and the city of San Jose are beginning talks on a bold new strategy to boost water supplies: making sewage water clean enough to drink.

If the public backs the plan, one day millions of gallons of the purified water could be pumped into streams and groundwater aquifers across Santa Clara County and mixed with existing drinking water supplies.

The county now provides half of its drinking water from wells that pump water from those aquifers. The other half comes from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.

"This is a homegrown resource. It is the most reliable supply you can have," said Eric Rosenblum, division manager for San Jose's South Bay Water Recycling Project.

"It is much less dependent on the weather than other sources. It is a great new tool to meet water needs."

The potentially controversial idea, still in the early stages, will be discussed this morning at the water district's weekly board meeting in San Jose. A final, detailed proposal isn't expected until next year.

Experts note that the technology exists to take sewage water and purify it to levels that meet California drinking water standards using an array of techniques such as reverse osmosis, microfiltration and ultraviolet light.

But in several areas around California - from San Diego to Pleasanton - attempts at blending purified wastewater with drinking water aquifers have been dropped after public outcry from critics who call the projects "toilet-to-tap."

But some water districts have already moved ahead with projects.

The Orange County Water District will christen a new $480 million project in November to produce up to 70 million gallons of recycled water a day from treated sewage. It will be used to recharge drinking water aquifers that serve Anaheim, Huntington Beach and other cities.

The project - the largest of its kind in the United States - came after nine years of public hearings and scientific studies. It won permits from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the state Department of Public Health.

Cautious approach

Keith Whitman, water supply manager for the Santa Clara Valley Water District, promised that the district will take a similarly cautious approach.

"What we don't want to end up with is what's happened in other areas where you have fear and politics cause a backlash," he said.

Because California's population is expected to grow from the current 37 million to more than 52 million by 2030, the state Department of Water Resources recommended four years ago that California triple its use of recycled water, now about 500,000 acre-feet a year, by 2030.

Nearly all the recycled water in the state, however, goes for non-potable uses such as irrigating crops, cooling power plants, and watering golf courses, cemeteries and highway landscaping.

San Jose has used it in those ways for a decade.

In 1997, the city began delivering recycled wastewater across the county through purple pipes from its sewage treatment plant in Alviso. The project now has 540 customers and provides about 10,000 acre-feet of water a year - nearly 3 percent of total county demand. An acre-foot is about 326,000 gallons, or the amount of water a family of five uses in a year.

Customers for recycled water include San Jose Municipal Golf Course, Metcalf Energy Plant in South San Jose, Oak Hill Cemetery and dozens of schools and parks.

The city sells the water at a discounted rate. Originally, the $225 million project was built after state water regulators ordered the city to stop pumping so much treated fresh water into San Francisco Bay, where it was diluting brackish marshes and changing the bay's ecology.

But now, the city and the water district see the project as a potentially significant source of drinking water.

Today, the water district board will vote whether to allow its staff to negotiate with the city to expand the use of recycled water. If approved, as expected, the final agreement would come next year.

No project would be built without public hearings, an environmental impact statement, approval from the state Department of Public Health, the Regional Water Quality Control Board and the San Jose City Council.

In early feasibility studies, the water district has envisioned constructing a $52 million advanced treatment plant. It would be located in Alviso next to the city's wastewater treatment plant and produce the same amount of recycled water now produced by the plant, about 10 million gallons a day, but at a higher quality. It would remove salts that, if left untreated, would eventually build up in irrigation water, causing grass to brown and harming redwoods and other trees in clay soil.

Could open by 2012

Whitman said construction could begin on the plant by 2010 and open by 2012.

After that, if the city and district want to blend its recycled water with groundwater aquifers, they would build one or more "satellite plants" in places like Coyote Valley and further treat the water to drinking water standards.

The state Department of Public Health requires any recycled water used on food crops, school fields or residential irrigation to be treated to tertiary standards - the highest level of sewage treatment, and disinfected with chlorine. San Jose's now meets that standard.

But the health department does not have uniform guidelines for pumping it into drinking water aquifers. New rules the department is drafting would require it to meet drinking water standards.

Environmentalists are generally supportive.

"Recycled water is going to be a critical component of California's water future," said Linda Sheehan, executive director of the California Coastkeeper Alliance, in Fremont. "It has to be, because of population growth and because climate change is going to reduce the amount of snowpack in the Sierra."

Sheehan said, however, that the water must be rigorously tested not only for traditional contaminants such as bacteria but also for minute levels of pharmaceuticals, hormones and other contaminants that can get through sewage treatment plants unfiltered.

The largest hurdle if the project is to go forward is the "yuck factor." Even if the science is sound, how do you persuade people that it is OK to drink toilet water?

In Sonoma County, some vintners have been fighting a proposal this summer to use recycled water from Santa Rosa to irrigate wine grapes.

"I am worried that there is a huge backlash on recycled water on our grapes," Katie Murphy, vice-president of the Alexander Valley Association, told the Santa Rosa Press Democrat in May. "I fear negative publicity - and that could linger over our wine industry for a long time."

In Orange County, water officials held hundreds of public meetings with hospitals, civic groups, religious leaders and others. They noted that astronauts have drunk recycled water for years - and that anyone drawing water from a river is drinking the recycled wastewater of cities upstream, as Los Angeles does with Las Vegas, and Memphis with St. Louis.

"We are very concerned about public opinion," said San Jose's Rosenblum. "People in Silicon Valley value innovation and technology, but they also value a high quality environment and a reliable source of water. So to the extent that using recycled water for potable purposes helps achieve those goals, I think the people in our area will be open to its use."

Friday, September 14, 2007

The San Diego Saga

The City of San Diego (California) is a widely cited case-study regarding the unsuccessful implementation of an indirect potable water recycling (IPR) scheme. Ironically, it is also an important case-study for where some of the best science has been conducted to establish and demonstrate the safety of the practice.

San Diego is often credited with the popularisation of the intentionally yuck-inducing term ‘toilet-to-tap’. An article from CNN in 1997 stated "If all goes according to plan, by the year 2001, the city's sewage water will be treated and recycled right into the drinking tap". Hence intentionally emotive language, crafted to emphasise a link between sewage and taps can be traced back at least a decade. Perhaps not surprisingly a highly emotional debate ensued.

The plan in San Diego was to pipe highly treated municipal effluent to the San Vicente Reservoir, where it would mix with raw river water and become part of the city’s raw water supply. This proposal met with considerable community opposition; apparently largely on the basis that IPR seems distasteful. However, an editorial from the Sacramento Bee puts some of the issues in perspective:

"Alas, it seems time to let San Diegans and any other squirming citizens in on a little secret about water supplies: Toilet-to-tap is as old as civilization in California. And if San Diego shuns blended toilet water, it's about to become very thirsty.

With little groundwater underneath it, San Diego has two primary supplies. One is the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. The other is the Colorado River. The proposed project, to reuse water rather than drain it into the ocean, is one viable way to create a reliable local supply for San Diego. But it does involve the blending of treated water with untreated water in a reservoir. Technically, this means drinking treated toilet water. Is this really new for San Diego or most cities? Of course not.

Consider the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers, whose waters San Diego draws from the Delta. More than 300 farmers and cities are permitted to discharge their treated and untreated runoff into these rivers. Counties empty treated sewage water into rivers every day. Almost 10 percent of the average flow of these rivers is discharge, according to San Diego's water department.

Yuck? Consider the Colorado River. Las Vegas dumps 58 billion gallons of treated sewage water into nearby Lake Mead, from whence it flows into the Colorado. More than 17 percent of this river's flow is discharge. Guess who drinks some of this, San Diego?"

Although IPR is not current San Diego City policy, it seems the issue will not disappear until long-term water shortages are resolved. The city’s Union-Tribune newspaper today reported on an on-going disagreement between the San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders and City Attorney Michael Aguirre.

Mayor Sanders has publicly rejected IPR for San Diego, while Attorney Aguirre has pointed out that “we rely on recycled water right now…We import recycled water from the Colorado River”. The Union-Tribune stated that Attorney Aguirre accused the mayor of relying on polls to dictate his water policies and not educating the public.

It’s certainly not for me to suggest how San Diego should best manage its water and I don’t pretend to have any capacity to be able to do so. However, it is insightful to observe the debate and consider just how significant politics and populism are in the determination of long-term infrastructure planning.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Las Vegas Wash

Greetings from Las Vegas.

I came through Las Vegas primarily to visit the new Water Quality Laboratory and Applied Research & Development Center of the Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA).

This facility is practically ground-zero in the USA for research into emerging water quality issues such as the presence of pharmaceuticals and endocrine disrupting compounds (EDCs) in drinking water.

I was invited to visit Dr Shane Snyder, -an environmental toxicologist and Research & Development Project Manager at SNWA. Throughout the last decade Shane has conducted research focussing on water quality at Lake Mead on the Colorado River, -the home of Hoover Dam and one of the most important drinking water sources in the USA. Lake Mead is a vital water supply for Nevada, Arizona and California.

As Shane explained to me, Lake Mead and Hoover Dam are also an example of a planned indirect potable water recycling (IPR) scheme. All treated municipal effluent is recycled one way or another in Las Vegas. Much of it is used directly for irrigation, but a significant proportion is also returned to Lake Mead via a waterway known as the Las Vegas Wash.

The Las Vegas Wash is a flow of water that is comprised of urban runoff, shallow ground water, reclaimed water, and stormwater. As described on the website of the Las Vegas Wash Coordination Committee, reclaimed water (ie. recycled municipal effluent) is normally the largest contribution of water to The Wash.

Three municipalities (Las Vegas, Clark County and Henderson) discharge treated effluents into The Wash to give a combined total of more than 500 million litres per day. The discharged water is generally conventionally treated sewage effluent with nutrient removal. There are no advanced water treatment processes such as reverse osmosis or advanced oxidation prior to discharge. As a result, there have been a number of pollution concerns in Lake Mead. One of the major concerns has been salinity. Furthermore, Shane’s work over the last decade has shown that endocrine disrupting compounds (such as estrogenic hormones) have had a detrimental effect on fish in the lake.

Prior to human consumption, the water from Lake Mead (and Lake Las Vegas) is treated by processes including flocculation, ozonation, dual media (anthracite and sand) filtration and chlorination.

As the fastest growing population in the USA and being in the middle of the Mojave Desert, sufficient clean drinking water is not something that Las Vegas can afford to gamble. The city invests in water in a way that suggests that it truly recognises the value of its most precious resource. It maintains a comprehensive water quality analysis program and on-going research aimed at process optimisation and continual improvement.

The image below shows a pilot-scale ozonation reactor at one of the Las Vegas water treatment plants.

Here is Lake Mead showing dramatic evidence of the drought experienced during the last decade. This deck was built for fishing from. An almost identical picture appeared on the front page of the New York Times earlier this year.

This is another view of Lake Mead. In the distance you may be able to see some boats crowded into a receding marina. Well above the boats you can see a white band on the rocks behind. This is precipitated calcium carbonate (‘hardness’) from the lake water and reveals the previous water height. This image from the New York Times shows it even more dramatically.

The next two images are from Hoover Dam. Again, note the white scale on the rocks showing evidence of previous water height.

Finally, water from the lake is treated at a full scale Las Vegas water treatment plant, ready for distribution to customers.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Wentworth Group promotes IPR

The Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists is a group of respected Australian scientists with an aim to raise awareness and facilitate debate regarding some key environmental issues. Their members include Prof Tim Flannery, Prof Peter Cullen, and Prof Mike Young.

The Wentworth Group have released a number of significant documents including their Blueprint for a Living Continent in 2002 and their Blueprint for a National Water Plan in 2003. You can also find a brief article about the Wentworth Group's contribution to the water debate here.

Today’s Adelaide Advertiser reports the Wentworth Group advocating the expansion of Adelaide’s municipal water supplies by means including potable and non potable water reuse and urban stormwater harvesting (see below).

I haven’t yet found the actual source document where the proposed strategies are described. Please let me know if you come across it…

A State of Emergency
By Cara Jenkin
The Adelaide Advertiser
September 05, 2007

SOUTH Australians need to drink recycled sewage, recycle stormwater and consume 50 per cent less to safeguard water supplies for the future, the Wentworth Group of Scientists says.

They have called for reliable sources to be established as a matter of urgency to replace SA's reliance on the River Murray.

The group's four water experts, University of Adelaide Professor Mike Young, former Adelaide Thinker in Residence Peter Cullen, University of Sydney Emeritus Professor Bruce Thom and CSIRO environmental adviser Peter Cosier have outlined several strategies.

The use of recycled wastewater and stormwater, limits on groundwater use, a buyback of water licences and an overall reduction in consumption was necessary.

Professor Young said all the options to source water must be examined.

"We need to put sewage recycling strongly on the table as an option, for both drinking and for outdoor use, and evaluate (all the options) carefully and thoroughly," he said.

Professor Cullen said 50 per cent of the water allocated from rivers would be less reliable as climate change took hold.

"We need to put controls on groundwater bores right across the Adelaide Plains," he said.

"We are pumping vast amounts out of our reserves when we might not have anything come out of the taps this summer."

Professor Thom said there was a "tremendous loss" when stormwater was being discharged out to sea.

Mr Cosier said State and Federal Government reforms to allocate water more stringently and sustainably had also failed to make progress in the past three years.

"One of the big criticisms SA had in the past was asking others to do what they weren't prepared to do themselves," he said.