Friday, February 16, 2007

Debnam to recycle recycled water

NSW Liberal opposition leader Peter Debnam has today placed planned potable water recycling on the table for debate in Sydney. He offered an election policy involving recharging Prospect Reservoir with recycled water from treated effluent.

The choice of Prospect Reservoir seems more sensible than the alternative of Warragamba Dam, as alluded to here previously. But while he may have picked the right reservoir, Debnam seems to have picked the wrong sewage treatment plants.

Sydney Water is already making excellent progress on planning for water recycling from the inland plants such as Penrith, St Marys, Quakers Hill with the Western Sydney Recycled Water initiative. Much of the effluent from Rouse Hill is now required for the expanding dual-reticulation scheme in that area. There are still excellent and relatively simple opportunities for effluent from Liverpool, Glenfield and Fairfield to be recycled for industrial and irrigation use via the Liverpool-Ashfield pipeline.

The elephant in the room remains the three enormous ‘sewage transfer stations’ at North Head, Bondi and Malabar. This is where Mr Debnam will find well over 500 megalitres per day of available water, ripe for the picking.

Well, at least we’re having a debate about alternative water supplies for Sydney. Here’s the article from today’s Sydney Morning Herald...

Coalition water plan: treated sewage for Sydney
Anne Davies
February 16, 2007

The NSW election will officially become a war over water today when the Opposition unveils plans to divert treated effluent from inland sewage treatment plants to back up Sydney's supply in times of acute drought.

Under the Opposition's proposed $955.7 million water policy, the output from several western Sydney sewage treatment plants would be diverted to Prospect Reservoir to boost the city's water supply if dam levels fall to 20 per cent.

"If we need to boost the water supply we will use the water from the recycled sewage. It will go through two filtration plants: it will go through one and then head to Prospect to the existing water filtration plant," the Opposition Leader, Peter Debnam, told the Herald yesterday.

The scheme, which the Opposition says would cost $450 million, would add an additional 66 billion litres to Sydney water supply - about 10 per cent of the city's total supply.

When not needed, the water would be used to increase flows in the Hawkesbury/Nepean.

But Mr Debnam said it could be accessed at the "flick of a switch".

Water from the West Camden, Liverpool, Glenfield and Fairfield sewage treatment plants would be filtered through a sophisticated reverse osmosis plant. It would then be sent through a new pipeline, to be built in an old canal path either south to the river or north to Prospect, depending on the dam levels.

At times of shortage, the treated water would be shandied into fresh water at Prospect Reservoir at a ratio of about 10 per cent, Mr Debnam said. He said it would use significantly less electricity than a desalination plant.

Mr Debnam's "New Water Network" would replace the Iemma Government's planned $1.9 billion desalination plant as the immediate line of defence for the water supply, although Mr Debnam still did not rule out a desalination plant as "a last resort".

"I believe the people of NSW should be given the opportunity to have their say on how we tackle our water crisis, before the election. They should be given a clear choice and we will give it to them."

Mr Debnam said he had complete confidence in the technology, which he said could deliver safe drinking water.

"I don't have a problem with it. We are saying let's have a debate. They are trying to deflect attention that they haven't done the work on recycling. This technology has been available for a decade."

He said a Coalition government would establish a Water Excellence Panel and appoint an independent water commissioner.

A second part of Mr Debnam's new water network is a $470 million scheme to link inland treatment plants in north western Sydney to deliver an additional 20 billion litres of water as environmental flows into the Hawkesbury.

But last night there were doubts about whether the Opposition was double counting water that is already being recycled. The water from the Liverpool treatment plant is due to be piped to Ashfield for industrial uses. Some is also allocated for its industrial recycling initiative at Camellia.

The output from the Penrith, Rouse Hill, St Marys and Quakers Hill plants is already being used for recycling under the Government's western Sydney recycling initiative. But the Opposition says there is a further 20 billion litres that is not being recycled.

The Opposition will also spend $25 million on investigating further recycling initiatives for ocean outfalls.

The Minister for Water Utilities, David Campbell, said last night the Government's insurance policy was desalination. "We will build the 125 megalitre plant, and if dam levels dropped further, we would be able to upscale the plant quickly to 500 megalitres per day - which is about one-third of Sydney's daily water needs."

Here's the front page of today's Daily Telegraph... Just like Warnie a couple of weeks back, Brett Lee doesn't look happy with the news. What is it with these cricketers?


Stuart Khan said...

A follow-up article in today’s SMH quotes Premier Iemma today:

"The only difference between what Peter Debnam has announced and what we are already doing is that we won't be forcing people to drink recycled sewage," Mr Iemma said in a statement.

"The Iemma government is recycling for industry, we're recycling for new release homes and we're recycling for environmental flows."

Hmmm... It may be technically true that Mr Iemma doesn’t “force” anybody to drink anything. But to mention recycling for “environmental flows” in the same statement seems rather disingenuous considering the existence of drinking water treatment plants on exactly the same waterways that they intend to (and do) replenish.

I think Premier Iemma should be a little more careful of the words he chooses, lest they come back to bight him. It may be more in his interest to acknowledge that recycled water can be safely provided, but state that he still considers seawater desalination to be necessary. Perhaps that would be too sensible...

Anonymous said...

I guess a lot of people in NSW are going to have to vote Labour after all. Pity them.

Anonymous said...

Interesting how this push to bring recycled sewage water to the people dose not follow party lines.

Labour want it in Qld. Libs want it in NSW and the Labour Party on the Federal arena say they won't make us drink from this water sourced from the back end of the sewage plant.

One wonders who is really pulling the strings and what would happen if the community follow the money trail.

Greg said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Greg said...

Made an oopsie with my last post!
I reckon it depends who's got shares in bottled or recycled water companies. Pollies cannot be trusted and Beattie proved that with the many promises he has broken recently!

Stuart Khan said...

I don’t think the ‘money trail’ argument really works in this case. Iemma’s desalination scheme is a much bigger infrastructure project than Debnam’s relatively modest IPR scheme.

The fact is that Debnam has been jumping up and down for at least a year trying to get noticed. He has had to make some rather outrageous comments to get any press coverage at all. He knows potable water recycling is something that the media will prominently report and he also knows that a large proportion of Sydneysiders will support it over desalination.

As Wendy likes to remind me, ‘its all about politics’. The suggestion that the announcement has something to do with shares in bottled water companies, rather than with the fact that we have an election next month really doesn’t work for me.

W F Blog said...

I find Debnam's position interesting in that he was quoted often last year as saying 'people don't want it we won't introduce it' - I think the Weather Channel ran that clip ad-nauseum.

Iemma was quoted by Shelton in the Toowoomba debate saying something along the lines that he had health concerns about recycled water.

Rudd is moving to the 'industry agriculture' stance leaving Howard on potable reuse.

Flegg (Lib/Qld) Jane Prentice (Lib/BCC) and others seem to propose it and the Nationals in Queensland seem opposed.

Beattie is really the Labour man out of step which I think indicates it's on the Labour Party agenda but they see it as a vote winner in NSW and Federally to oppose it at the moment.

I imagine Rudd and Iemma will support it after elections the way Thorley and Beattie did.

The Water Industry has been lobbying very strongly for potable reuse to all parties for about 10 years.

My tip is that it is very much a vote loser and Labour understands that better than the Libs.

Stuart Khan said...

Thanks for your thoughts W.F.,

Generally, I read the situation fairly similarly to you. However, I think in Sydney it is significantly complicated by the impending construction of an extremely controversial desalination plant. I think you can be confident that Debnam’s proposal was made to give the impression that it is an alternative to desalination. He hasn’t actually ruled out building a desal plant himself, but at least he is sending the message that he will do whatever he can to make it the option of last resort. Iemma, on the other hand, is bighting at the bit to build it.

Iemma’s desal plant is suffering from public opposition for a number of reasons. One is that people actually are concerned with the massive energy requirements and corresponding carbon emissions.

A further factor that made it unpopular a year ago was private industry involvement. At the time, the public-private-partnership debacle of the Sydney cross-city tunnel made it very clear how little control the State Government had in these types relationships when they are poorly negotiated. Any agreement would certainly involve minimum water volumes that would be purchased from the private consortium regardless of future needs. It wouldn’t matter if Sydney’s dams were full, it was expected that we would still be buying 125-500 ML/day of energy intensive desal water. In response to this untimely cross-city furore, Iemma announced that the plant would be publicly controlled, however I don’t know the details of the proposed agreement. Desal plants are not something that can be easily switched on and off at will, in any case.

After appearing to take it off the table (in response to the public opposition), Iemma put the desal plant back on again by stating that water storage supplies below 30% would be the trigger to build it. By refusing to enact similarly strict water restrictions as most other cities, and by reducing the volume of water imported from the Shoalhaven River, we managed to get down to about 34% relatively quickly. Iemma raced in and called for tenders. Then came last weeks rain, which I think is expected to bring us back up around 37%. So the idea of a 30% trigger now seems to have been a farce.

My point of this comment (which is much longer than I intended it to be!), is that while potable water recycling might be naturally unpopular in many communities, Iemma has created a climate in which people may well embrace it.

W F Blog said...

I remember the desal debate in Sydney was controversial and I was even surprised by one survey where people attributed all the 'evil' things to desal that Qld attributes to sewage water.

It will be interesting to watch the NSW state election if sewage vs sewater becomes established as a key election issue water source.

In my view both arguments are clouded in misinformation but the electorate has a way of sorting through it.

Stuart Khan said...


Yes, I certainly agree that the arguments from both sides have been presented rather passionately. Water resource planning has become possibly the key election platform in NSW. I think this is generally a very good thing (it sure is a refreshing change to the Laura Norder competitions of the last few decades). However, it also means that a certain degree of hysteria is inevitable.

By the way, it looks like your prediction regarding Kevin Rudd may have been made a day too early. As widely reported in the media today, Rudd has expressed support for Beattie’s plans by promising to help pay for them:

Qld promised $408m for water recycling
February 18, 2007 - 5:59PM

Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd says a federal Labor government would pay $408 million towards Queensland's recycled water scheme and has called on Prime Minister John Howard to hurry up and do the same.

Mr Rudd said he would meet a request from the Queensland government to contribute to its Western Corridor Recycled Water Project, which will provide recycled water to Tarong and Swanbank power stations.

"We're injecting $408 million - that's a rock solid guarantee from us if we're elected at the end of this year," Mr Rudd told reporters in Brisbane.

"My challenge to Mr Howard is do the same and do it quick because the people of Queensland need to see this project completed."

He said the federal government should fund the commonsense project from its $2 billion national water fund set up in 2004.

"For the life of me I can't understand how Mr Howard could sit on a $2 billion Australian water fund for nearly three years and wonder why we have a problem (with water infrastructure)," he said.

Mr Rudd said his plan to allocate that much money to one project would not be playing favourites in the must-win state.

"Queensland and Western Australia are the powerhouses of the national economy - that's a fact," Mr Rudd said.

"You have huge population pressures here in south-east Queensland - that's a fact ... let's be practical about it, let's just get on with it."

Premier Peter Beattie and Deputy Premier Anna Bligh, who were with Mr Rudd as he announced the funding, said they welcomed it enthusiastically.

Ms Bligh said the money would keep the pressure off Queensland taxpayers, who would have to foot the bill if the federal government did not come to the party.

"The most significant feature of a commonwealth contribution to this pipeline is that it will keep the cost of water affordable for people in the south-east corner," she said.

Stuart Khan said...

Further to my previous comment, Rudd’s announcement also included support for Perth’s proposed potable water recycling scheme. From PerthNow (Sunday Times):

Rudd pledges $30m for water
February 18, 2007 07:15pm

A FEDERAL Labor government would commit $30 million from the Australian Water Fund to shore up Perth's water supply, Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd says.

Mr Rudd today said Labor would contribute $15.75 million to the Gnangara Mound aquifer recharge project and $15 million to the state water management plans.

Under the Gnangara Mound project, 1.5 billion litres of treated waste water each year will undergo further treatment including desalination before being pumped through bores into the Leederville aquifer on the Gnangara Mound.

``Groundwater resources supply about 60 per cent of Perth's drinking water and Gnangara Mound is the largest and most important shallow underground water resource in the Perth region,'' Mr Rudd said.

``The Federal Government has been dragging its feet on this project.''

Federal Labor had set a 30 per cent waste water recycling target by 2015, Mr Rudd said.

He said a Labor government would work in partnership with the state governments on practical, national building projects.

The Australian Water Fund, set up in 2004, is a $2 billion government program that invests in water infrastructure and improved water management of Australia's scarce resources.

Mr Rudd today also announced that a federal Labor government would pay $408 million towards Queensland's recycled water scheme.

He said Labor would meet a request from the Queensland government to contribute to its Western Corridor Recycled Water Project, which will provide recycled water to Tarong and Swanbank power stations.

And Mr Rudd called on Prime Minister John Howard to immediately use the national water fund to follow suit.

Wendy said...

It IS all about politics.

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