Monday, May 07, 2007

Western Corridor Recycled Water Project

It’s about time we took a close look at the Western Corridor Recycled Water Project (WCRWP) currently undergoing development in South East Queensland. The last time we discussed it was back in July last year when it was little more than a twinkle in the eye of Premier Peter Beattie.

Since then, the scheme has been undergoing construction at apparently record pace. Deputy Premier Anna Bligh said last week that “more than 750 workers are now on sites at both ends of the 200km project and at the three other sites in the middle... It would normally take five to seven years and we will deliver in less than two and a half.”

The best overview of what these 750 men and women are working on is available from the map below which I borrowed from the WCRWP website. You can click on the map to see a larger image, or you could click here to go to a somewhat interactive version.

The interactive version is worth taking a look at since it allows you to click on each of the “sheet 1”, “sheet 2” areas to see an annotated areal photograph of that area.

The WCRWP will make use of the vast majority of treated municipal effluent (treated sewage) which is currently being discharged into Moreton Bay via the Brisbane River. This water will undergo advanced water treatment processes to prepare it to a quality that is suitable as a potable water source.

Much of the advanced-treated water will be used to supply cooling water to power stations and it is possible that some of it may be used for agricultural purposes. Of course, the controversial aspect of the project is that the remaining available water will be used to recharge one of Brisbane’s main drinking water reservoirs, -either Wivenhoe or Somerset.

The project is being built in two stages (like me, you might be able to count three, but I’ll stick with the official version so as not to confuse things!):

Stage 1A: An advanced water treatment plant at Bundamba (see sheet 13) will treat water from existing sewage treatment plants at Bundamba (sheet 13) and Goodna (sheet 11) to supply Swanbank power station (just south of sheets 12 & 13) by August 2007.

Stage 1B: The advanced water treatment plant at Bundamba (sheet 13) will be expanded to incorporate additional volumes of water from the sewage treatment plants at Oxley (sheet 10) and Wacol (sheet 11). A pipeline will then link to Caboonbah (sheet 24) for off-take to Tarong power station (further north-west). This stage is scheduled for completion in June 2008.

Stage 2: Two new advanced water treatment plants to be constructed alongside existing sewage treatment plants at Luggage Point (sheet 1) and Gibson Island (sheet 2) will provide larger volumes of recycled water for delivery to Wivenhoe or Somerset Dam by the end of 2008.

The Commonwealth Government has announced that it would support the $1.7 billion project with the contribution of $408 million. This funding is to be provided as a Water Smart Australia (WSA) Grant which are assessed and awarded through the National Water Commission. The Queensland Government’s application for this WSA funding is available from here and is a further useful source of information regarding the project details.

It was from that application that I found (and you can find) the schematic diagram below, giving an overview of the treatment scheme that is intended for the three advanced treatment plants:

We’ve discussed the key treatment processes of reverse osmosis (RO) and advanced oxidation (UV/H2O2) on this site previously. The microfiltration/ultrafiltration (MF/UF) and RO process will generate several waste-streams, which must be properly managed. The RO concentrate stream will be treated with chemical coagulation and sedimentation for phosphorus removal and with a denitrification filter with methanol addition for biological nitrogen removal. The treated waste-streams from Luggage Point and Gibson Island are proposed to be discharged to the Brisbane River, where they will be diluted and dispersed into Moreton Bay. The Draft Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) indicates that these discharges will be about adjacent to the existing outfalls and constitute around 15 % of their current flow. The WSA grant application indicates that the waste-stream from the Bundamba plant would either be discharged to the Bremmer River or else piped to the Brisbane River.

The WSA application clearly describes how the total influx of the nutrients nitrogen and phosphorus into the Bremmer and Brisbane Rivers will be significantly reduced. However, it is also important to remember that the total flow of water will be reduced (its got to come from somewhere!). Nonetheless, Figures 6-9 in the WSA application indicate that reductions in nutrient concentration are indeed expected, -not just reductions in total load.

The question of how much water the WCRWP will produce is an interesting and controversial one. The WSA application (submitted in January) indicated that the scheme would provide around 210 megalitres of water per day. However, that was before the introduction of Level 5 water restrictions and an article from the Brisbane Times reports that this has now been revised down to only 142 megalitres while such restrictions are in place.

The WCRWP is a partnership between the Queensland Government, Brisbane City Council, Ipswich City Council and the Southern Regional Water Pipeline Alliance. The operation of the scheme will be undertaken by Veolia Water Australia under a long-term contract with the Queensland Government.

Certainly the WCRWP is a mega-project and we’ve only just skimmed the surface of what is involved. However, my hope is that this will provide a useful starting point to initiate further discussion.

By the way, I do receive comments (by email) that people leave on old posts and I’m always happy to resume the discussion. So even if you’ve just dropped in long after this post was posted, feel free to pick up wherever we’ve left off.


Anonymous said...

With any luck, there may be some good rain this winter to put some storage in the dams, and take the pressure off getting the pipeline built in record time.

Stuart Khan said...

Yes indeed. And there does appear to be good reason to be optimistic too. The most recent Bureau or Meteorology report states “Current conditions in the equatorial Pacific remain neutral. However the chance of a La Niña developing during 2007, and in particular over the coming 2 to 3 months, continues to be significantly elevated above the long-term likelihood of around 20%”. Such a development would significantly increase the likelihood of good rainfall for much of Eastern Australia.

Tombo said...

Hey Stuart,

Thanks for your very thorough overview of the Western Corridor recycled Water Project. And thanks for the optimistic outlook for rain. But can you please tell me how you manage to put the squiggle over the n in La Nina?

Anonymous said...

Ah, to be able to have that as your biggest worry...

Stuart Khan said...

Hello Tombo,

I simply copied-and-pasted that whole chunk of text from the site to which the comment is linked. To my surprise, the squiggle came with it. I was actually fairly impressed with that achievement as well. La Niña El Niño La Niña El Niño La Niña El Niño La Niña El Niño La Niña El Niño La Niña El Niño...

wateruser06 said...

The recent voluntary SEQ poll will have the state and federal politicians in a spin. They know that drinking recycled water is an unpopular choice and will now be trying to figure out how to deal with it. The organisers of the poll have hit the politicians where it is most likely to hurt - their re-election chances and the risk that they will lose their fat pay packets and all the perks. That will make them sit up and take notice!

Stuart Khan said...

Thanks for your comment Wateruser06,

I certainly agree that politicians are obliged to take careful notice of community sentiment, and I commend Snow Manners for taking the initiative with the ‘Think Before you Agree to Drink’ survey.

However, I think people should be a little careful in interpreting the results. 400,000 copies of the booklet were reported to have been delivered to homes in South East Queensland. 5000 votes were reported to have been returned to Snow by mail, fax or email. I acknowledge that the vast majority agreed with the premise of the booklet, -that is that recycled water is not acceptable for drinking. That is hardly surprising given that the booklet presented some fairly scary information unrelated to planned potable water recycling in a context that very clearly suggested a close relationship.

Personally, I think the most reasonable interpretation of the response is that 98.75% of households in SEQ didn’t think the issue was important enough to warrant the cost of a postage stamp or the effort of an email. Either people accept that the Western Corridor Recycled Water Project is an appropriate response to the current situation or they don’t particularly care. Either way, I don’t see a burning desire to vote on the issue being expressed by the community. That would appear to give some justification to Peter Beattie’s decision to simply get on with the urgent task of providing infrastructure to supply potable water to SEQ.

I don’t expect that this interpretation will be shared by all members of the community and I don’t expect that it should be.

wateruser06 said...

Many voters only saw the magazine advert and used that to vote. It was certainly open to ALL those in favour of drinking recycled water to register their vote. Where is the 70% in favour of drinking recycled water, as Premier Beattie would have us believe?

How do you feel about assisting the Qld government in perpetrating lies on the community? Your work with the QWC is only one step removed from Anna Bligh and her (now unmasked) campaign to mislead the community on water source options. Don't you think you (and UNSW) should distance yourself from politicians hellbent on lying to and misleading the community?

jeremy - sydney said...

I agree - you risk the credibility of yourself and your university by being connected to these politicians. Mud sticks.

Stuart Khan said...

Hello Wateruser06,

I tend to be very sceptical of most opinion polls, -especially those undertaken or promoted by politicians. The precise wording of the question can skew results heavily in one direction or another. I think during the last year we have seen a poll suggesting 75% support for potable recycling and another showing 75% opposition for it. Apart from irregular questions (and accompanying information), I think opinion on this topic probably is quite dynamic depending on the circumstances of the month.

Although your suggestion that I am “assisting the Qld government in perpetrating lies on the community” is obviously meant to be offensive, I think it is simply ridiculous. All I have ever provided the QWC with is factual information, which has consistently been heavily referenced to peer-reviewed, published scientific literature. I think the QLD population have a right to have such information made available to decision makers and to the community members themselves. I think it is perfectly appropriate for myself and UNSW to assist in providing it.

Jeremy, I am not “connected” to any politicians. I am an independent university-based researcher and thus, a source of information on a fairly narrow range of topics. As far as I know, I have never even been in the same room as Peter Beattie or Anna Bligh. They wouldn’t know me if they tripped over me.

penny said...

guilt by association perhaps

wateruser06 said...

Dr Leslie faced similar problems with the Toowoomba City Council. They promoted him as their independent consultant while he was still a consultant to CH2M Hill, the likely contractor had waterfutures gone ahead. The council continued to refer to him as their independent consultant in council minutes even after he had clarified his position (or it had been clarified for him).

You should be aware that Beattie and Bligh will use you in the same way Thorley used Leslie.

Stuart Khan said...

Thanks Wateruser06,

I think you make a valid point regarding the need to remain transparently independent. Every single piece of information that I have provided to the Queensland Government is –or will be- publicly available. You (and the rest of the world) will be free to critique it and respond to it.

I acknowledge that the Queensland Water Commission appears to have picked up on a document that I prepared for a third party (The Local Government Association of Queensland). I have not dissuaded them from doing so since I think it is a useful document for all parties considering indirect potable reuse schemes (including those for and against them). Furthermore, I think they have a perfect right to consider the contents of that document since it is publicly available and is really only a collation and review of existing publicly available information. It offers my own interpretation of where the existing evidence leads, but I stand by that interpretation and others can take it or leave it as they see fit. If individual politicians decide to misrepresent the contents of that document, you and I can both stand up and say so. On that basis, I don’t see how I can possibly be ‘used’ by politicians in a manner which I am unable to defend. I am perfectly happy for politicians to quote information that I have provided where I believe that I have done a rigorous job of assimilating and justifying it and where feel that it is being reasonably represented.

wateruser06 said...

Just an observation.

Johnno said...

It is a pity that we find the Queensland Water Commission and the politicians are relying on rain to get us through the next year.
The western corridor is different from any other recycled effluent reuse scheme in the world. Firstly it is a "closed system" with very little blow-down. In a closed system the water continues going around the loop with no real addition or removal of other water sources (perhaps the western corridor engineers might like to comment on the Berlin case). Second is the influence of reduced water while mass concentration remains the same. The effect of this is that the treatment plants were not designed for this and the same engineers who did not take into account reduced water consumption are also at fault here. RO units, membrane filters etc. will all have to be redesigned taking this into consideration. Indeed the reduction of recycled effluent available has got the Queensland Water Commission and the Brisbane/Ipswich councils in such a flap they are looking at banning the use of grey water in those areas and are even looking at taking water from the aquifers to make up supplies.
Third and most important is the ratio of recycled effluent to water from other sources that will be present in the Wivenhoe system. Forgetting that Wivenhoe will be at 1% or less by September 2008 (three months before the supposed point at which water from the Western Corridor will enter Wivenhoe) unless the premier brings us rain then we will have at least 20% using his quotes. This far exceeds that found in Singapore or London or Namibia. I wont even go into the fallacies of using those examples.
I see that Stuart Khan has expertise in analytical methodology. I would ask him therefore what are the limits of detection of current methodology for say the herbicide "picloram". I would also ask if he is aware of the lowest concentrations at which a chemical such as picloram has an effect on horticultural crops such as tomatoes and lettuce.
My point on this is those scientists who make the claim that if we cannot detect it there will not be a problem should have a very brief look at history and environmental pollution. They will see similar cases of if we cant detect it it wont harm us. We have only to look at the yellowing of those lettuces in the Werribee area to show us that the scientists involved have no idea of what chemicals are or may be present in recycled effluent.
By the way Picloram present in water supplies at below 0.1 ppb for a period of 10 days will have a serious effect on the production of fruit from tomatoes using normal irrigation practices.
I have only to wonder at what effect below limit of detection concentrations of certain medical chemicals will have over five, ten or twenty years of ingestion in our water supply. And please dont say this is a short term solution, those of us living the nightmare in SEQ know better. Also before some idiot says we have been drinking recycled effluent since Adam was born let me point out that most of these medical chemicals have only been developed in the last forty years (eg the pill) and that in that time water professionals have reduced the effect of drinking untreated effluent significantly.
My last point is that I am yet to find a wastewater treatment plant anywhere in the world that has 100% uptime, or in fact does not have unexpected breakdowns. I fear the small tears in membranes, the effects of one off introduction of toxic chemicals into the sewage and most importantly the fallibility of human operators.

Anonymous said...

I believe this project merits a Wikipedia article.
Anyone with some spare time want to have a go?
Western Corridor Recycled Water Project

Jenna Moore said...

Hi Stuart, I am currently trying to put together a case`study on the Western Corridor Project and I am finding technical information difficult to find. The application can no longer be accessed on the wc site. Do you still have this file? My email address is and I would greatly appreciate anything you have. Thanks in advance!

Jenna Moore

Stuart Khan said...

Hi Jenna,

I'm sorry that I did not keep a copy of the application (i really should have!). I imagine that its probably a bit difficult to track down now. However, its probably a bit out of date anyway since the project has evolved and developed since then. I would think the current info on the Western Corridor site (which I assume you have searched) is the most comprehensive publicly available source. Did you see the recent blog post about water quality testing at Bundamba:

I'm not sure that I have much else that may be useful to you...

Good luck with your research!


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