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!


Anonymous said...

How does one just happen to "stumble upon" newspaper articles from 1995?

Stuart Khan said...

Just clumsiness I suppose...

Sam said...

Interesting stumble.
It is a shame that there has been little progress in this area. At Diamond Bay sewage flows untreated into the ocean and the remaining major STPs still have primary treatment only.
Adding the 90GL of new desal water (unless it is all used for watering the garden) will further increase outfall emissions.
Unfortunately, I can't see this situation altering!

waterboy said...

Always thought it was 7 sets of kidneys!! Maybe someone had a kidney transplant.

Stuart Khan said...

Yes, or maybe one in every eight people drink Evian spring water instead of tap water now..

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