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.


Anonymous said...

Sorry for posting as anonymous, cant remember my login.

An interesting note to this is that it was reported the other day that the qualiy of effluent required by the mine is above the level discharged by council. I sense a lively discharge of words from the normal crowd over this one.

I guess what needs to be remembered about the Toowoomba vote is that a) there was a lot of scare tactics going on and 2) the wording of the question.

A specialist (yes a Doctor) said to me, do I want to drink recycled water, no. Do i think we need to, yes.

However, being a democracy we must live with the decisions of others.

Re Toowoombas ability to pump water from Wivenhoe. My persional opinion as an engineer is that Brisbane and Ipswich wont want to risk their water supply by feeding toowoomba, no matter what the politics are. The timeframe to get the pipeline in is the first of many stoppers.

But again, we must live with these decisions.

Enjoy your posts so keep up the good work.

On a side note I came across some of your work the other day for a job im doing.



Stuart Khan said...

Thanks for your comments George,

Yes, I’ll be interested to see the details of the proposed upgrade to supply water of a suitable quality for the mine. I’d also be interested to know the mine’s water quality requirements and the key parameters that must be improved. My first instinct would be salt, but given that they were previously considering taking RO concentrate from Toowoomba, salt doesn’t seem likely to be a limiting consideration here. Possibly they are concerned that the water must be of a very high microbial quality to protect the health of workers. If that is the driver, then ozone treatment may be an excellent solution.

It’s true that there were many factors that undoubtedly contributed to the result of the Toowoomba poll and the two you mention are certainly amongst them. However, I prefer not to simply say that ‘there was a scare campaign’ and leave it at that. When political and financial interests are at stake, scare campaigns are practically inevitable. I think its more insightful and useful to consider how/why a scare campaign managed to take hold and was not overcome by excellent science and effective communication. I think we (scientists, engineers, community leaders) have a lot to learn and that it would be a mistake to lay the blame on others.

I hope whatever document you came across was of some use to you!

colin said...

they were previously considering taking RO concentrate from Toowoomba

they never wanted that - that was just a scam by the council

don't fall for it

W F Blog said...

NHC's Acland mine is taking Class A+ treated effluent.

They are building the pipeline and TCC is building the treatment plant.

Incredibly the cost of the Class A+ treatment plant is $15million and they have let the work out on a non-competitive tender to CH2M Hill and Laing O'Rourke (Wetalla Alliance).

The pipeline from Wivenhoe is still nebulous - a line on a map but without a timeframe or costing.

I think there is a lot more politics to be played out wrt Toowoomba water supply before 2012.

The issue has now been complicated by Local Government amalgamations and mandatory fluoridation - both unpopular and imposed by the State Government.

Interesting times.

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