Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Melbourne passes 20% recycling target

Back towards the start of this decade, the Victorian State Government announced a target to recycle 20% of Melbourne’s treated effluent by 2010.

At the time, it seemed an impressive and ambitious target. However, the drought that followed, increased the urgency and pace of change faster than anyone had predicted.

An article in The Age today reports that the recycling rate for Melbourne actually exceeded 22% during 2006/07.

Similar targets were also announced for Perth (20% by 2012) and Canberra (20% by 2013). More recently, Sydney Water announced a target of around 10% (70 gigalitres/year) by 2015. It will be interesting to see if/when these other targets can be achieved...

Melbourne boosts waste water recycling
The Age
February 27, 2008

More than one-fifth of Melbourne's waste water is now being recycled, two years ahead of schedule, the Victorian government says.

Melbourne recycled 22.5 per cent of its wastewater in 2006/07, Victorian Premier John Brumby said.

"Since 1999 the use of recycled water has increased from around 14 billion litres per year to 65 billion litres," Mr Brumby said.

Water Minister Tim Holding said most of the recycled water was being used by industry, local councils and new suburbs, while some was used on site by water treatment plants.

In 2002, the government had aimed to recycle 20 per cent of Melbourne's wastewater by 2010.

"A key component of the next stage of the government's water plan is to upgrade the Eastern Treatment Plant to provide more than 100 billion litres of Class A recycled water for non-drinking purposes by 2012," Mr Holding said.

Mr Holding said dual pipe systems were being installed directly to new residential developments to provide recycled water across Melbourne's suburbs.

"Over the next 25 years more than 40,000 new homes in Melbourne's southeast will connect to recycled water as part of a dual-pipe system, which will save about four billion litres of water each year," Mr Holding said.

"Recycled water is piped directly to homes in new housing developments for garden watering, toilet flushing and car washing - reducing water use in these homes by about a third."

However, Mr Holding said the government was yet to consider its next target.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Solving the Global Water Crisis

Daniel Simpson is a UK based journalist and researcher who keeps a blog titled ‘Untitled’. This week, he posted a great article called 'Wet Dreams? Solving the Global Water Crisis'.

As part of his research for ‘Wet Dreams?’, Daniel went to the extent of speaking to various people from around the world, -including yours truly... Since I can’t resist promoting an article in which I appear to say a few things that sound vaguely sensible, here’s a link to Daniel’s. It’s long but its well worth a few minutes of your time for an excellent international perspective on the future management of global water resources.

...Oh and thanks to Sarah for making the connection!

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

NSW Govt Wrong on Water

The NSW State Government’s lack of interest in major water recycling in and stormwater harvesting projects continues to provide effective campaign fodder for the opposition coalition. This article from today’s Sydney Morning Herald (and also appearing in most of the other major daily newspapers) sums up the situation.

Sydney’s dams are rapidly filling and currently the rain just keeps on falling from the sky. Of course this wont last forever, but we could be in for a particularly wet 2008. What happens if Warragamba Dam is overflowing the day that Morris Iemma is set to flick the switch on Sydney’s seawater desalination plant? The public-private partnership arrangement will entail some obligation for Sydney to purchase water from the plant operators, regardless of whether we actually need it. The NSW Government may actually find themselves praying for the rain to cease…

Interesting times ahead.

NSW Govt Wrong on Water: opposition
Sydney Morning Herald
February 5, 2008.

With more than 120mm of rain falling in Sydney over the past two days the NSW opposition says the government has its water priorities wrong by failing to develop recycling and stormwater harvesting initiatives.

Some parts of Sydney have received their average February rainfall in the past 48 hours, according to the Bureau of Meteorology, and rain is forecast to continue into next week.

"The rain just demonstrates how wrong the Iemma Labor government has got its priorities in relation to water," Opposition Leader Barry O'Farrell said in a statement.

"After sitting on their hands and doing nothing for 12 years, Labor panicked a month out from the state election and signed a contract to push ahead with an expensive and energy-guzzling desalination plant at Kurnell before dam levels reached the specified 30 per cent level. Dam levels are now above 60 per cent.

"This is despite virtually every water expert urging the state government to provide additional resources for water recycling and stormwater harvesting.

"Desalination is nothing but an expensive, carbon-belching white elephant, opposed by the people of Kurnell and greater Sydney."

A spokesman for Water Utilities Minister Nathan Rees has said previously that water costs would rise to cover the cost of the desalination plant, but that it was a small price to pay.

"Average water bills would probably rise by $2 per week over a four year period and that's a small price to pay to guarantee water supplies," the spokesman said.

"The long distance forecast is for drier, warmer weather in the face of climate change and facing an increasing population."

As this week's rain sparks calls for assistance to the State Emergency Service, Premier Morris Iemma has announced an expansion of the National Insurance Hotline.

Since 11pm (AEDT) Monday the SES has received 139 calls for assistance and a spokesman said many of those were "re-calls" from residents whose property had already been damaged by recent storms and was awaiting repair.

The insurance hotline (1300 663 464), designed to help people deal with their insurance companies, will now operate five days a week, Mr Iemma says.

"If consumers have been denied a claim for storm damage, they can now call the hotline and get free legal advice," he said in a statement.

Time to drink toilet water

I always enjoy a straight-talking commentary on indirect potable water recycling. I found a particularly good one in the Dallas Morning News over the weekend. Here it is...

It's time to drink toilet water
By Eilene Zimmerman
The Dallas Morning News
Sunday February 3, 2008.

Recycling sewage is safe and efficient, so why aren't we doing it? asks EILENE ZIMMERMAN

Officials in Orange County, Calif., last month opened the world's largest water-purification project, among the first "toilet-to-tap" systems in America.

The Groundwater Replenishment System is designed to take sewage water straight from bathrooms and – after an initial cleansing treatment – send it through $490 million worth of pipes, filters and tanks for purification. The water then flows into nearby lakes, where it seeps through clay, sand and rock into aquifers in the groundwater basin. Months later, it will travel back into the homes of half a million Orange County residents, through their kitchen taps and showerheads.

It's a smart idea, one of the most reliable and affordable hedges against water shortages, and it's not new. For decades, cities throughout the U.S. have used recycled wastewater for nonpotable needs, like agriculture and landscaping; because the technology already exists, the move to potable uses seems a no-brainer. But the Orange County project is the exception. Studies show that the public hasn't yet warmed to the notion of indirect potable reuse – or toilet-to-tap, as its opponents would have it. Surveys like one taken last year in San Diego show that a majority of us don't want to drink water that once had poop in it, even if it's been cleaned and purified. A public outcry against toilet-to-tap in 2000 forced the city of Los Angeles to shut down a $55 million project that would have provided enough water for 120,000 homes.

But many cities in the U.S. are in the midst of a severe water crisis. Rising populations and ongoing droughts mean we don't have enough water where we need it.

If we don't learn to deal with drinking toilet water, we're going to be mighty thirsty.

Only 2.5 percent of the water on Earth is freshwater, and less than 1 percent of that is usable and renewable. The Ogallala Aquifer – North America's largest, stretching from Texas to South Dakota – is steadily being depleted. And Americans are insatiable water consumers – our water footprint has been estimated to be twice the global average.

The ocean provides another source of potable water. Large-scale treatment of seawater already occurs in the Middle East, Africa and in Tampa Bay, Fla. Taking the salt out of ocean water sounds like a good idea, but it's economically and environmentally far more expensive than sewage-water recycling.

Orange County water officials estimate desalinated water costs between $800 and $2,000 per acre-foot to produce, while its recycled water runs about $525 per acre-foot. Desalination also uses more energy (and thus produces more greenhouse gas emissions), kills tiny marine organisms that get sucked up into the processing plant and produces a brine byproduct laced with chemicals that goes back into the ocean.

What desalination doesn't have, though, is the "yuck" factor of recycled sewage water. But seawater, like other sources of nonrecycled water, is at least as yucky as whatever comes through a toilet-to-tap program. When you know how dirty all this water is before treatment, recycling raw sewage doesn't seem like a bad option.

Hundreds of millions of tons of sewage are dumped into rivers and oceans, and in that waste are bacteria, hormones and pharmaceuticals. Runoff from rainwater, watering lawns and emptying pools is the worst, sending metals, pesticides and pathogens into lakes, rivers and the ocean. The water you find near the end of a river system like the Colorado or the Mississippi has been in and out of municipal sewers several times.

Whatever winds up in lakes and rivers used for drinking is cleaned and disinfected along with the rest of our water supply. Still, a recent analysis of San Diego's drinking water found several contaminants, including ibuprofen, the bug repellent DEET and the anti-anxiety drug meprobamate.

No treatment system will ever be 100 percent reliable, and skeptics who worry that pathogens in sewage water will make it past treatment and into our drinking water should worry about all drinking water, not just the water in a toilet-to-tap program.

The fact is, supertreated wastewater is clean enough to drink right after treatment. It's been used safely this way (in a process known as direct potable reuse) for years in the African nation of Namibia. The EPA has conducted research in Denver and San Diego on the safety of direct potable reuse and found that recycled water is often of better quality than existing drinking water.

And although putting water into the ground, rivers or lakes provides some additional filtering and more opportunities for monitoring quality, the benefits of doing it that way are largely psychological. In its 2004 report on the topic, the EPA concluded that Americans perceive this water to be "laundered" as it moves through the ground or other bodies of water, even though in some instances, according to the report, "quality may actually be degraded as it passes through the environment."

Despite the public's concerns, a few U.S. cities have already started to use recycled wastewater to augment drinking water. In El Paso, indirect potable reuse supplies 40 percent of the city's drinking water; in Fairfax, Va., it supplies 5 percent.

Unless we discover a new source of clean, potable water, we're going to have to consider projects like these to make wastewater a reusable resource. The upfront costs for getting a system in place and educating the public may be steep, but it would save us the expense – both economic and environmental – of finding another river or lake from which we can divert water.

Eilene Zimmerman is a San Diego-based journalist who writes about business and political and environmental issues.