Sunday, November 30, 2008

Reuse09 – Call for Papers

Reuse09 is the 7th International Water Association (IWA) World Congress on Water Reclamation and Reuse. It will take place at the Convention Centre in Brisbane during the 20-25 September 2009.

The first announcement and call for papers was released this week. Papers are invited on each of the conference themes, which include:

• Potable reuse
• Public health and environmental impacts
• Emerging pollutants
• Aquifer storage and recharge
• Novel technology developments
• Demand/supply management
• Closing the water and nutrient loops
• Public perceptions and community engagement
• Water and energy efficiencies
• Environmental flows

Papers for this conference can be submitted in either Extended Abstract of 3 pages or Full Papers of 8 pages format. Both formats will be considered for Oral presentation if submitted no later than 3 April 2009.

Papers for poster presentation will be accepted until 7 August 2009. Papers will be reviewed by no less than 2 persons from the Local Organising or Scientific Program Committees. Extended abstracts and full papers selected for either oral or poster presentation will be published in the REUS09 conference proceedings.

Authors who wish to have their paper published in Water Science and Technology should submit their full paper simultaneously to the journal for consideration according to their guidelines.

For submission details and guidelines for the REUSE09 submission please see the conference website

Important Dates:

Paper submission open: December 2008
Paper due date (Oral consideration): 3 April 2009
Registration open: 1 February 2009
Paper acceptance notification: 29 May 2009
Early bird registration closes: 26 June 2009
Paper due date (Poster only): 7 August 2009

Although Reuse09 will be an international IWA Congress, it is also the 4th Australian Water Association (AWA) Conference on Water Reuse & Recycling, following on from Reuse07 which took place at UNSW (as previously described on this blog).

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Rain on Bligh’s Parade

A thoughtful editorial this morning from the Courier Mail in Queensland. I think it’s a fairly accurate comment on the role of politics and populism in decision-making. The suggestion is that the Western Corridor Water Recycling Project may not be used for supplementing Brisbane’s drinking water supplies, -at least not until reservoir levels drop again to what they were a year or two ago.

It is unfortunate when something as crucial as sustainable water management becomes a political football. But politics is politics and elections must be won at all costs. I’ll be interested to see how this pans out over the next few days…

Rain on Bligh's parade: editorial
The Courier Mail
November 26, 2008

THE Courier-Mail has long been a strong advocate for long-term policy thinking. We have regularly encouraged the State Government to think to the future and not simply be captive to the emergencies of the day.

Many of the challenges and crises we have faced in Queensland, particularly in the southeast, have, in part at least, been caused by a failure to plan ahead, be it in health care, or traffic congestion or in making sure we do not run out of water.

We therefore applauded the State Government when it finally decided to build the southeast Queensland water grid to ensure the region's water security.

And we welcomed its commitment, at last, to recycling as a way to reduce the amount of potable water going to industrial use, particularly power generation.

And two years ago, in the midst of the worst drought on record, we accepted the argument for mixing recycled water with drinking water, as long as public health could be assured.

The water grid is undoubtedly more expensive than it needed to be if some early and sensible long-term planning had been in place. But here, at last, was government action designed to address current and future challenges with a long-term, albeit very expensive, strategy.

But now, suddenly we have a Government making decisions based not on long-term or thoughtful planning but rather on nothing more than crude populist politics. Premier Anna Bligh and her team have apparently decided that forcing people to drink recycled water unless they absolutely have to is bad politics and so they have turned to the Queensland Water Commission, looking for some wriggle room.

Not so very long ago, the State Government was telling us that not only was it perfectly safe to drink recycled water but it was a vital part of the state's overall drought-proofing strategy.

Nothing has changed since then except for the fact that we have had good early summer rains and suddenly the whole sense of emergency has faded away as our dam levels return to something approaching normal levels.

No new science has emerged to suggest that the purification and safety systems in place for handling recycled water are in any way inadequate. And there is no suggestion that, summer rains or not, the problems we faced a year ago of growing population and increasingly uncertain weather patterns have eased.

Ms Bligh clearly started her premiership trying to distance herself from the populist, three-ring-circus style of her predecessor by concentrating on the nuts and bolts, and pipes and hard hats, of getting much-needed infrastructure in place.

But now that the infrastructure, and the next state election, are almost here, she has dramatically reverted to a style of populism that would have done Peter Beattie proud.

But there is more to this than simply despairing of politicians acting the way politicians normally do when their future is at stake. There are also potentially serious economic consequences for the state if the Government eventually decides to make less than full use of the about-to-be-completed $2.5 billion recycled water scheme.

Imagine if the State Government decided to solve traffic problems by building an eight-lane toll road and then, just as it opened, decided to open only two lanes.

How do you pay for the project? Do you bump up the toll on the two lanes or do you spread the cost among all of us by way of higher taxes or cutting costs somewhere else? The state faces the same problem unless it fully utilises this expensive new piece of infrastructure.

We acknowledge that many of our readers have reservations about the idea of adding treated recycled water to our drinking supplies. But equally, we believe that the scientific safeguards provide maximum protection. And clearly the State Government believes that as well. But when it comes to politics, science will always take second place to opinion polls.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

A break from hysteria

I’ve been away for the last week (hence my lack of responses to comments on the previous post...I’ll try to address a few of the questions when I get a moment). However, I have been keeping one eye on the attempted hysteria-whipping kerfuffle in Queensland courtesy of The Australian.

For those who missed them, last week’s stories featured suggestions that more recycled water should be used for industry, suggestions that the QLD Government agree with such suggestions, more of the same, suggestions that South East Queensland no longer has a long-term water supply problem, suggestions that the potable water recycling scheme may be scrapped, suggestions that it wont, and suggestions that the University of Queensland have a conflict of interest in undertaking research since they receive funding to do it.

Don’t get me wrong... I love all this stuff and I love Queensland (and I like Billy Moore). But somehow the news from Melbourne this week just seems a little less hyperventilated.

Billy Moore: Queenslander!

Take for example the article below, which was published as an Opinion piece in The Age on Thursday. As described below, an ex-Managing Director of Melbourne Water sees water recycling as an economically sensible and environmentally preferable alternative to seawater desalination. It’s worth a read between gasps.

Why is water recycling being overlooked?
By Kenneth Davidson
The Age, November 20, 2008

JOHN Morgan, the managing director of Melbourne Water from 1995 to 1998, sent me an email complaining that my most recent article on Melbourne's water options was "almost there but you missed the most important issue — recycled water". He wrote: "This is the answer in my view. Cost effective, safe and environmentally correct. I have no axe to grind. I would like to talk to you about the options."

So I did. Morgan was appointed by the Kennett government. His record managing water was good. He managed to cut prices and increase the dividend to the government. He was completely puzzled about why the current Government was committed to the desalination plant and the north-south pipeline. He said he supposed it was because "some merchant banker had got the ear of Brumby".

Morgan pointed out that the Queensland Government had a similar water supply problem to Victoria but the failure of the recycling referendum in Toowoomba hadn't stopped Queensland from undertaking recycling in the south-east of the state.

To underline the point, Morgan said that on a trip to Europe to look at how these countries managed their water supplies he was taken to a water purification plant near Paris and, after he had drunk some of the purified water from a fountain, he was told by his guide that the water had been drunk 13 times before in towns further up the Seine.

He couldn't remember who owned the purification plant but it would have most likely been Veolia or Suez, two of the biggest multinationals leading the corporate charge to privatise water in markets such as Australia, where water is still publicly owned. Macquarie Bank is part of the consortium with Suez (known as Degremonte in Australia) and ABN Amro is part of the consortium with Veolia in the final bidding for the proposed desal plant at Wonthaggi.

According to Morgan the desal plant is a waste of money. He pointed out that at the sewerage treatment plant at Carrum, 70% of the purification work to bring the water up to potable standards has already been done. This alternative would cost only a fraction of water from the desal plant. If this class A water was cleaned up to potable standard and pumped into the Silvan reservoir, which distributes water to 80% of Melbourne, it would cost a fraction of the water from the desal plant.

Plans to keep upgrading water produced from Carrum were apparently delayed after the decision to proceed with the desal plant.

If the upgrade had gone ahead it would have added about 25% to Melbourne's water, sooner than the desal plant and at about a third of the cost. As I understand it, the decision not to proceed is not due to consumer sensitivities: Melburnians in the north of the city have been drinking recycled water for 28 years from the Sugarloaf Reservoir, which is partly supplied from the middle Yarra on the sound assumption that what you don't know won't hurt you.

Environment Victoria, partly Government-funded but independently staffed, made a courageous submission to the Victorian Parliamentary inquiry into Melbourne's Future Water Supply. It said: "The Government's approach to Melbourne's water need is risky and a poor environmental outcome … (its) emphasis on very large-scale augmentation will undermine incentive for continued efforts to improve water use efficiency.

"Environment Victoria's plan for an alternative water vision (is) focusing specifically on improved use of underutilised resources such as storm water and recycled water."

The Government commitment to what Environment Victoria called "more expensive and environmentally damaging augmentation options" is hindering the development of more sensible recycling options being put up by Australian investors who apparently don't have the clout of French multinationals and their financial partners.

One of my correspondents, who is an investor in small-scale recycling plants and who, for understandable reasons wants to remain anonymous, says "management have noted to me that NSW, Queensland and WA are seeking to be pro-active in their approach to water re-treatment and encouragement thereof, which is the identification and implementation of a practical regulatory framework in a timely manner. We cannot say the same about policymakers here in Victoria based on experience to date.

"The key commercial drivers to this business are the rate at which regulatory change occurs to enable such businesses to operate and the price of water, which dictates the payback on capital of those parties that acquire a plant of this nature.

"There would appear to be a disincentive for government and policymakers to encourage water re-use when it has committed large chunks of money to a questionable pipeline and an even more questionable desalination plant.

"Don't get me wrong, the introduction of high-cost water only serves to enhance the economics of our plant, but a government water strategy developed with a view to addressing water certainty in 20, 30, 50 years, I don't think so." Who benefits?

Saturday, November 15, 2008

A return to balance?

It was nice to wake up to a somewhat more balanced article on the topic of recycled water from The Australian today. I noticed that it even used the term “recycled water” rather than the usually preferred alternative “recycled sewage”.

If I hadn’t sat through a series of increasingly ridiculous headlines during the last fortnight, I may have thought The Australian was interested in a balanced analysis of the facts regarding water supply issues for South East Queensland. Though, fortunately any such misunderstanding was quickly resolved by headlines like “flush then drink in the sunshine state” and “cyanide to be recycled for drinking”.

Andrew Bartlett commented that he hadn’t “seen such a single-minded, prolonged determination from The Australian to manufacture a major controversy since they used a minor issue as the spark for launching a two week long series of grossly distorted attacks against Griffith University’s Islamic Research Unit earlier this year”.

Maybe today’s article will signal a return to the balanced water supply reporting we once expected from The Australian by journalists such as Asa Walquist.

Squeamish opposition to a treated supply
Greg Roberts
The Australian , 15 Nov 2008

JUST 5km from the imposing spillway of Wivenhoe Dam, Brisbane's main water source, is a lesser known storage. Atkinson Dam was built in 1970 to ensure a regular supply of water to the Lockyer Valley, one of the country's prime fruit and vegetable growing centres, but it has been empty, or nearly so, for several years because of the drought.

Nestled midway between Atkinson and Wivenhoe dams is the township of Coominya, population 1750. Coominya is typical of many once quiet rural backwaters that are booming as the population of southeast Queensland continues to skyrocket. Although Coominya residents can see Wivenhoe Dam from their verandas, they, like tens of thousands of other southeast Queenslanders, manage adequately with rainwater tanks because they are not connected to a town water supply.

The water histories of Atkinson Dam and Coominya say much about the debate over whether water supplies to Australia's fastest-growing region should be augmented by recycled industrial effluent and sewage.

The Queensland Government insists that when 60 million litres of recycled waste water a day are pumped to Wivenhoe Dam starting in February or March, rising to 230 megalitres later next year, it will be safer than presently available water after being going through a seven-stage treatment process.

Critics say there is a risk of viruses, bacteria and chemicals entering the drinking supply and that recycled water should be used only as a last resort. The safety debate aside, the key question the Government struggles to address is whether it is necessary to use recycled water at this time.

Says Canberra Hospital microbiologist Peter Collignon: "I'm not against drinking recycled water. That's not the point. The point is that it should be used only if absolutely necessary. I do not believe it is currently necessary to use it in southeast Queensland."

Levels in the region's main drinking water storages have doubled since the Labor Government announced its recycled water plan. Forecasts suggest further heavy falls this summer in the catchments.

The state Opposition and other critics argue that under these unexpectedly encouraging conditions, the Western Corridor Recycled Water Project could be completed in the new year as planned, but with the tap to Wivenhoe Dam turned off. If Wivenhoe returned to a critically low level, the tap could be turned on.

In the meantime, recycled water could be used by power stations, as it is now, industry and farmers. A short feeder pipeline to pump the water to Atkinson Dam would do much to provide relief to hard-pressed primary producers.

Australian National University emeritus professor Patrick Troy says the recycled water plan has been sold to the community on the false premise that the climate outlook is so dire there is no choice. He claims that with each Brisbane household receiving 200,000 litres of water a year from the skies, there is no need for it. "There is plenty of rain to meet domestic needs with tanks," Troy says.

Deputy Premier Paul Lucas this week rejected the option of retro-fitting all homes with rainwater tanks on the basis of the $3.2 billion cost - $700,000 more than the recycled water plan - and because it would "jeopardise the future", a reference to the logistical difficulty of guaranteeing a healthy water supply to a large population with tanks.

In January last year, when the capacity of the region's three main storages averaged 23 per cent, then premier Peter Beattie announced that a planned referendum on recycled water for its 2.6 million residents would be abandoned - he had promised the water would be used only in an Armageddon situation - because the option was inevitable.

Beattie and his infrastructure minister, Anna Bligh, who has succeeded him as Premier, said they were advised by the Queensland Water Commission that a combined dam level of 40 per cent should trigger the emergency use of recycled water. Beattie and Bligh said that with continued below-average rainfall, it would take five to 10 years for the level to reach 40 per cent, even with recycled water.

The only significant development relevant to the debate since then has been that it has rained. Yesterday, the average level of the three storages was just over 41 per cent, above the supposedly critical cut-off point.

Asked why recycled water is needed if dam levels are not at critically low levels, water commission chief executive John Bradley says it is the rational option because there is no risk. "Given that all evidence from the plant's design and testing is demonstrating it is a safe and reliable source, it makes sense to use recycled water as part of our integrated strategy."

The first flows of recycled water to Wivenhoe coincide with the likely timing of the state election, with opinion polls suggesting the Bligh Government is in trouble.

Sensing an opportunity, the Liberal National Party Opposition signals that recycled water will be a key campaign issue.

But the Opposition is treading warily. Bligh ridiculed the LNP in parliament this week for supporting "kooky, wacky voodoo science". Labor will be helped in efforts to counter the LNP by outlandish and baseless claims from the leaders of vocal community groups that are campaigning against recycled water.

A statement this week by Citizens Against Sewage spokeswoman Aileen Smith asserted that "babies, children and old people will suffer most terribly". A video circulated on the internet by Gold Coast campaigner Ray Sperring alleged a Labor conspiracy to spread disease; Sperring claims falsely in the video that University of Queensland vice-chancellor Paul Greenfield, who heads a committee advising the Government on the issue, had expressed concerns about recycled water. Toowoomba campaigner Snow Manners helped prepare a booklet that quoted experts in presenting the argument against recycled water, but four scientists said they were misrepresented.

These campaigners, who also oppose the fluoridation of Queensland's water supply, have organised public meetings in Brisbane and on the Gold Coast this weekend to protest against recycled water.

The Government insists that experience overseas shows it is safe. Collignon says there are important differences between the Queensland plan and the overseas schemes highlighted by the commission.

While recycled water will constitute between 10 per cent and 25 per cent of Wivenhoe's supply, it makes up less than 1 per cent of Singapore's drinking water. Orange County in the US uses recycled water to replenish underground aquifers, not open dams. London and other cities use recycled water from rivers, but it has been diluted over long distances. "It's just not reasonable to compare what Queensland is doing with overseas," Collignon says.

The Government agrees there are differences, but says this misses the point that properly treated water is safe: "Under Queensland government regulations, purified recycled water will be the most thoroughly tested and consistently safe town water supply in Australia," says Queensland Health's Linda Selvey.

Media scrutiny of those regulations is another matter. Lucas took the extraordinary step this week of refusing The Australian permission to photograph waste disposal at the publicly funded Bundamba water treatment plant near Brisbane.

A perception of government secrecy does not help facilitate an informed and comprehensive debate about recycled water.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Water Factory 21

I was searching through some old news articles when I came across this one from California in 1988.

It provides a useful historical perspective on the Orange County Water District’s water recycling scheme known as Water Factory 21. This was the precursor to the recently opened (and much larger) Groundwater Replenishment System in California.

The danger: Barriers keep ocean at bay and freshwater supplies safe
Frank Mickadeit
17 January 1988
The Orange County Register

The biggest threat to the potability of Orange County's tap water lies just to the west, waiting for water-district officials to let down their guard.

Unchecked in the past, it has sneaked in, rendered freshwater wells useless, and quietly retreated. The intruder? The Pacific Ocean. The Orange County Water District and the Los Angeles County Department of Public Works have spent millions of dollars to hold back the sea, which, given a chance, will seep into local freshwater aquifers through underground channels.

Sea water, at about 32,000 parts per million salt, quickly can contaminate a ground-water supply, which, according to state guidelines, should not contain more than 500 ppm salt.

When the ground-water basin is at a high level, sea water cannot get in because the water pressure created by a full basin keeps it out. But when the freshwater basin is low, the pressure drops and the sea water can force its way in.

Numerous wells in coastal Orange County were lost to salt-water intrusion during the 1930s, '40s and '50s, when the water table dropped below sea level. The city of Newport Beach, for example, lost all of its freshwater wells and never has been able to reclaim them. It now imports water from the Metropolitan Water District of Los Angeles.

To stop the intrusion, water officials have built two sets of barriers.

Both work essentially the same way: A series of wells was drilled a few miles inland at points deemed most vulnerable to sea-water intrusion. Into the wells is pumped fresh water, which spills into aquifers located 90 feet to 420 feet underground.

The water helps keep the ground-water basin above sea level, which keeps the sea water out. Strung out over several miles, the wells form an underground blockade against the sea.

Without the barriers, "sea water could go as far as five to 10 miles inland over a long period of time," said James F. Reilly, director of water quality for the Orange County Water District. "Between the coast and five to 10 miles inland, there've probably been hundreds of wells that have been saved."

The first barrier, the Alamitos Barrier, was started in 1965 to cut off what is known as the Alamitos Gap, an underground channel at the point where the San Gabriel River flows into the Pacific Ocean.

Twenty-six injection wells and other facilities have been installed over the years on both the Los Angeles and Orange County sides of the river, at a cost of $3.5 million.

The Los Angeles County Department of Public Works, which manages the barrier system, injects 6.5 million gallons of water into the Alamitos Barrier wells each day.

The system is "fairly effective," said Ramesh Doshi, an engineer who monitors the barrier. In general, water on the seaward side of the barrier has several times the saline level acceptable in drinking water, while ground water on the inland side is at or below acceptable levels.

In 1976, the Talbert Barrier was built to keep sea water from entering the gap where the Santa Ana River empties into the ocean.

The Orange County Water District drilled 23 water-injection wells along Ellis Avenue between the Santa Ana River and Newland Street in Fountain Valley.

Between 6 million and 7 million gallons of fresh water are injected into the Talbert Barrier wells each day.

Rather than use water from a source that could dry up in drought years, the district taps an unending supply: Orange County sewage.

At Water Factory 21 in Fountain Valley, the district takes treated sewage from the nearby Orange County Sanitation Districts and subjects it to a sophisticated cleansing process that includes reverse osmosis, in which the water is filtered through a microscopic membrane.

The result is water that meets state drinking-water standards and actually has only about one-fifth as much dissolved solids as water from the Colorado River. Instead of being sent to customers, however, that water is injected into the aquifers, where it mixes with the ground water that eventually is pumped out and sent to homes and businesses.

Water Factory 21 and related facilities cost the district nearly $21 million.

"It's a fairly costly source of water, but it is necessary to protect a very large quantity of cheap water," said Gordon Elser, spokesman for the water district.

Despite their successes, officials are concerned that sea water may be intruding in coastal areas where there are no barriers. Traces of sea water have shown up in special test wells in the Seal Beach and Bolsa Chica areas, Reilly said.

Although sea water hasn't appeared in any wells that produce drinking water, the agency wants to head off a potential intrusion and this year plans to look at those areas as possible candidates for barriers, Reilly said.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Not the NHMRC

Occasionally when you read a news article, the author’s personal position on the topic is all too clear. Today The Australian continues its campaign against sustainable water management in Queensland.

It is unfortunate that the article below gives a (very) strong impression that the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) is opposed to indirect potable water reuse or has issued any type of warning to anyone. The impression that the NHMRC has issued to some warning to the Queensland Government is patently incorrect.

Professor Don Bursill
is the Chair of an advisory committee to the NHMRC and he has expressed his personal opinion that he supports recycling, but only where it is absolutely necessary. We have discussed Don’s position on this previously. There is really no new news here. The Water Quality Advisory Committee that Don chairs made some important contributions to the current National Guidelines for Water Recycling and the overall position of the committee is embedded in the fact that such Guidelines exist and have been endorsed by the NHMRC.

The article then goes on (in the same breathless breath) to state that “the Gold Coast City Council launched an investigation into how unsafe recycled waste water was if put into a treatment plant's drinking water”. Yes, but of course they are not referring to water that has been treated and managed as an intended drinking water supply. They are referring to a system that provides a lower-level recycled water intended purely for non-potable purposes. It may seem like a subtle point, but the implications are significant.

Investigating the safety of recycled water and water management in general is a worthy task for any news source. However, it would help us all if the facts could be made clear rather than intertwined in a way that distorts their meaning. Just my opinion...

Recycle Sewage 'as a Last Resort'
Greg Roberts
November 10, 2008
The Australian

THE federal agency responsible for establishing national health standards has warned the Queensland Government it should not proceed with its $2.5 billion plan to recycle sewage and industrial waste for drinking water unless it is "absolutely necessary".

National Health and Medical Research Council water quality advisory committee chairman Don Bursill issued the warning as the Gold Coast City Council launched an investigation into how unsafe recycled waste water was if put into a treatment plant's drinking water.

Sixty million litres of recycled waste water a day will be pumped to the Wivenhoe Dam, Brisbane's main drinking water source, from early next year.

The Queensland Government promised in 2006 that recycled water would be used for the drinking supply of the 2.6 million residents of southeast Queensland only as a "last resort".

Since the undertaking was given, Wivenhoe and other storages in the region have been replenished following good rainfall, but the Government insists recycled water should be introduced now to guarantee future supplies.

Professor Bursill said he supported water recycling, but only if it were absolutely necessary.

"I think that recycling waste water for potable purposes should be a choice of last report," he said.

"There are opportunities for problems to occur and if it can be avoided, I think it should be. The maintenance of public health should be the primary concern."

He said the Queensland Government had prepared itself well, accepting the NHMRC's Australian Water Recycling Guidelines and introducing the Water Supply (Safety and Reliability) Bill. However, the main cause for concern was the potential for human error.

"It is worth reminding people that although technology can achieve recycling for potable purposes, about 80 per cent of the failures that have occurred in conventional water supply systems in affluent countries have been due to human error rather than technology issues," Professor Bursill said.

Human error was being blamed for a mistake at Gold Coast Water's Pimpana recycled water plant that resulted in staff drinking inadequately treated waste water.

The general public was not exposed to the water.

Gold Coast Mayor Ron Clarke said a staff member was believed to have been responsible for mixing up waste-water lines at the plant in September.

A pipeline was disconnected on Friday when the problem was uncovered.

Up to 240 employees and visitors who may have drunk water that was not fit for consumption are being contacted to determine if they had suffered any ill effects.

"Somebody has stuffed up and it should have been cross-checked before it happened," Mr Clarke said.

"If it had happened in the public works, it would have been disastrous. I am told that the checks are there to ensure that cannot happen."

Public meetings have been called in Brisbane on Saturday and on the Gold Coast on Sunday to protest against the recycled water plan.

Citizens Against Drinking Sewage secretary Aileen Smith said the Queensland Government could give no guarantees that a repeat of the cryptosporidium outbreak in 1993 in the US city of Milwaukee would be avoided.

More than 400,000 people fell ill and 100 died after drinking contaminated water from a treatment plant; the cause was never identified.

Recycled water will account for between 10 per cent and 25 per cent of southeast Queensland's drinking water, with the Government insisting it will be safe after treatment through a seven-stage process.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Water comes from rivers

I was mildly amused by today's installment in The Australian.

It points out that much of the Thames River drinking water supply is sourced from discharged treated effluent. Apparently Stuart Khan reckons this is an example of indirect potable water recycling (albeit with much lower levels of treatment and management compared to SEQ).

However, as Prof Peter Collignon points out, places like London “don't use sewage as a primary source of water… they use rivers as water sources”.

Okay, well, then, excuse me sir, but, um, by that criterion, wouldn’t it be reasonable to say that Brisbane doesn’t (and wont) use “sewage as a primary source of water” either? Brisbane uses a river as its drinking water source. Brisbane takes its drinking water from the Brisbane River at Mt Crosby.

We can all close our eyes to what happens upstream if we want to… but its not the way that I would want to manage a drinking water supply for a large city like London or Brisbane.

Researchers Debate London's Lesson on Reuse of Water
Greg Roberts
The Australian
November 06, 2008

EXPERTS are divided on whether the drinking of recycled water from rivers in London and elsewhere is comparable with what is proposed for southeast Queensland.

University of NSW Water Research Centre contaminants researcher Stuart Khan said experience overseas had demonstrated the safety of drinking recycled water.

"London gets its water from the Thames River and there are 380 sewage treatment plants upstream from London which are putting effluent into the river," Dr Khan said.

"Despite more than 40 years' experience, no clear deleterious health effects from the deliberate recycling of purified water to a dam or river source of an urban water supply system have been observed."

Dr Khan said treatment processes being used in Queensland, including reverse osmosis and oxidation, were highly effective barriers to potential contaminants.

Australian National University microbiologist Peter Collignon said London and other centres that used recycled water from rivers for drinking -- such as Richmond in NSW -- could not be compared with what was planned for southeast Queensland.

"These places don't use sewage as a primary source of water," Professor Collignon said. "They use rivers as water sources, and rivers have much lower levels of potentially dangerous microbes and drugs than sewage.

"Sewage put into the rivers upstream has been in the rivers a long time and it's been heavily diluted by the time it gets to the people who drink the water after it is put through a filtering process. That is a long way from what will be happening in Queensland."

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Singapore drinks recycled water too

An article in The Australian today points out the fact that Singaporeans are drinking recycled “sewage” too. That fact in itself may not seem remarkable since there is treated effluent in most water supplies of most large cities.

However, what is more interesting in Singapore is the high level of treatment used (including reverse osmosis and UV disinfection). This has made the water highly suited for a number of applications including Singapore’s considerable electronic chip manufacturing industry. Only a very small proportion is then left over to recharge public drinking water reservoirs with (to provide about 1 per cent of the island's total potable water supply).

We have looked at the situation in Singapore a few times previously on this blog. One of the most interesting aspects for me was the 'NEWater Study' that was undertaken to investigate the health effects of using highly treated recycled water as a drinking water supply.

An Expert Panel was formed in 1999 to oversee the NEWater Study. This Expert Panel was comprised of both local and overseas members with expertise in human health and toxicology, microbiology, engineering, water technology, epidemiology, water quality and environmental chemistry.

A pilot scale (10 ML/day) advanced water treatment plant, known as the NEWater Factory was constructed and commenced operation in 2000. The NEWater Factory received water from the Bedok Sewage Treatment Works, which produced secondary treated effluent. The technologies employed at the NEWater Factory included microfiltration, reverse osmosis and ultraviolet radiation.

An extensive water quality sampling and monitoring program was devised for approximately 190 physical, chemical and microbiological parameters. Samples were tested from the plant feedwater, individual treatment module effluents, final produced NEWater, as well as untreated and treated traditional drinking-water supplies. Overall, almost 20,000 test results from seven sampling locations, including over 4,500 for NEWater were measured between November 1999-April 2002. The physical, chemical and microbiological data for NEWater were shown to be well within current (2002) US EPA and World Health Organization guidelines for drinking-water quality.

The health effects study was conducted with two components. A mice study was undertaken to assess long-term chronic toxicity and carcinogenicity, while a fish study was undertaken to assess toxic and estrogenic effects. In these studies, NEWater was compared with untreated reservoir water.

A sensitive mouse strain (B6C3F1) was used for the mice study. This strain is widely used for conducting long-term health effects studies of new pharmaceuticals. Groups of mice were fed 150-fold and 500-fold concentrates of NEWater and untreated reservoir water over a period of two years. The testing was undertaken with culls at 3, 12 and 24 months. At the time of publication of the expert review panel findings, the 3 and 12 month results were available and these indicated that exposure to concentrated NEWater did not cause any tissue abnormalities or health effects. The 24-month results were due to be completed in October 2002, but as far I know, remain unpublished. I would really like to see these if anyone is able to dig them up.

Fish studies were undertaken in accordance with a recommendation from a recent US National Research Council report. The purpose was to assess long-term chronic toxicity as well as the estrogenic potential (reproductive and developmental). The orange-red strain of the Japanese medaka fish (Oryzias latipes) was selected for the study due to the availability of an extensive biological database for this species.

The fish testing was conducted over a 12-month period with two generations of fish. The NEWater tests were initially undertaken during 2001 and both generations showed no evidence of carcinogenic or estrogenic effects from exposure to NEWater. The fish study was repeated in 2003 (due to some design deficiencies of the aquarium system, fish husbandry issues and weaknesses in the original study protocol) and confirmed the findings of no estrogenic or carcinogenic effects.

I don’t think that these types of live animal studies are necessarily justifiable for the South East Queensland scheme. However, it would be extremely helpful to see some of the existing data to confirm excellent performance of the advanced water treatment barriers.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Australia Talks

Australia Talks is a topical discussion program on ABC Radio National hosted by Paul Barclay. As far as I know, it’s Radio National’s only ‘talk back’ program, but don’t let that put you off… it’s generally a forum for a fairly rational debate on issues of broad interest in the community.

Today’s topic was Recycled Water, focusing on the Western Corridor Recycled Water Project in South East Queensland. Guests included:

Professor Peter Collignon, Infectious disease physician and microbiologist, Clinical school, ANU.

Professor Paul Greenfield, Vice-Chancellor, University of Queensland, Chair of Queensland Water Commission's independent Scientific Expert Panel.

Snow Manners, resident of Toowoomba and campaigner against recycled water.

Anton Vigenser, Spokesperson Victorian Water Forum.

I very much enjoyed this program and thought that there were some interesting insights from callers. Both Peter Collignon and Snow Manners have contributed to discussion on this blog over the last two years and long-time readers will be familiar with most of their concerns. But I particularly enjoyed listening to Anton Vigenser and his clear enthusiasm for potable water recycling as an environmentally sustainable solution to address water shortages in Victoria.

I thought the callers were roughly evenly split for and against recycled water, -or perhaps slightly more in favour. That may somewhat reflect the ABC demographic, but there did appear to be a good representation from various states around the country.

If you missed it, you can listen to the program online here. I hope Mark from Brisbane is feeling better...

Greenfield and Lucas on Recycled Water

The focus on recycled water continues at The Australian today. Unlike the last couple of days, today’s articles are much more positive and aimed at instilling community confidence in the use of recycled water to supplement drinking water supplies.

The first article below is an opinion piece from Prof Paul Greenfield, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Queensland and Chair of the Independent Scientific Expert Advisory Panel to the Queensland Water Commission.

The second is a news story featuring Queensland's Deputy Premier, Paul Lucas, marking the opening of Stage 2A of the western corridor recycled water project. Lucas took the obligatory swig of recycled water and made the obligatory positive remarks about the taste. I guess this is the recycled water version of baby-kissing during election campaigns. Its entirely meaningless, but the cameras need a tangible image.

Based on your existing point of view and underlying prejudices, I expect that you will think that its either about time someone took a proactive stance towards community discussion, or else that its all part of a sinister conspiracy-laden propaganda campaign. In either case, I’d be grateful for your comments.

Don't turn your nose up at purified recycled
Paul Greenfield
The Australian
November 03, 2008

THERE is nothing more fundamental for a community than its confidence in a safe and reliable water supply. Southeast Queensland is implementing a $2.5 billion project to supplement dam supplies with purified recycled water: waste water that has been treated to the highest standard.

As the chairman of the independent scientific expert advisory panel scrutinising the project, I welcome any rational, scientifically based debate on these issues. After all, the panel includes world leaders in toxicology, microbiology, environmental science and advanced water treatment. The panel members, from Australia and overseas, have many years' experience in ensuring that drinking water supplies, regardless of source, are safe for communities to drink.

Some commentators have expressed concerns about the safety of purified recycled water based on information that is manifestly incorrect, not based on evidence and reflects existing prejudices. Such statements, coming as they do from so-called experts, directly threaten the community's understanding of water quality and cause unnecessary worry.

In The Australian last week, microbiologist Peter Collignon and urban planner Patrick Troy incorrectly stated that the Queensland project posed a health risk to 2.6 million people in the region.

I have no doubt the design of the Queensland scheme and its proposed operation meet or exceed international best practice to provide a safe, reliable source of water.

It was claimed by Troy and Collignon that the Queensland advanced water treatment processes, including microfiltration, reverse osmosis and advanced oxidation, would remove only 92 per cent of antibiotics. This is simply wrong. It represents a misreading of a 2007 study.

The present sewage treatment plants achieve reductions of about this level at just one barrier out of seven, even before the advanced water treatment process occurs. The data the panel has reviewed indicates the Western Corridor Recycled Water Project is consistently achieving better than the standards for the removal of antibiotics enshrined in the Public Health Regulations of 2005.

It was also claimed that viruses would get through the treatment process. But there are multiple barriers in the advanced water treatment process capable of removing viruses.

They are at least 100 times larger than the pores of the reverse osmosis membranes used in the production of purified recycled water, which effectively provide a molecular filter.

Purified recycled water is far cleaner than much of the existing water that reaches the dam from run-off over land.

It was further claimed there was "nowhere else in the world" where purified recycled water was being used to the same extent as it would be in southeast Queensland, where it will represent on average less than 10 per cent of supply from Wivenhoe Dam. But the advanced technologies being used (microfiltration, reverse osmosis and advanced oxidation) are all proven and in use across the world.

Similar schemes provide significant volumes in Britain, Belgium, Singapore, Los Angeles and Orange County in California. The most similar scheme has been operating for 30 years in the Upper Occoquan in Virginia, which is a leading water provider to Washington, DC. In that case, purified recycled water averages about 9per cent of the annual inflow to the reservoir and up to 80 per cent during droughts.

Contrary to Troy's claim, extensive studies, including epidemiological research, have been carried out and show no evidence of negative health impacts. Anyone with a dispassionate understanding of recycled water would recognise that treated effluent - straight out of a conventional sewage treatment plant - already supplements our urban water supply in Australia in unplanned schemes.

For example, Sydney's Warragamba Dam receives upstream effluent from Goulburn and Lithgow, Melbourne's Sugarloaf Reservoir receives effluent from the Lilydale Sewage Treatment Plant at Olinda Creek, and Adelaide's Mount Bold Reservoir takes treated effluent from Hahndorf.

Canberra's treated effluent enters the Murrumbidgee system, where it is diluted and extracted into the water treatment plants of towns downstream of Canberra. These systems work because the processes installed are appropriate for the risks introduced.

Clearly, different risks need to be managed in larger, planned schemes such as the Western Corridor Recycled Water Project - where a seven-barrier risk-management system applies and independent regulation occurs - but the same principle applies.

The membrane and ultraviolet oxidation technologies have been tried and tested in many applications worldwide.

Microfiltration is used in the food industry to purify, among other things, bottled water, medicines and fruit juice.

Reverse osmosis is used in desalination and home water-filtration units. Advanced oxidation uses strong ultraviolet light to destroy impurities and is used by doctors and dentists to sterilise surgical instruments.

After passing through these barriers, the water will be blended and diluted to a small proportion of Wivenhoe Dam water before being treated in the multiple stages of the water treatment plant at Mount Crosby, and then finally distributed to people's homes.

By law, this water must comply with Queensland's recycled water standards and regulatory framework.

The standards are based on nationally agreed guidelines adopted by state and federal governments, which were set after extensive scientific review and consultation.

When we debate recycled water, the key test we should demand is that it is safe and provides no greater risk to a community than its present water supply.

The independent scientific expert panel reviewing southeast Queensland's purified recycled water scheme has an ongoing role during the project's implementation to provide rigorous independent assessments to ensure this requirement has been met.

Paul Greenfield is chairman of the Queensland Water Commission's independent scientific expert advisory panel and vice-chancellor of the University of Queensland.

Minister takes on troubled water
Natasha Bita
The Australian
November 03, 2008

"BEWDIFUL!" Paul Lucas, Queensland's Deputy Premier, smacks his lips as he skols a glass of crystal-clear recycled sewage. "Absolutely beautiful. Great stuff."

By the time he had repeated the stunt four more times for the cameras yesterday, Mr Lucas had proven his bladder was as strong as his stomach.

"I feel a bit waterlogged now," he quipped, before calling a press conference to spruik the safety of recycled effluent, which will provide up to a quarter of southeast Queensland's drinking water by February.

Queensland Water Commission staff were right behind their minister - drinking bottled water.

But they would not let inquisitive media sample the recycled liquid, because it had undergone only five of the seven stages in the treatment process.

Mr Lucas's public display of support came as new questions were raised about the timing of the introduction of recycled water into the Brisbane, Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast supplies.

A Queensland Water Commission spokesman confirmed hospital waste would be put into the system for recycling into drinking water.

"Hospital waste is very closely regulated, so they have very strict rules about what goes down the drains," he said.

And Opposition Leader Lawrence Springborg has broken what was bipartisan support for the scheme.

Mr Springborg told The Australian that recycled water was being added "too soon" to the drinking supply.

The state's Liberal National Party has promised not to add recycled water to the drinking supply of southeast Queensland if the dams were over 40 per cent full, and they currently are 41.2per cent full.

He said that unlike state government policy to have recycled water as an integral part of the drinking supply, a Liberal National government would use recycled water only as a last resort.

"Nowhere around the world are they doing what's being proposed for Brisbane," he said. "We need to go into this very carefully, not the way the Government's rushed into this.

"You don't want to be adding recycled water to the system on a routine basis. It only takes one thing to go wrong and the whole system breaks down."

Mr Springborg said he anticipated that adding recycled water to the drinking water would become an election campaign issue.

The hundreds of families invited to inspect the Brisbane water purification plant at Luggage Point during a public open day yesterday were handed bottles of Coles spring water as they walked in.

"We haven't got any of our own bottled water because there's no place to do that at the moment," a Queensland Water Commission spokesman said.

"There's quite a lot of technical things to go through to put it into bottles."

Mr Lucas, Queensland's Minister for Infrastructure and Planning, brushed off claims that recycled sewage could not be guaranteed safe to drink, saying Queensland's waste-to-water would be better than Sydney and Canberra's drinking supplies.

He said industry was already using the recycled effluent from two other purification plants in southeast Queensland, to generate electricity.

But the effluent - filtered, purified and disinfected in a seven-stage process - would not be introduced into the drinking supply until February or March, after six months of certification and testing, he said.

"We want to make sure that everything is 150,000 per cent right, and it's been going very well," Mr Lucas said.

"If you're in Sydney and drinking water out of Warragamba Dam, it doesn't get any of this treatment. It goes into the river system from sewage treatment plants in Goulburn and Lithgow and goes into the Sydney supply.

"Canberra water waste goes into the Murrumbidgee system."