Friday, May 08, 2009

Western Corridor Mothballed

The following article is from today’s Courier Mail newspaper.

It is following up on the Queensland Government’s decision to delay adding recycled water from the Western Corridor Recycled Water Project to drinking water supplies until those supplies dip below 40% of capacity. The projection here is that that figure will not be reached until December 2010 at the earliest. A few apparent pieces of missing information seem to be:

Who’s projection is this? The Queensland Water Commission? The Courier Mail? Someone else?

Are there plans to actually produce and productively use the remaining 120 megalitres per day of recycled water?

Water Recycling Pipeline in Mothballs
The Courier-Mail
Craig Johnstone

May 08, 2009 12:00am

A 16km pipeline of recycled water is ready to pump the liquid the final 100m into southeast Queensland's drinking supply but that may never happen.

The pipeline leading to Wivenhoe Dam, the main source of the region's drinking water, has been built, tested and commissioned as part of the Bligh Government's $2.4 billion Western Corridor recycled water project.

But the pipeline, meant to carry purified recycled water from Lowood to the dam, was effectively mothballed as soon as it was built due to the Government's decision to put recycled water into the drinking supply only as a last resort.

Completed before the Government backflipped on its recycled water policy last November, the pipeline was still commissioned, with the operator, Watersecure, testing it for leaks and signal faults.

The 1.2m-diameter pipe is now full of recycled water, ready to deliver it down a 100m cascade into the dam.

Premier Anna Bligh last November reversed her position on putting recycled water into the region's drinking water.

After insisting for months during the region's drought that there was no other option than to top up southeast Queensland's then shrinking dam system with recycled water, she announced the Government would only use it as a last resort.

The Queensland Water Commission has recommended that the Government consider adding purified recycled water to the drinking supply when dam storage levels drop to 40 per cent.

On current estimates, this will not happen until December, 2010, even if the region suffers a repeat of its worst rainfall period on record.

The Swanbank and Tarong power stations remain the only consumers of purified recycled water despite the Government spending $2.4 billion on the western corridor project.

The project is designed to produce up to 232 megalitres of recycled water a day but is currently only delivering an average of just over 112 megalitres a day to the two power station companies, with no new customers for its product in the offing.

A spokesman for Watersecure said the pipeline, which has been specifically built to supply recycled water to the dam, had been "dry and wet commissioned", but no recycled water was released into the dam during any testing.


Nigel Martin said...

Now this.....

Nigel Martin said...

opps sorry this first,,23739,25450619-3102,00.html

then a comparison of existing water supply...

Mark said...

May be CM's estimate but its probably accurate. The SEQ Water site totals just under 57,000 ML of water above the 40% level, and going by the rate of discharge (around 10,000 ML per week) would last more than a year without a single drop of inflow.

I'm in disbelief that no one wants highly-treated recycled water even when much lower quality recycled water would do. Its not good enough for a single farm, golf course, footy field, car wash, swimming pool, plant nursery, factory, shopping center toilet etc. Yet we wonder why people object to the idea of drinking it....

Mark said...

Hi Stuart, Do you have any thoughts on the fluoride incident in SEQ?

Stuart Khan said...

Thanks for your comments Nigel & Mark,

Nigel: Thanks for the link to the August 2007 water quality results for Mt Crosby Water Treatment Plant. I’m not quite sure what these are supposed to show me, but I’m always interested in water quality data. Of course, its important to keep in mind that we can only have data for those particular chemicals that we actively look for in our monitoring programs. If we are not looking for various pesticides etc, then they will not be included in monitoring results, but that does not give us any information regarding whether they are there or not. It’s unfortunate that trihalomethanes (THMs) including bromodichloromethane are not included in this data since that would have made an interesting comparison regarding the current (manufactured) controversy in South East Queensland.

Mark: I suspect that plenty of people would be very happy to take the recycled water if they could do so at no greater cost than what they currently pay for the potable water supply. The problem is that the cost of supplying it is likely to be significantly greater than the cost of turning on the potable water tap. It’s a question of economics, not water quality.

Regarding the fluoride incident: I agree with the consensus of QLD health authorities, which is that there is negligible increased long-term health risks and that any short term health incidents apparently did not register a blip on the radar. However, I don’t think that this is the only important point here. The fact that there was an incident should be taken extremely seriously and closely investigated. What rings alarm bells for me are the reports that three independent safeguards that should have prevented fluoride overdosing apparently failed simultaneously. This suggests that these three separate safeguards are either not sufficiently independent of each other and/or far from being suitably reliable. This is a clear failure of the risk assessment and risk management practices at the treatment plant. For me, this suggests a need to thoroughly review the risk assessment and risk management practices throughout the entire water supply system with specific focus on the treatment plant.

Mark said...

Well in that case who in their right minds would take recycled water if you effectively have to pay more for it? The water commission looks to have an interesting dilemma - recycled water costs more to make and selling it would reduce overall revenue if sold at a sufficiently attractive price. But they should have predicted this at the beginning right?

Now on the flouride, it wasn't clear in the news report what these three safeguards are. But lets have a guess at what common-sense safeguards should have been implemented.

The first safeguard would have come through doing a HAZOP or risk analysis on their flouride pump installation. A HAZOP is a basic and routine chemical engineering HAZard and OPerability study, which essentially is a what-if-analysis for what might go wrong in operating the equipment. A scenario that is always considered in a HAZOP is what happens if there is low or no flowrate in each process stream. In this case it is obvious that the flouride dosing pump should be turned off and an alarm logged. So outcome (decided pre-installation) is to install an interlock that prevents dosing pump operation with minimal water flowrate. The fact that the dosing pump kept going suggests that either nobody thought through the installation process or the interlock wasn't properly installed and tested.

The second safeguard would have come through the operators of the plant being trained to understand what that little pump was for. The fact that this wasn't picked up for many days suggests that nobody who understood looked. Scary.

A third safeguard would have come through reagent monitoring. The rate of flouride addition is something that someone has prescribed. So presumably there is some system in place that measures the addition rate per volume of water and that this is recorded and reported. So here, nobody measured or looked at the measurements for quite a while. Astounding really.

Then (and only then) would you add additional safeguards to sample downstream to measure flouride concentration etc. Such sampling would be almost useless if the first three above havent been done. And much too late, this was the trigger that was activated.

Stuart Khan said...

Hi Mark,

Thanks for your comments.

Yes, I agree that the QWC would have predicted that selling recycled water to hundreds of separate small customers (in a dedicated distribution system) would be more expensive than distributing it through the current potable water system.

I think the safeguards you have identified regarding fluoride would indeed be the type that should have been in place and either were not in place or else failed. My previous comment was intended to suggest that these risk management practices should be thoroughly reviewed. I think we agree on this as well.

Mark said...

Hi Stuart,

I would agree but given that such basic things have been overlooked, I would suggest it's not a matter of REVIEWING risk management practices but actually HAVING some.

Luckily the death toll so far has only been 10 budgies.,,25489055-3102,00.html

Stuart Khan said...

Thanks Mark,

I was deeply saddened to hear of the demise of the 10 budgies. I often wonder what makes us humans to think it is acceptable to keep a bird in cage in the first place.

Anonymous said...

Hi Stuart
What a debacle the western corridor has turned out to be,2.4 billion $ and the water is still being put into the river and bay. Back in the mid 2000,s a water lobby group on the Darling Downs DDV2000 developed a plan to bring 100,000 meg's of seq effeluent to the Darling Downs for Irrigation. We could have delivered this water into irrigators existing storages for around 8 hundred million $ but with users paying $150 per meg still needed some contrubition to pumping costs. Of course this proposal was howled down by all & sundry [subsidising farmers ect] and we got no support from the state Government or people like yourself because of this unworkable idea of potable reuse.
So now we have $2.4 billion debt on a scheme that produces almost no income for the state and the water is still poured into the river and bay with all of the environmental negativies from the nutrients in the water.
One can only hope that the $cost of the western corridor mess is being paid by the fools in seq who continue to elect incompetent governments.

Mark said...

Hi Stuart,
I for one think that without your good blog we wouldn't have half the idea about what is going on so only thanks from me.

But I dont think its too early to call it a White Elephant (as Team Anna cautions against). For it to be otherwise, it wouldn't be getting mothballed. Though not all of the money would appear to be completely wasted. The power-station supplementation idea was probably worthwhile, connecting the dams likewise but far and away the best success has been the reduction in demand achieved by the public and a top awareness campaign.

Dams are set to hit 70% so recycled water wont be an issue in SEQ for a couple of years now. Perhaps they could put a few RO plants on ebay and if they cut out the rust on the brand new de-sal plant there may be a buyer for that also.

Stuart Khan said...

Hi Graham,

Thanks for your comment. I am aware of the DDV2000 plan and remember when it was originally being discussed. It seemed like a sensible idea, but was ultimately rejected due to the costs and energy requirements to deliver the water. I don't believe that it was because anyone was seriously considering the alternative of indirect potable reuse at that time.

Now that much of the necessary infrastructure is constructed and the water not currently required for drinking water supplies, I would expect that the QLD State Government might be interested in looking at it again. However, its worth remembering that the reason why Toowoomba and then South East Queensland became interested in indirect potable water recycling. In both cases, it was because at the time, drinking water supplies were rapidly diminishing and it was recognised that something had to be done in order to address the risk of these populations running severely short of water. Supplying more water to expand cotton irrigation (whatever the benefits) would hardly seem like an alternative approach for addressing this risk. I would think that governments have a responsibility to address the risks of major water shortages for large cities and that this should be a very high priority when deciding how to use available water resources.

If the Queensland irrigators hadn't been so focused on running a scare campaign on indirect potable reuse, they may have put themselves in a better position for on-going negotiations. An open and honest discussion of the merits and limitations of competing ideas may have been more productive.

Thanks also for your comments, Mark. As you know, the purpose of dams or reservoirs are to store water from times when it is abundant for times when it is not. In 2007 it became very clear that Brisbane's storage capacity was vulnerable to running dangerously low during extended drought periods. Fortunately, recent in-flows have prevented Brisbane from running out of water for the (very) near future. But any government would be perfectly foolish to ignore the 'near miss' from 2007 and fail to prepare for the next extended drought which will inevitably come (as the population of South East Queensland continues to grow). It wont come in this election cycle, but it will certainly come.

Mark said...

Hi Stuart,

I would argue that recycled water doesn't guarantee that the water won't run out because there are losses in the system. After keeping the power stations alive, according to the above newspaper report, 232-112 = 120 ML/day is left over for pumping back to Wivenhoe. Current (with water restrictions) usage is much more than this and leads to a serious shortfall.

So lets do the 2007 hypothetical.

Remember they were saying the level could hit 5% when the infrastructure was complete (in hindsight probably optimistic), but lets say some miracle allowed them to commission it at the 10% mark which is equivalent to 176,000 ML storage. The water from that point would have lasted perhaps 9 months (extrapolating the SEQWater dam level graph). Recycling 120ML/day would have increased that storage by as little as 33,000 ML. That would have prolonged doomsday by around 1.5-2 months. Yay.

Moving on to the next drought, we could start recycling when levels drop to 40% for the *outside chance* that rains don't come. If drought breaks in the 2-3 year period from 40% to 0%, all that expense is again wasted. If drought doesn't break, we still hit a wall before long.

What is the answer? We have seen that big demand-side savings are possible, and they are relatively cheap. On the supply side, I think urban catchments (rainwater harvesting) are huge untapped resources which would be apparent to anyone who remembers the phrase "And once again the dams missed out".


Anonymous said...

Great comments here ... Thanks for the website and to everyone who has posted. Mark I am hearing you - couldn't agree more :)

Anonymous said...

E coli bacteria found in Brisbane reservoir
By Craig Johnstone
May 23, 2009 12:00am
POORLY disinfected drinking water is being sent around southeast Queensland's troubled water grid, in one case resulting in E coli bacteria finding its way to a Brisbane reservoir, an internal government document has revealed.

The memo, produced by officers in a state-owned water agency, details several serious water quality incidents since local councils lost control of water management in southeast Queensland last July.

It also says authorities are reluctant to promptly report incidents.

The document follows a series of blunders involving the fluoridation of the drinking supply, including a fluoride overdose in April, delays in discovering the overdose and the persistent failure to get the dosage to meet health regulations, all of which have severely embarrassed the State Government.

It reveals that in March there was a so-called level-three incident, classified as involving an impact on water customers, where hazardous E coli bacteria was detected at Karawatha reservoir in Brisbane's south.

The five million litre reservoir services southside suburbs such as Acacia Ridge, Eight Mile Plains and Calamvale. Acting water grid manager Barry Dennien yesterday confirmed the incident, but said it was "not unusual" when benchmarked against the performance of other metropolitan water authorities.

He said the Brisbane City Council reservoir was "spot-dosed" after a second test found the bacteria.

Residents were not informed.

Government agency LinkWater, which is responsible for the pipeline network feeding the reservoirs, detected no E coli in March, Mr Dennien said.

Asked if he was satisfied with the way the E coli and other incidents were communicated, Mr Dennien said all communications were done in "an honest and transparent way".

-- the release in August of drinking water containing elevated chlorine levels in a Linkwater pipe servicing Ipswich;

-- turbidity and manganese in drinking water that took nearly a week for local councils to be notified;

-- another Level Three incident in December 2008 involving the chemical substance geosmin, a byproduct of algal growth, which gave drinking water a foul taste and odour.

He said the December incident, which drew hundreds of complaints from Brisbane and Ipswich residents and was reported widely at the time, was caused by severe storms in the region's catchments.

"All authorities involved in the water grid have actively communicated in an open and transparent way with the Water Grid Manager on these incidents," he said.

This week, Premier Anna Bligh was forced to admit that initial information she was given on a fluoride overdose at the North Pine water treatment plant was wrong.

Ms Bligh has appointed independent expert Mark Pascoe to investigate the fluoride overdose, which the Government initially believed could have affected 4000 homes in the Pine Rivers area.

However, in the latest version of events reported by Ms Bligh, the incident may have affected a YMCA camp and about 400 homes at Joyner.,23739,25523585-952,00.html

Anonymous said...

HI , all this is helpful but im really confused..
Is the NOrth Pine water plant the same as "Bundamba Advanced Water Treatment Plant " or are they 2 plants in one place..?
and is the North Pine Plant for purifying seawater or sewage water?
Thanks., i hope somone can answer.

Mark said...

Prof Mark Pascoe's report has been published at

Makes interesting reading. For petes sake how hard can it be to dose flouride into water?

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